How to Tell If You Are Really Ready to Expand Your Brand

As you look at your restaurant, you might have thoughts of more locations. Maybe one or two more? Maybe a dozen? Perhaps you even have big dreams of multiple concepts from East to West? Before you get too far ahead of yourself, this might be a good time for a little reality check.

Yes, watching the movie "The Founder" with Michael Keaton as McDonald’s icon Ray Kroc gave us the idea that with a great game plan we could do the same thing. Ray Kroc was a man with a vision, a very aggressive vision and there was no way he was going to sit by and watch the two McDonald brothers just stay in their comfort zone and just survive. Ray wanted to thrive and to do that someone has to push the edge.

  • Who in your company is that person willing to push the edge?
  • Who is willing to make sacrifices to get what they want? 

Many live in one world and dream of another. There is the restaurant they have now and the restaurant they dream it could be. To get from one world to the other you need a means of transportation and that is called a solid plan.

Strategic planning is what separates those that grow successfully from those that build a sort of “restaurant house of cards” where eventually it all comes crashing down. In order to succeed in any building of a structure it comes down to one key component: foundation.

Opening new locations is easy if you have the funding. Maintaining and growing multiple location requires more planning than is realized.

Here are three things you need before your brand is ready to expand:

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1. A Talent Pool

Many restaurants on an aggressive growth plan make this fatal mistake. You need to have a reserve of A players you can pull from to staff the new location. Taking all your A players to the new opening is a short term solution that can cause long term brand damage. You took all your superstars to open and left the C players back at your home base? Now, standards start to slide and guests complaints are on the rise. Brand integrity starts to erode and before you know it, your pulling people (mostly A players) from the opening team back for damage control. Now, the new team is fragmented with mixed players that have not had time to assimilate your culture or be trained properly.

Just as soon as your team gets the original location back to standards, the new location start having problems. Now, your team is stuck in fire fighting mode, just bouncing back and forth between locations (and problems).

Please, don’t overestimate how easy it is to staff for a new restaurant in today’s market. Many restaurants are overconfident in their hiring approach to a new location and find themselves in the “hiring handcuffs”. When the opening day is set, the marketing kicks off, the pressure will begin to build up and you will start down a dark path by either:

  1. Settling for C and D players.
  2. Paying hirer wages than you estimated on your financial projections. 

Both of these will dilute your brand and your integrity long term. Short-term solutions do not fix the real ailment...bad planning. 

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2. Solid Training Systems

Not having a training system beyond the “do as I say and watch what I do” is a sin you need to correct. Restaurants stuck in mediocrity think that they can carry around all their training in their heads. Knowledge passed down by word-of-mouth has been in existence since man discovered language. Great for telling stories by the campfire, not so great for building a consistent brand. Today’s workers want training on multiple platforms. They want printed materials, hands-on learning, and visual reinforcement (videos) of what is the proper way to do the task. Look at the popularity of "how-to" YouTube videos and the number of millennials that claim that they “...learned it on YouTube.”

Having a solid system also results in training consistency. That contributes to brand consistency and that is a key to long term success. Many independent restaurants don’t like having a “training system” because they feel it’s too “corporate.” Not to be the bearer of bad news, a few independents could learn a trick or two about brand consistency from the corporate chains. Nothing wrong with using them as a model and giving your brand spin. Corporate speak can easily be changed to be more of who you are. There are plenty of generic templates available on the internet. Templates are great as a guideline, they should not be used without making changes that represent your culture and your brand voice.

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3. The Right Reasons

Why do you really want to expand your brand? It is a dream, a desire, or a goal? If you answered goal, then what type of goal?

There are two types of goals: push and pull. One sets you up for long-term success and the other for long-term failure.

  1. Push Goals: Here you feel the push to make the new location happen. The real estate location is “too good” to pass up on in your head. You feel the push to get another location open even though the other two requirements listed above (a talent pool to pull from and a solid training system) are not in place. Push goals are really a call from your ego that you should be doing this. Push goals are full of “rationalizations” that come through in that little voice inside your head that tell you it’s the right time and right thing to do. You can rationalize anything if your ego is invested enough. Push goals come from your head and they tend to be very financially risky (because your ego is writing the checks).
  2. Pull Goals: Here you feel the goal deep within your heart. You feel an overwhelming compulsion that you are being pulled towards its attainment. It calls you from something outside. Pull goals are driven by your authentic core values. They are who you are. Now, beware of those “surface core values” that many have because they sound good and people hold them up and use them for connivence.

Let’s look at growth, as an example:

  • Surface value growthI need to expand because that guy down the street just opened his third location and I need to grow to keep up.
  • Authentic value growthI have such a diverse and talented team now that opening another location would allow many of them to expand their skills and assist in growing the brand.

See the difference? 

When you are truly ready to expand your brand is when you can honestly answer all three with a resounding “Hell yeah!”. Think of if it as the expansion trifecta. You can go in and place a bet with one or two, get a short-term win, and potential long-term failure. Or hold out for the big payoff (and long-term success) when you hit all three.

By Donald Burns, Industry Expert