Army and Air Force foodservice provider The Exchange has been serving U.S. military families since 1895 with meals in cafeteria lines and snack bars. It wasn’t until 1985, however, that it first signed a license agreement with a name-brand food franchisee—at the time, Burger King.

Today, The Exchange has experience with more than 40 brands, including chicken-wing chain Wing Zone. The company recently developed a method that serves Wing Zone’s product faster and more efficiently, a process that rolled out to a Fort Lewis, Washington, base and helped make its seven units more profitable and streamlined.

Michael Dillon, senior restaurant program planner with The Exchange’s restaurant, theater, and hospitality division, has seen the overwhelming success that sprouted from small changes like this in The Exchange–operated units. He thinks franchisees can take it upon themselves to make changes, and believes that simple ideas are sometimes the best.

1. Search for solutions

Our partnership with Wing Zone began in 2009, with the first unit opening for business in September of 2011. With seven units already under operation and another two in our forecast, we’ve been happy with the success of our Wing Zone partnership.

Recently, our business has been even more successful with the implementation of some new ideas—most notably, making wing preparation and delivery faster for the customer. By forecasting sales, we developed progressive production techniques that help us start the cooking process prior to the customers’ arrival. By utilizing this strategy, the guest orders and then moves along the line as his selection moves through flavoring, topping, and packaging.

We strive to provide our customer with a quality product just like any business owner, and simple, fresh ideas like this that focus on operations help do just that. The implementation of holding our product, along with our flavor stations and a focus on combo meals, has transformed our Wing Zone units.

2. Be the spark

Everybody has ideas and sometimes those ideas seem really good on paper, but are not executed well enough to succeed. It’s when the combination of a good idea meets proper execution that it becomes a success. Most of the time, the franchisor can supply operators with assistance and resources that might not have been at their disposal in the first place.

For The Exchange and our Wing Zone units, we had a need to deliver quality products as fast as possible. While the majority of Wing Zone’s business outside of the private sector is delivery-based, most of our restaurants are within food courts and mall settings, where customers expect their food in less than three minutes. We needed a faster way to deliver the wings, and were able to achieve that through the help from and relationship with the brand.

When your idea benefits both business and brand, there can very rarely be any backlash from the franchisor. The requirements from Wing Zone were laid out in the beginning of our partnership, and one of those was speed. Executing this requirement properly makes for a happy and symbiotic relationship.

3. Look around you for inspiration

A lot of the time, franchisees can fall into a rut of not knowing where to start when changes need to be made. The No. 1 motivating factor should be serving the customer better and, moreover, providing a quality product that is served fast. Once you’ve looked at that, take into consideration the difficulties, challenges, and satisfaction of the associates preparing and serving these products.

Additionally, it’s simple to get ideas as a franchisee. Monitor industry trends, get customer feedback, observe behaviors, and, most importantly, talk with other franchisees in the same business. Share both your best and weakest policies and operations.

If you think your idea is good enough on paper, surface the idea initially with a peer group. Encourage them to provide feedback and constructive criticism, along with additional insights. After you’ve gotten approval from the franchisor, pilot the idea with the general public, having specific goals, benchmarks, and a time period set. Seeing the idea or change executed with the proper preparation can help make its full potential clearer.

4. Solidify your success

The recognition that our new methodology was becoming a success occurred when the franchisor wanted to adopt the process in its other outlets. It’s not every day that an idea starts from essentially the ground and makes it all the way to the top, but I think that’s what franchisees can look toward as inspiration.

It’s not about the size of the idea, but rather the motivation behind it. We don’t have anything specific in mind for further development, but will simply monitor industry trends, the power of technology, and a focus on healthier options. This could very well lead us to the next idea that will further our success. If you have the customer’s mentality and motivation in your sights, you’ll continue to be successful and have the essentials for constantly improving your business.

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Back of House, Denise Lee Yohn: QSR's Marketing Guru, Restaurant Operations, Story, Wing Zone