Award-Winning Franchises: Little Kickers & Symposium Café
Published On September 19, 2018
Originally published in the Summer 2018 issue of The Franchise Voice
Since 1992, the Canadian Franchise Association (CFA) has been recognizing its members with strong franchisor-franchisee relationships at its annual Awards of Excellence gala. The highest standard of excellence in Canada, the CFA Awards recognize franchise brands that have demonstrated superior franchisee relations, leadership, business planning, marketing, training, and support, ongoing operations, and communications in the Traditional Franchise and Non-Traditional Franchise categories.
The apex of the Award of Excellence is the Grand Prize, which is awarded to one traditional, and one non-traditional franchise system. Little Kickers – a franchise that provides pre-school aged kids with introductory soccer lessons – took home a fourth Grand Prize at the 27th annual CFA National Convention in Ottawa, Ontario on April 22-24 in the non-traditional category. Meanwhile, Symposium Cafe – an Ontario-based system of upscale-casual restaurants – won a second-straight Grand Prize in the traditional category. Franchise Voice had the opportunity to sit down with two key figures at Little Kickers and Symposium Café to gain valuable insight into what goes into an award-winning franchise system.
Frank Stanschus, Chief Operating Officer at Little Kickers Canada
Little Kickers started in London, England when franchise founder and CEO Christine Kelly spotted a gap in the market when trying to find pre-school soccer classes for her son. Little Kickers now has 310 franchise units around the world, and 47 in Canada as they eye expansion into all of the nation’s provinces and territories.
Q: As franchisor, why do you feel it is critical to provide comprehensive support to your franchisees for the overall success of the brand?
As a franchisor, it’s really our only job to support our franchisees. I feel really strongly that those franchisors that believe it’s all about selling more franchises have a different outlook on franchising than I do. For me, it’s about first and foremost making sure that you keep your promises to the people that put their trust and faith in you and your system, and have given you their cold hard cash.
Q: From your point of view, what do you feel Little Kickers franchisees would say about franchisor support? Why is it important to listen to their feedback?
The first thing they would all say is that they receive what they were promised from us. At any one point in time, any time of the day or week, franchisees can call me or our team to get help. Going forward, we listen to our franchisees and ask them at conferences and through surveys what areas we need to improve and what we need to do next. As franchisor, I have a responsibility to ensure that as we grow, we address areas in which we may not be experts in. For example: this year, with all the new legislation in Ontario regarding employment laws, we felt we weren’t expert enough to provide our franchisees with all the right answers. So, we what we did was engaged an HR consultancy to answer those questions. That’s one example of what we do to up our game in terms of the support that we provide.
Q: What advice would you give other franchisors in regards to providing support to your franchisees?
When I go to the annual CFA National Convention, I’m always amazed by how many great companies there are and how passionate everybody is about their brand. One thing that I feel really passionate about, is that we look at our franchisees as customers. The second thing is the idea of not over promising and under delivering. We try to under promise and over deliver, and it means we lose some sales. We don’t get every franchisee we want, but I think it’s worth it in the end because we have a stronger network as a result.
I’m incredibly lucky. I took on a brilliant concept. I wasn’t the one who invented it, so I can’t take any credit for that, but I was able to spot that it was a great opportunity. For business-owners who want to get into franchising, my advice would be to make sure you have a concept you can stand behind and really believe in. You have to know that there is a market need for the concept to be able to convince franchisees to buy into it and deliver a consistent product over and over again.
What makes franchising different from being a small-business owner is the ability to package the concept up in a way that somebody would be happy to take it on and utilize the franchisor’s knowledge, expertise, and passion to recreate it. For me, Little Kickers is just a brilliant concept that people can really buy into, and our franchisees are able to translate it into their own business to make it their own.
Bill Argo, CEO and Co-Founder at Symposium Cafe
Symposium Cafe was born in 1996, when brothers Bill and Terry Argo decided to leverage their skills developed in careers in the finance and operations sectors to enter the food service industry. The first Symposium location opened in 1996 in London, Ontario as a dessert café and since then the franchise has gone on to include 28 franchise locations across the province.
Q: How has franchising played a role in Symposium Cafe’s success?
We could not be a 28-store, $44-million concept without the franchisees. Our concept appeals and caters to local communities and small towns. You can’t get that small-town feel without a franchisee that’s involved in the community. They are absolutely paramount to our success. From sponsoring local teams to learning the customers by name, that’s critical. Our goal is to expand into small communities, and we would not be able to do it without franchisees.
Q: From your point of view, what do you Symposium Cafe franchisees would say about franchisor support?
The bottom line is that we care very much about the success of our franchisees. When a franchisee invests in our concept, we take it very personally, and that is expressed by the owners, all the way to our head office team, regional managers, and executive chefs. On our store visits, our commitment to franchisee success is evident. They would say that when we come into the store, we’re there to ensure the success of that restaurant. That’s our paramount goal, and I think that’s how they perceive us.
Q: What would be your Top 3 tips for franchisors to achieve success?
We created an advisory board two years ago, with professionals in the industry that has been absolutely invaluable to our success. For a new franchise system that’s starting up, I would say don’t wait 14 years to get an advisory board. There’s a lot of people out there that want to help. Our advisory board’s members are 55 to 60-years-old, semi-retired, and they want to help. They want to contribute and they’ve done a terrific job.
Assemble a head office staff that believes in your vision and concept and that has the same beliefs you have in supporting the franchisees. We’ve lost one staff member at our head office in 9 years. That stability in our head office is absolutely critical to franchisee success. The franchisee gets to know people, they aren’t changing people every few months and have to deal with someone else’s personality. We have a dedicated group, and they all care about these franchisees.
A franchisor has to figure out what makes them successful. The first five years of a franchisor’s history is very difficult, you’re struggling. Franchisors at the beginning are really testing the market and taking a risk. I would recommend to a franchisor to get that figured out as soon as you can.
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