John Ribson has certainly come a long way since he started with Wendy’s Restaurants of Canada more than 20 years ago. Back in 1994, he started out as a manager trainee at the Highway 2 Ancaster, Ontario Wendy’s location, and he now owns 25 franchise locations in the Greater Toronto Area.
Ribson describes the path to 25 locations as a “long journey,” which started with an early promotion from Assistant Manager to General Manager, and then Multi-Unit Manager. In 1998, Wendy’s offered Ribson the opportunity to become an Operating Partner, and things only took off from there, with his purchase of the East Market (three locations in Whitby, and one in Toronto), which led to him becoming a 100 per cent franchise owner. Add to that the purchase of some Wendy’s corporate locations, and the more recent opening of new locations, and you reach that magic number of 25 today.
A not-so-typical dayAs a multi-unit owner, Ribson has a lot on his plate, which means “There’s not really a typical day – every day is a different beast, as I call it,” he explains. “It really depends on what’s going on, and what’s planned.”
With so many people and projects to manage, Ribson notes that he needs to be flexible, and to always be on call. “Sometimes your schedule is changed due to availability or meetings that are going on. If you’re looking to research a new property, or renegotiate a lease, or work with a contractor to do a renovation, you have to be pretty flexible.”
“From the minute I get up to the minute I go to sleep, I’m either writing emails or working on something. There’s always something that could happen, because the stores are open and people start anywhere from 7 to 7:30 in the morning, and some of them don’t close until 1 or 3 a.m. You do the bulk of it during business hours, but you could be doing anything at any time,” he adds.
Starting out as an Assistant Manager, and now with 25 locations, it isn’t hard to imagine how Ribson’s day-to-day responsibilities must have transformed since his early days in franchising. “The routine has changed and evolved over time, for sure, but I made sure I surrounded myself with the talent who would be there to concentrate on all of the things that I couldn’t, as I was focusing more on future development and renovations.”
The power of teamwork
In fact, it’s this talented team that Ribson credits for his growing success with the Wendy’s franchise system.
“Back even when I started as an Assistant Manager trainee, it was always a dream to become a franchisee,” he explains. “When I became Part Owner, that was a big milestone for me, and then I went off on my own to own 100 per cent and turned the East Market around. It was quite the challenge for me to take on. I worked with the management teams that I had, plus I hired new people, and I trained and developed those people and turned those stores around to be very profitable, with sales that were going in the right direction.
“That was quite the accomplishment, and it was a lot of fun, and very motivating, because people took pride in their work, and they cared and really wanted me to do well. It was all because of teamwork – everybody helped me get here.”
While your team can be your greatest asset, Ribson acknowledges that you need to take the time to ensure you’re working with the right people, and to ensure your team is trained properly, in order to find this success. “Wendy’s is a big operation. I compare it to a production line: if you have one piece that isn’t working, you can’t produce like you should. It’s very important that you train and develop your people to be able to fulfill all of the parts of the business, because you can’t do it alone.”
Innovative drive for improvementFrom a young age, it was clear that the business-savvy Ribson was ready to tackle entrepreneurship, and was never going to settle for the status quo. “When I was growing up, when it came to any type of business, from my paper route to selling chocolate bars in school, I was always trying to be innovative and see what I could do to become better and develop myself. I have a business mind, and am always thinking, ‘How can we improve? What can we do better?’”
While this business sense has been an asset, Ribson also points to the teams he’s developed and the Wendy’s system itself as key contributors to his upward mobility. “I never imagined or dreamed that I would have this many stores, but it’s just amazing that if you train and develop your people, you can succeed. And of course, Wendy’s has great processes and procedures in place. If you follow those and you execute those, and you train your people, everything runs a lot smoother,” he says.
For those looking to join the Wendy’s team, Ribson notes that you don’t need to have experience in the food industry to make it work, but like he did, you should have some background in business. “It’s important to have that business knowledge of the P&L, so you can look at that P&L statement and know what you need to work on. As for the food and the restaurant side of it, you follow the training program, and as long as you’re open to training and following the procedures, that part is easy. It’s the business side that’s the critical piece; being an entrepreneur and striving to be innovative. You should be helping the brand while the brand helps you – it has to go both ways.”
Avid franchising fan
The Wendy’s franchise business model has been the perfect match for Ribson, who wants to play an active role in the system. “I love it because they help you and they direct you, but they also make you feel like part of the family, and part of the decision-making process,” he explains. “Our advisory advertising board is made up of franchisees across Canada, and we’re a part of making those decisions about what we’re going to market and the direction of the company. They also have a franchise advisory council, where they vet things through the franchisees. So we work together as more of a team and a family. You always feel like you have a say and like you can be part of the future.”
For those embarking on the franchising path, he advises making the most of your biggest advantage: your fellow franchisees. “I think it’s critical to use the teamwork of franchisees. When there are events where franchisees get together and talk, it’s critical that you participate, and then you call upon your fellow franchisees. Even today, and I’ve been in the system since 1994, there are still times when I call franchisees and ask, ‘What are you doing about this? How are you managing this?’ It’s really about working together and sharing ideas and best practices to help each other grow.”
While you can expect to work hard in franchising, especially as you get started, you also need to carve out personal time to ensure you have that all-important work-life balance. “Last year, I opened three stores, and they all opened within the summer, between July and September. It was a busy, crazy time,” notes Ribson. “So sometimes it can be crazy, but you have to find a balance. You have to take some vacation and some down time. I have a great operations team that I can rely on. You need to have a good team, and a balanced team; you have to have different experts from across the board to help you.”
For Ribson, the best part of franchising is that “Working for yourself is really rewarding. As is being able to provide people with opportunities to grow. You’re making your own little family, and your own little empire.”
And, if you have innovative drive and team-building prowess like Ribson, you could end up with quite the franchising empire indeed.
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By Lauren Huneault