Why Giving Back is Critical to Franchise Success
For Firehouse Subs founders, giving back is the way they like to do business. Since its inception, the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation has provided more than $29 million for lifesaving equipment to first responders.
By Robin Sorensen
If there was one bright moment that surfaced from the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, I like to think it was the creation of the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation.
Katrina’s wrath could be categorized by its large storm surge and accompanying 140-mph winds. We saw the destruction unfold on television, and it was devastating to watch. When my brother and I heard a Jacksonville, Fla. fire department chief asking for donations to support 100 Jacksonville firefighters who were on their way to Pascagoula, Miss. to aid in the relief efforts, we knew we could do something to help. We decided to load an 18-wheeler and a bus with food and water and take them to Pascagoula, but we had to change direction when local first responders in neighboring towns asked for our help. Our first stop was Pearlington, Miss., a small municipality of about 1,700 residents that sits at the mouth of the Pearl River on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast.
“Nothing is more rewarding than seeing the work that is being done across the country by all first responders, schools, hospitals and similar organizations and charities that receive donations from our foundation.”
Most people don’t know it’s there, or they simply pass it by on their way to New Orleans, but Pearlington holds a special place in the history of our business. It was the catalyst to forming Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation, our charitable arm, which has helped define our brand – a franchise business practice that can benefit many other systems. It’s important to note that the creation of our foundation happened organically – we went to Mississippi primarily to help those affected by the storm, but it turned out to be great for our business.
Days after Katrina made landfall, Pearlington had yet to receive federal disaster relief, and the devastation seemed surreal even as residents languished in a state of shock. We knew that much uncertainty lay ahead for the people there and across the small Mississippi towns of Waveland, Kiln and Bay St. Louis. But, for a short time, we met their most basic needs.
Our second nature
As former firefighters, it’s second nature for us to help those most in need and we love doing it. Being there to provide for the survivors of the hurricane was a remarkable feeling, and we knew that this experience was going to mark a positive change in our lives and those of all we touched. Our experience in post-Katrina Mississippi positioned philanthropy front and center for us and our brand. While disaster relief was the catalyst that put us on the path of forming our foundation – and it’s still a part of our foundation’s focus – we knew there was a more urgent, daily need for lifesaving equipment. After Pearlington, we realized our business could and should do more, and our attention quickly turned to first responders – a group in which we grew up and with which we were intimately familiar. Understanding that public safety organizations often lack the funding and equipment needed to serve their communities adequately and save lives on a daily basis, the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation was born.
“Our experience in post-Katrina Mississippi positioned philanthropy front and center for us and the Firehouse Subs brand.”
The foundation’s mission is to have a positive impact on the life‐saving capabilities, and the lives, of local heroes and their communities by providing life-saving equipment, prevention education, scholarships and continued education, disaster relief and military support. Since the foundation’s inception in 2005, a figure in excess of $29 million has been granted to more than 3,000 fire departments, police departments, schools, hospitals and other organizations and charities.
Suggestions for cause-marketing success
A critical component of our foundation is its integration with our family’s firefighter heritage. This is supported by Firehouse Subs’ own mission statement: “To Carry on Our Commitment to and Passion for Hearty and Flavorful Food, Heartfelt Service and Public Safety.” This integration and connection has served as a catalyst for our franchise’s growth through additional brand awareness, while also providing franchisees and system-wide employees with a deeper sense of purpose. It takes time and effort, but for franchisors who want to align themselves with a particular cause, it can be a highly rewarding practice if implemented with the proper framework. To make any cause-marketing partnership work, franchisors may want to consider the following suggestions:
Do What Feels Right
I encourage you to start your own foundation as we did. If you have a passion for a cause that integrates with your brand as ours does, do it. Although it is a lot of work that takes lots of resources to carry out, it is incredibly rewarding. Another option would be to select from other charities that integrate with your brand’s mission.
Give Back Year-Round
While one-day events are important in any fundraising effort, brands can truly make a difference by developing programs that impact a cause year-round. For example, we boost annual donations at our restaurants beyond specific fundraising campaigns by placing donation canisters at register counters, selling empty five-gallon buckets for contributions, encouraging online donations, and promoting our “round up” program that allows guests to round up their bill to the nearest dollar. With more than 1,000 restaurants, year-round giving supports the foundation on a continuous basis.
Build the Right Team
Whether large or small, any charitable effort that your brand can make in the communities you serve will have an impact. As a franchisor, it’s important to build your brand with the right franchisees who also embrace your sense of giving and purpose. While financial performance is integral to success, having franchisees who are also a cultural fit should not be undervalued. For our business and because our roots run deep in the fire department, giving to first responders was a natural fit.
We strive each day to build our business, but I cannot emphasize enough the satisfaction we receive from our foundation. It is truly special to see our franchisees getting behind our charity, and nothing is more rewarding than seeing the work that is being done across the country by all first responders, schools, hospitals and similar organizations and charities that receive donations from our foundation. I couldn’t imagine Firehouse Subs without it. It is truly the heart of our brand.
Robin Sorensen is Co-Founder of Firehouse Subs. For more information about franchise opportunities at Firehouse Subs.