It could just as easily have been the amazing goodies COBS Bread Bakery sells that would win Amanda Mucek’s heart when she was applying for a job several years ago. In fact, it was the company’s charitable giving program that sealed the deal, eventually leading her into the world of franchising.
Mucek recalls, “I remember sitting in the kitchen with a friend and we were practicing interviewing each other when she realized I had applied to COBS. She let me know COBS had helped her in the past when she and her family had fallen onto really hard times with their ‘End of the Day’ giving program, where you donate all your goods to various charities in the direct community. That really touched me. This company was so compatible with my values.”
Mucek, 27, says, “My parents are immigrants who came to Canada with nothing so I witnessed them work really hard to build a good life for my family. They definitely are my role models. They instilled in me these values, to be humble, kind, generous, and to work hard. These values were a compass for me. I kind of use it as an anchor for my life.”
Mucek, who originally joined the workforce with McDonald’s but declined a manager’s job so she could return to school, joined COBS to pay off student loans. Soon she was climbing the company’s ladder, eventually training new franchisees and managers. After winning an internal company award and being flown to Vancouver to work with the franchise’s best employees, she decided she wanted to become a franchise partner. At the age of 25 Mucek had her own COBS bakery.
The franchise, which she purchased five years after she started working for COBS, is in the heart of Mississauga, Ontario, at Highway 10 and Eglinton Avenue, where scones, ham and cheese croissants, and healthy loaves reign supreme.
COBS started in Australia as Baker’s Delight in the 1980s. The company expanded into Canada under the COBS name because there was already a Baker’s Delight in Canada. COBS in fact stands for a “Celebration of Bread”. With more than 700 bakeries world-wide, the company now has more than 100 bakeries in Canada with plans for 250 by 2022.
Mucek says the challenges she faced when she first started up were different from those of other franchisees. Because she purchased the franchise from another franchisee and not the franchisor, she was working with an existing team. “It was a huge plus, but it also held me back from making any changes. I felt like I had to prove myself more. I was also warned that turnover might be a real problem. I think my age actually helped me with staff more.”
She says a big challenge was her internal need to prove herself and hold her own because of her age. “However, ultimately it was a benefit because I worked harder to prove myself. I had to understand it was all psychological – that age was just a number. I find it is much easier to train my staff because they view me more as a team member rather than an owner, which makes for a really fun environment. Staff turnover is really low and morale is really high. Everyone feels welcome to bring their own ideas to benefit the bakery. I also believe there’s no such thing as a problem that can’t be solved which is really important.”
The benefits of being a franchisee with COBS, Mucek says, are being your own boss but at the same time having an outstanding support system backing you up. “It makes you feel safe and not alone. You’re really part of the family. I also love that the franchisor encourages open communication amongst other franchisees because if you help one another you are always rewarded. You’re on a team – franchising is a team.”
Like most millennials, Mucek stays current with social media. “COBS is such a fantastic brand. The products are delicious, mouth-watering and they look so good in pictures that it’s so easy to sell on social media outlets.”
She says the company also keeps franchisees current by researching different trends. Mucek does her own research as well. She says the product is very appealing to millennials. “Millennials really want the freshest products that are healthy and visually appealing. They also want the knowledge that when you shop at a COBS, you’re supporting a small business that gives back to the community every day.”
Not only does she love the healthy and tasty products her franchise sells, but she loves the way the company is run. Mucek explains, “Much of the company’s success is based on its proven business model and the transparency of sharing data and ideas across the network.”
She says COBS offers outstanding support to its franchisees. “It’s hard to fail because you have such a good support system and everyone feels like family. Their human resources contact, Valerie, is so prompt and knowledgeable, IT is always on call so any staff member can call them anytime. If they can’t solve it right away, they send a technician in. There’s a lot of financial guidance as well as strategic marketing support.”
The company has an e-learning platform that is great, says Mucek, for training new and current employees with everything from health and safety, food handling, and marketing. “It’s an invaluable resource.”
Mucek says support moves beyond just the franchi sor and extends to the company’s network of franchisees across the country. “One thing that’s unique is that if there is any questions you need answering, you can call any franchisee anywhere, even in Alberta, which I’ve done in the past. You can also ask any area manager as well. It’s such a stress relief to have partners that want to help me succeed. You never feel alone.”
And, of course, ‘The End of the Day’ program is a rewarding feature for the community and franchisees alike. Mucek explains different charities sign up for the program and two or three a night come by and pick up goodies. “We always hear these wonderful stories about how we’ve helped somebody. We’ve also had customers come back and say they fell on really hard times and went to local community groups who had our bread. Now they’re loyal customers.”
The company has donated more than $250-million worth of fresh baked bread and treats to charitable organizations since 2003 across Canada and the U.S.
Mucek describes her experience as a COBS franchisee as ‘thrilling’. “Everyday is very different and no matter how much I plan, something always comes up. I always love connecting with my customers and my staff. Sometimes my schedule is very flexible, which allows me to put myself wherever I am needed. But, you will always find me at the back baking.”
Her advice to incoming franchisees. “Research, research, research. You have to find a company that is really suited to your values because it becomes such a big part of your life. It needs to feel really comfortable. I love how important it was for COBS to give back to the community. The brand never compromises so why should I? I was very happy and lucky to work with COBS Bread.”
By Georgie Binks