Where others saw the intersection of Highways 2 and 41 near Wakaw, Saskatchewan as just another empty stretch of open road, Ed Kidd saw opportunity.
For one thing, each direction leads to a different Saskatchewan city, all under an hour away: Saskatoon, Humboldt, Prince Albert, and Melfort. And if that wasn’t convincing, there are also the 800 or so cottages and 300 RV sites surrounding the nearby lake. So when Kidd, who has lived in the area for 25 years and was even mayor for 10 years, called Dairy Queen (DQ) and said he wanted to open a restaurant in a town whose official population was only around 1000, he was prepared to make a solid argument for its success.
A site visit by DQ’s director of franchising clinched it, and Kidd opened his location in December 2015. Fast forward a year, and the venture has paid off: the location has hit its targets. Kidd even has plans to open a second store in a nearby town sometime in the next year or so.
The path to franchising success
Much has happened since Kidd signed the franchise agreement. First, the location needed to be built, a project that lasted from May to December, and when complete, featured a drive-through wide enough for a farm sprayer or big boat to fit through. While Kidd, who is managing the business side of the operation, took care of the construction site, his family members trained as the three required managers: his daughter as manager, and his wife and son as the two assistant managers. Training took around six weeks, and covered everything from food preparation to inventory. Four of those weeks took place in an existing store; in the Kidds’ case, at a location in Edmonton. Ongoing training happens online via the DQ Hub.
The next task was to set up equipment in the store, and then to hire and train staff. Closer to the launch, two business consultants came down to help with the training and opening. Kidd says he was grateful for the assistance, because once the restaurant opens, it’s very busy. “When you open your doors, you’re inundated,” says Kidd, reflecting on the launch. “It’s not like a business where you slowly undertake to get it going and it takes some time to build a clientele. When you open one of these, it’s just, right now. It’s quite a challenge.”
While being busy seems like a good problem to have, Kidd says that being able to predict the flow of customers, and to be able to meet that level of service is a serious challenge for a first-year franchisee. “You have no history, so you don’t know from one day to the next how busy you’re going to be,” says Kidd. The major impact there is labour cost, which he advises investing in because of its impact on customer service.
“I guess the biggest thing is that you’re better off to be overstaffed the first year. It’s going to cost you some money, but you want to come out of the gate giving good service, because that word spreads. Bad news is halfway around the world before good news has its running shoes on. You have to be ready to go and give that good service the first year, so you’ve got a good reputation,” says Kidd.
He says the policy to train managers on all aspects of store operations is also essential because it means they can help out anywhere. “That’s critical. You can fall behind, and people can get flustered in a hurry. These managers can jump in and get them out of trouble and keep the store rolling,” says Kidd. He adds that retaining staff once they’re trained can also be a challenge. He’s staffed locally, but has also found increased staffing stability through Canada’s temporary foreign worker program.
A customer for all seasons
The seasonal ebb and flow of customers is another pattern that takes time to figure out, says Kidd. “In summertime, they come from everywhere, and they’re pretty much lined up day and night. Our drive-thru surprised me: it’s busy. And then in the summer, on the warm days out on the deck with the umbrellas, and music playing, they’re having a really good time.”
He says that this predicted summer boom was the reason he ultimately settled on Dairy Queen, after considering another fast food franchise. “The more our family talked about it – Dairy Queen, ice cream, lake, summer – that’s when we changed our focus,” recalls Kidd.
By contrast, winter offers a different set of customers. “In the wintertime, of course, we’re seeing hockey people, snowmobile people, town people, and a lot of people travelling back and forth to those cities. They make it a regular stop now,” says Kidd.
Kidd says word of mouth had grown before the opening, thanks to both the very visible construction site, and the employment postings. “Everybody could see what was going on, on that corner. And it had started in May, so all the summer people were here. It’s very visible. And then we went to all the schools and advertised to students for jobs. Everybody kind of knew in the whole area.”
Building on brand recognition
While being a part of the community for so long reassured him that the location would succeed, Kidd says brand recognition was one reason he decided to go the franchise route. After all, Kidd is not new to business: he and his family have run a manufacturing company, owned a small motel, and were also a marine dealer in the area. But this time, he wanted a national brand.
“I see a lot of restaurants that don’t make it, but very seldom do you see a franchise restaurant or a Dairy Queen not make it. I felt that the franchise protects your food costs, they have all their systems in place, national advertising campaigns, and they’re well known. It’s just brand awareness,” says Kidd. Of course, he feels his business skills transfer over, especially the customer service focus, and he recommends business experience as a good background for aspiring franchisees.
He also saw Dairy Queen as a good business to run with his kids. “Essentially, it’s for them. We’ve sold the other businesses, and we feel confident with them in there. It’s not retirement, but it’s made life a lot less stressful for us,” says Kidd. He adds that the family connection is working out really well. “They’re great. We can tell them what needs to be done and they do it. They’re doing a fabulous job.”
As general advice, Kidd says that newcomers to this type of franchise should prepare to commit fully, and put in the work needed for success. “If you have some issues that pop up, you have to be persistent, and you have to just take care of business. There are lots of challenges. You just have to rise to the occasion.”
By Suzanne Bowness