In February, Firehouse added a new member to its C-suite for the first time in 11 years (the position sat vacant since 2009 when Fox was promoted to CEO). Mike Hancock, a 6-foot-7 former defensive end who played in the CFL with the Toronto Argonauts, joined as chief operating officer. The nine-year RBI vet held the same post at Tim Hortons. Before, he clocked five years at Burger King directing operations across North America, Southern Europe, Turkey, and Africa.
The move wasn’t a cryptic one—it was a signal sender. “That just adds great firepower to an already great team,” Fox says.
“He’s been operating in an arena where we aspire to go,” he adds of Tim Hortons. “So that real-world experience is of incredible value. And again, I’ve been in the industry for 48 years, but I haven’t operated at a level with a 5,000-unit brand.”
Bringing Firehouse On
Since close, Cil says RBI worked to integrate and elevate Firehouse. On the back-end, it’s connected the chain to RBI’s infrastructure—accounting, IT, and financial systems.
RBI has more than 200 engineers working through tech. The company created an in-house stack, including loyalty programs and a CRM engine. It’s also invested in white-label delivery alongside aggregator partnerships and continues to update menuboards to dynamic digital formats across the system, with an added focus on suggestive sell capabilities.
Firehouse already had a mobile app complete with order and pay and loyalty capabilities, as well as more than 3.5 million members. In 2021, 2 to 2.5X more dollars came via off-premises channels than pre-COVID-19. That October, 14 percent of sales owed to delivery alone. Rewards grew at a clip of 50,000 users per month and reached 10 percent of Firehouse’s total transactions.
“It’s so energizing when you know you’ve got these great, great assets that consumers love,” Fox says. “And know it’s more like fine tuning, with the technical side of the business to really unleash it.”
Cil says the more important integration piece, perhaps, is the “business standpoint mindset.”
With Fox now in the fold, RBI has a team of four presidents running each brand. They meet once a week and chat about performance and perspectives. Cil calls it a “sharing of best practices” that’s gone both ways since Firehouse arrived.
It extends from HQ analytics to site selection to format innovation and franchise recruitment. Yet it rests on economics, Cil says. “There’s no gaming that,” he notes. “You’ve got to have strong revenues, strong profitability, a good return on investment for a franchisee to invest and grow. And we think we have a great case here, and Mike and Don and the rest of the team will help accelerate that in years to come.”
One element Cil believes RBI can learn from Firehouse is its Public Safety Foundation. The program awarded $69 million over the years to “hometown heroes” and benefitted 5,700-plus organizations. Recently, RBI hosted its first Firehouse Public Safety Foundation event after it donated 17 automatic external defibrillators—good for $25,000—to the West Miami Police Department. The chief, major, and newly appointed mayor showed up. A speaker shared how a previously donated defibrillator saved a life in the last year.
“That’s pretty tangible,” Cil says. “And very direct and super powerful message for all of us. And for our team as well.”