Giving Back Fuels Franchise Development

Franchise Development

For Firehouse Subs®, giving back is not only part of doing business, it’s been a tipping point for franchise growth.

By Greg Delks

Franchise development is the lifeblood of any successful franchise system. You can have a great product, strong operators, solid unit-level economics and a core customer base, but if you remain stagnant, things can unravel quickly. This is especially true in the fast casual segment.

Investors have been pouring money into fast casual chains recently as private equity groups have been buying up brands and Wall Street continues to serve up high multiples looking for the next big thing. Nevertheless, many fast casual concepts have struggled in recent years based on shareholder volatility, evolving consumer habits and a changing restaurant landscape.

Find a Common Cause

Franchisors that subscribe to a steady and disciplined approach to long-term growth tend to rise to the top and it’s one of the main reasons for the success of our more than 1,160-unit Firehouse Subs brand. But what makes Firehouse Subs stand out among our competitors isn’t solely based on high franchisee satisfaction ratings or the latest in marketing for franchise sales. It’s how we have built and continue to maintain relationships focused on a common cause – the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation®.

Since the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation’s inception in 2005, our commitment to public safety and first responders in the communities in which we operate has become one of our largest means of differentiation and allowed us to create a multi-generational experience that has redefined how candidates enter our pipeline on their pathway to franchise ownership.

When franchise candidates evaluate a brand, a number of factors go into the decision-making process. Financial performance, geographic availability, territory exclusivity, innovation and the strength of a powerful executive team are all important data points a prospect must consider before ever signing a franchise agreement. But when a brand is aligned with a cause that has an authentic connection to its mission and identity, like Firehouse Subs does, the brand takes on greater meaning.

“It’s true, we’re selling a sandwich, but there’s a deeper meaning. For me, the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation accounted for 90 percent of my decision to become a franchisee,” said Jina Kim, a Firehouse Subs franchisee in Lakewood, Wash. “When you know the work you’re doing as a franchisee is benefitting first responders at the local level – it becomes a very personal and motivating experience.”

Giving Back Can Motivate Recruits

Kim is just one of the dozens of Firehouse Subs franchisees whose tipping point was not our award-winning sandwiches, operational excellence, powerful marketing or robust infrastructure, but our system-wide priority to impact the lifesaving capabilities and the lives of local heroes in our communities.

“As a person that has worked in the hospitality field for over 30 years, and is not a first responder, the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation has allowed me and everyone involved with Firehouse Subs to help save lives,” said Firehouse Subs Area Developer and Multi-Unit Franchisee Chris Holmes in Tallahassee, Fla. “If you're blessed with the opportunity to meet a person whose life was saved by a piece of equipment you helped donate, it changes your life. The fact that we get to serve great subs and save lives at the same time is absolutely amazing.”

To date, the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation has granted more than $42 million to fund life-saving equipment and educational opportunities for first responders and public safety organizations in local communities where restaurants are located.

“When I started talking to the Firehouse Subs franchise development team, I was so impressed by the way they were looking for new owners and area representatives,” said Firehouse Subs Northern California Area Developer Scott Kinner. “They weren’t just looking at financial numbers or work experience, they were interested in finding the right type of people to work with that were passionate about great food, customer service and giving back to the communities in which they operated.”

Community First Focus

Locally, individual franchisees recycle five-gallon pickle buckets and make them available to customers for a $2 donation to the Foundation in the U.S. and a $3 donation to the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation of Canada for those restaurants north of the border. Additionally, donation canisters on register counters collect spare change and the Round Up Program encourages guests to “round up” their bill to the nearest dollar, all benefiting the Foundation.

It’s important that potential franchisees embrace this community-first focus and make it a priority to be part of their neighborhood fabric.

“Our core values stem from the firefighter mentality of our founders Robin Sorensen and Chris Sorensen, both former firefighters themselves,” said Firehouse Subs Director of Franchise Development Brent Greenwood. “As a brand, we’ve always strived to do the right thing by both our customers and our franchisees. As important as the financial numbers are in the potential ownership of a Firehouse Subs, franchisees also need to mesh culturally with everything our brand stands for.”

Whether a concept operates five locations or 500, franchise brands have a unique opportunity to make a life-changing impact in the community in which they operate. The goodwill generated among your customers, your franchisee network and prospective candidates is far-reaching and long lasting.

Without a doubt, the mission of the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation resonates with everyone across our entire organization – from our founders and home office team to our franchisees and their employees, as well as prospective franchise candidates. In fact, this common mission has been a primary reason many franchisees have joined our organization. We’d like to think that Firehouse Subs can serve as an example to the entire franchise industry and we encourage other brands to make giving back a priority to make a real difference in the world while driving their growth.

Greg Delks is Vice President of Global and Non-Traditional Development for Firehouse Subs. Learn more about Firehouse here.