Successful multi-unit franchisee, David Gronewoller, shares his expert advice for up-and-coming franchisees.
As a franchise business owner, you must remember that you are in business for yourself, but never by yourself. One of the most important aspects of franchising is to protect the brand you have invested in. This includes caring for your team and making sure you create and maintain a positive culture. I might not have all of the answers, but I know how to support and protect both my team and brand.
I joined the Golden Corral franchise system in 1993. One reason I decided to invest in the concept was that the entire senior leadership team as well as the support staff truly understands that the success of the franchise system determines the success of the brand.
As an example, I believe any company can employ a great marketing team to convincingly “sell” that their brand is the best concept but it takes experienced leadership, commitment, passion, and knowledge to build a successful company. Golden Corral is equipped with an experienced, stable leadership team dedicated to building and maintaining strong relationships with its franchisees.
I have experienced business ownership with other franchise concepts and in the end, Golden Corral is the only brand that has provided what I needed in terms of support and development. One of the many things I respect about Golden Corral is its tenure. They have been in business for nearly 50 years so they are not the “newest great thing,” but when you look back ten years, how many of the “newest” are still “great,” and how many are still in business like Golden Corral?
In the beginning stages of my career, I made several mistakes, as anyone would. I made the decision of trusting someone that I did not know very well. To me, their word meant more than what was presented to me on paper. In the end, I learned several hard and expensive lessons. Golden Corral understands that people make mistakes but believes in using these mistakes to create opportunities for improvement. They share these opportunities with their franchisees to provide the necessary tools to successfully navigate the everyday challenges of restaurant operations.
Protecting a brand is easier said than done. A recent challenge that many franchise industry professionals faced was the COVID-19 pandemic — it was devastating. National media outlets made the assumption that buffet concepts, like Golden Corral, were history. Initially, we thought that the “buffets are dead” mantra would only last a few weeks, a month at most, but we were wrong and we had to pivot quickly. We never gave up on our business model or the people within it. As our loyal fans began to feel comfortable dining with us again, the requests to bring the buffet back flooded in. As franchise owners passionate about fulfilling the needs of our guests and communities, we answered their requests as soon as local mandates and officials permitted.
I am extremely proud of the way our team handled the unprecedented challenges that the pandemic forced upon us. Before the world shut down, we came up with an effective plan to compensate our management teams and professional staff, preparing them for the worst and hoping for the best. Our general managers divided our restaurants’ food and other supplies to our hourly employees in need of the most support followed by all others.
Collectively, we developed a service standard for a buffet that provided the safest dining experience for all, where guests were served instead of self-serving. I am happy to share that we retained every member of our management teams as professional staff, and 85% of our hourly employees. Though we are not what we consider to be “fully staffed,” we are staffed at a level smooth enough to handle our business operations.
Our locations are now well over pre-pandemic guest counts, sales, and we are setting new record profits. There are only a few non-QSR/Fast Casual restaurant concepts that can say that. Through the combination of our restaurant leadership and Golden Corral corporate team working together cohesively, we have continued to experience success and develop efficient operations and communication methods. These accomplishments are the result of making it a priority to protect the brand and my team.
I have made it this far in my career because I am driven, ambitious, and humble. I would say that my greatest accomplishment is being able to grow a successful business with incredible, talented and committed individuals. I owe the success I have experienced to my team and Golden Corral Corporation, because they remind me that I do not have to be in business by myself.
Early in my career, I was selected as Restaurateur of the Year by my peers in North Carolina. In addition to being a founding member of the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association (NCRLA) I have served on the Association’s Board of Directors and participated in the Education Foundation, which supports learning opportunities to the children of North Carolina Hospitality industry employees. I cannot say I did it all by myself — I would not even say that I am an expert. My best advice to new business owners is to stay hungry and humble. If you lose the drive, you might lose the ability to protect your brand and that is the most important task.