Iconic Brand: McDonald’s® Canada

For generations, McDonald’s® has maintained its status as a leader in the quick service restaurant business with a franchise system that ensures its loyal customers receive the same quality and consistency at any location in the world

As a kid, going to McDonald’s was an experience. The sight of the golden arches and the anticipation of a burger stirred excitement. Whether it was a birthday party, a happy meal with family, or an outing with friends, going to McDonald’s was all about good fun, great food, and wonderful memories. It is this flicker of nostalgia that warms us, and has made McDonald’s the iconic brand it is today.

The making of McDonald’s

In 1954, Ray Kroc, the exclusive distributor of a milk shake maker called the Multimixer, discov­ered the McDonald’s hamburger stand in California, owned by Dick and Mac McDonald, was running eight Multimixers at a time.

Intrigued, he visited the McDonald brothers. Impressed by their quick service burger con­cept, he quickly became their franchise agent, and opened the first McDonald’s restaurant in Des Plaines, Illinois in 1955. The company opened 700 restaurants by 1965, and went public with its first offering on the stock exchange. In 1967, the first McDonald’s restaurant outside the United States opened its doors in Richmond, British Columbia.

Today, McDonald’s Restaurants of Canada Ltd. owns and operates over 1,400 restaurants and, along with its franchisees, employs 100,000 Canadians coast-to-coast.

The evolution

A leader and innovator in the QSR market, McDonald’s stays ahead of the curve by remaining responsive to what guests want. While familiar options have been con­stants over the years, like the ever-popular Big Mac, oth­ers, like the McPizza, made a brief cameo and faded from the menu.

With visionaries like John Betts, President and CEO of McDonald’s Canada at the helm, many successes have been put in motion. In 2017, the company introduced their Velocity Growth Plan, aptly named for the fast-moving, clearly-defined direction.

The focus: to provide what guests want; hot delicious food served quickly for an experience that exceeds expectations. The key pillars of the growth strategy are to retain, regain, and convert the guest experience. To retain guests, McDonald’s continues to focus on extend­ing offerings in their areas of strength, like offering all-day breakfast.

The changing menu incorporates what guests want, from healthier options to preservative-free burgers and breakfast options made with cage-free eggs. The goal is to reengage guests with an enhanced menu at a good value.

Lastly, McDonald’s aims to convert casual customers to committed customers with coffee and snacks. McCafé, with its premium coffee, specialty coffees, smoothies, and baked goods, has been in high demand since its onset a decade ago. Coffee consumption is on the rise, with more young Canadians making coffee their bev­erage of choice than ever before. In fact, the launch of standalone McCafé locations at Union Station and the Exchange Tower in downtown Toronto have been so positive, the company recently opened two more street level locations in downtown Toronto. The unique menu and smaller footprint will allow the brand to expand to high-density urban locations. Establishing McCafé as a café destination is part of the ongoing strategy to evolve the brand.

Franchisee success

Successful McDonald’s franchisees are professionals that come from all walks of life. The company seeks can­didates that love the brand and have a track record of great leadership. Franchising Manager Tom Marlow says it doesn’t matter what business background they come from, as long as they understand the fundamentals. “The fundamentals are understanding how important it is to please the guests in our restaurants. It’s also a person who understands business, has business acumen, and has a proven track record of how to grow a business.”

With 80 to 100 people employed at every restaurant, teams range from first time job holders to long-term employees. A successful franchisee comes to the table with a history of great leadership skills so they can foster the McDonald’s goal of being an employer of choice.

McDonald’s popular tagline, ‘I’m lovin’ it’, extends beyond the delicious food for the brand’s franchisees. “McDonald’s itself is an iconic brand. We are in the burger business, and you have to appreciate and love that as well,” says Marlow. “If I meet someone who has a history of success in business, we’re happy to talk about how they can fit into the culture here at McDonald’s.”

Globally, McDonald’s has endeavored to ensure consistency, no matter which golden arches you walk through anywhere in the world. It’s a hallmark of the brand’s success, and the same attention to detail trick­les down to the commitment and support of their fran­chisees. World-class training embraces not only the ini­tial guidance provided to franchisees, but the training they’ll have to manage and execute when they eventually manage their own teams.

The training program and ongoing support contin­ues to evolve as the business changes. “We are guest-centric, and depending on what guests are looking for, we have to make changes to accommodate those needs.” Franchisees are provided a lot of support. Not only do field service teams protect the consistency of the brand, they’re on the ground in the restaurants, helping grow the business by sharing best practices and helping address challenges.

Marlow’s advice to prospective franchisees? It’s all about the people. Whether it’s a kid, or an adult that remembers being a kid, the McDonald’s experience is something people remember, and the franchise con­stantly evaluates itself to ensure that consistent guest experience is part of their success.

“There’s two people in our business. There’s the guests that come in every day, and if you’re not thinking about the guest experience than you’re probably not going to meet your goals. And you always have to be thinking of the people who serve those guests. Yes, we’re in the hamburger business, but really, we are in the people business, because that’s how we get things done every day.”

Franchisees that go for gold

For Kathie Gilmour, the shine of owning a construction company began to dull after 20 years in the business. “I was almost 50 years old and felt stuck in my industry. I never thought I would change career paths or have the opportunity to.” Encouraged by her husband and brother, she applied for the McDonald’s Registered Applicant Program in 2013 and was approved. “It was the best thing that ever happened to me, to be accepted in to that program and to be involved with McDonald’s. I’m thrilled to be an owner-operator.”

The program takes nine months to two years to complete, and appli­cants train from the ground up, learning everything from how to drop fries to working the drive-thru to moving into management. “It was a challenge working eight hours a day on the restaurant floor. If it wasn’t something for you, you’d know it in the first three months,” says Gilm­our. “I was placed with a wonderful owner-operator that was hands-on. It was an extraordinary experience.”

Gilmour moved to multiple markets to gain exposure to different lev­els of management, working shoulder-to-shoulder with a female owner-operator toward the end of her journey. “There aren’t as many female owner-operators in the system, and I was really happy to have that experience. She was structured and routine-oriented, which is how I’d run my market, and her people were always number one for her. I felt really connected.”

The training ended with a mentorship program among the best owner-operators in Ontario, and Gilmour reached out to as many as she could, gaining insight and developing relationships along the way. “To this day, I can contact any of those owner-operators at any time, and they will support me and mentor me and share with me. Some have been with McDonald’s for 20 to 30 years. They’ve seen everything and done everything, and when I’m struggling to find a way to make some­thing work, I reach out and they get back to me right away. The owner-operator community is such a cohesive group of people that share the same vision, and to me that equals success.”

For Gilmour, the support was an integral part of her success, from regular visits by a business consultant to check-ins with the director of Ontario. “There’s always someone to help me and support me if I’m fall­ing off balance or feel like I’m overwhelmed. That’s the best part about McDonald’s. They do everything in their power to set us up for success, and it’s never just lip service. They always follow through.”

Gilmour’s advice to prospective franchisees. Reach out and try it. “If you go through the Registered Applicant Program and you follow the training provided, there’s so much support, I just don’t see how you can fail. I feel like I won the lottery. Every day is a good day, even when it’s a challenging day, it’s still a good day because I’m a McDonald’s owner-operator.”


By Gina Makkar