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Young at heart

There’s a buzz in the air when The Franchise Magazine visits McDonald’s HQ in North London to meet franchisees from across the experience spectrum – all of whom use the word ‘excitement’ when speaking about their association with the brand.

In fact, ‘excitement’ along with ‘passion’ and the confirmation that McDonald’s is a ‘people business’ are the strongest impressions I come away with. There’s no doubting that these franchisees belong to a truly committed and yes, excited, network. Meet the new generation where even the old guard is very young at heart...    

Bill Liddy has been a McDonald’s franchisee for 25 years with several restaurants. After successfully completing the application process and training, daughter Emma became franchisee of the Gosforth store, formerly within Bill’s operation. 

Bill, how did you find out about McDonald’s and the franchise opportunity?   

I was an electrical engineer working overseas. Some American colleagues told me about McDonald’s long before it came to the UK. I started writing to them before they began franchising and was accepted as a franchisee eventually in the ’90s.      

Were you always interested in becoming a multi-unit operator?   

From the beginning I wanted a string of restaurants. I knew that was how it was franchised in the States and there was no reason McDonald’s popularity wouldn’t take off the same way in the UK as it had in the US – and it did.      

What benefits are there to running a business as a franchisee with a company such as McDonald’s?   

I’m trading on their name, and their good reputation. It’s their name above the door that helps to create the kind of business that we do. And it’s the culture, too. We treat our people well, we have a very good, low level of turnover, we’re fair to people, we treat them right – it’s a pleasure to come to work! 

Any words of wisdom for others?   

I can recommend an ethical franchisor like McDonald’s, absolutely. This is a time-and-again proven model and, as they say, there’s strength in numbers! McDonald’s is a global name with excellent operating standards and franchisees that are highly trained and motivated. 

It requires total dedication and hard work to grow your business and at the same time operate at the highest possible standard in fulfilling customers’ needs. It requires full-time, best efforts from the day you become a franchisee and hands-on involvement throughout.      

We are primarily a people business – so treat your people right, be caring and look after the employees – without them there’s no business.      

You need to be a hard worker definitely. You’ve got to get stuck in. It’s a hands-on operation, you need to be close to the coal face all the time. It’s a complex business, so it needs close attention. Be dedicated, work hard and know how to treat people.         

Emma Vieira has fulfilled a number of roles within McDonald’s, including now running her own franchise      

No need to ask you how you know about McDonald’s, it’s in the family!  

Yes! I started as an assistant manager. Came in and was interviewed just like anybody else. My dad’s always been the kind of guy that would say: “There’s no preferential treatment! You work your way up,” because you need to learn and because it’s quite an in-depth process. I stayed working for McDonald’s in other roles, and though not always in dad’s restaurants, we’ve always planned that one day I’d take on the family business.     

In about 2014 we decided it was time to start making in-roads into becoming a franchisee and taking over the family business. Biggest problem was… dad doesn’t want to retire! But we spoke to McDonald’s – they told us: “Bill, you don’t need to retire! Emma can become a franchisee in her own right!” And so, now I’ve been successful in the application process, dad has handed the reins of his Gosforth store over, and now I’m one of the first second-generation or ‘NextGen’ franchisees for McDonald’s in the UK.

Did you go through the same rigorous application process as anyone else?   

Absolutely! Probably more! People have this notion that taking over the family business means ‘there’s the keys – away you go!’ But it’s not. The reason McDonald’s is a fantastic business is because of the integrity of its people, and that includes the franchisees. Despite my history with them they still asked: “What makes you want to take this on for the next 20 years? Do you understand what it means to become a franchisee?” We have an obligation to the system to make sure that we do it right – we use the term ‘brand ambassadors’. I understand the part I play in that global business, that each franchisee’s got a responsibility. It’s through the legacy of people like my dad, and his 25 years, that has made the system as strong as it is today. It’s time for me now to step up – my turn! It’s so exciting… I love what I do!   

You don’t often hear people say that about what they do for a living!  

Well, I do! I love the energy. I love working with the crew, the mix of people we have… I love that diversity. It’s a really energising business, it keeps me mentally stimulated. I’m very much a doer – so I like the fast pace of it all. And it’s exciting, I’m really proud of the heritage – this is McDonald’s – and I’m very, very proud of it.

Has life changed as a franchisee?

It’s lovely to be able to come in and to make the decisions that will affect my business. I’ve also got a huge responsibility – 90 people working for me and their livelihood is down to the decisions I make. I’ve watched over the last 20 years how dad’s run his business, and you’ve got to be decisive yet always think: “What’s the right thing to do here? What’s the right thing for our customers and our people?” and I like that.

I’ve also been able to tap into people’s potential – I find that hugely rewarding. And you do get it back! It’s a reciprocal relationship, I think it’s really important to treat everybody with dignity and respect.

You need to have belief in the system, and if you don’t, it’s not the right place for you. It’s a cultural thing and we all feel the same – it’s like a brotherhood, really. No, sisterhood I should say! Because there’s more of us women coming on board, which is great.

So you’ve found the business accessible?

Oh, absolutely yes! McDonald’s have done a lot more to attract female franchisees. The offering is good for us, it gives us the flexibility we need – and we have a lot to offer. Even becoming a parent, I still managed to be a mum and be able to work – McDonald’s is so flexible.

I think it also sends out a message to women out there: “You know what? We can do this! We are more than capable, we just need to seize the opportunity.”

It’s been really lovely to see more women joining the network in the last three to four years than I’ve seen in the last 15 years. And I’m one of them! I feel very proud to represent women in franchising.

What are your plans for the future?

To grow and to expand my business and become a multi-site operator. And also to give back, doing more in my local community and on the committees that help shape and define McDonald’s. But definitely to expand and develop and to hopefully have some involvement in dad’s business along the way.

Jayne Aspin-Mayne is completing her training before taking on her own McDonald’s business. Jayne formerly held senior management roles in a male-dominated industry.

Tell us a little about yourself…

I was head of production control for Bombardier, who make and overhaul trains. I really enjoyed it! When I became head of production controllers, I still had 25 years left of a career and thought: “What else can I do?” I started looking at franchising, and the best I could see was McDonald’s – also one of the most difficult to get in, which is good. I went to an open day in October [2018], went through the different interviews, and in June 2019 was told that I was good to go to become a registered applicant and embark on the franchisee training process.

You were quite happy in your job, so McDonald’s must have really appealed?

Yeah, definitely. The business I was with was keen for me to move on to the next level, but it was a lot more strategic – and I enjoy working with people, seeing results. I would’ve gone for that promotion, but it made me ask: “If they think I’m ready for the next step, then what do I want that next step to be?” The answer was: doing something for myself, having my own business and doing that with a tried-and-tested model, which is what franchising is. It’s been nerve-wracking but really exciting. I’m thoroughly enjoying it and I’m so pleased with the decision.

I wanted somewhere customer-facing and McDonald’s appeared an obvious choice to me, and one with a considerable market share. I’ve always been ambitious and I like being part of a big brand where I can do well within it.

I came from an extremely maledominated industry, so I know what that environment looks like, but with McDonald’s they’ve never made me feel that anything was impossible.

You’re currently undergoing your training. How are you finding it so far?

Really good! Everyone’s been really welcoming and so helpful. It’s been so good to see all that we talked about in the interview process – about what’s important to McDonald’s as a brand – is in action when you go to their restaurants. How the employees feel, how the customers are treated and how both are central to everything. This is absolutely what it’s all about. It’s just affirming for me everything I’ve believed in so far – my values and theirs very much align. Such a great thing has come together!

So McDonald’s is a people business?

There’s no greater advocate than us franchisees. I’ve spoken to six of them and they’re all at different stages of their journey – some brand new, some have been franchisees for years, but the message was always the same: it’s all about people – they all still absolutely love what they do, they love the brand and they love their business. It feels like you’re part of a community, which is good, you don’t feel alone in it at all. Hopefully, I’ll be sharing my experience and insights with new franchisees in the future.

Can you share your plans for the future?

I like to think I would be a multi-unit operator, and to be part of the teams that help influence and steer how the business is going. I love to see how the whole machinery of business works. I feel like I’m in just the right place and I felt that right away. From the beginning I felt: “This is what I want, this is what I want more than anything!” I quite enjoyed my old job but I wanted this. I desperately did. Especially once I’d started that journey with McDonald’s, and so to be here now just feels amazing and very, very surreal!

Getting the call to tell me I’d been successful as a franchisee applicant was one of the best days of my life! You’ve put your heart and soul into the process and then you have this life-changing moment!

Any advice for budding franchisees?

Just go for it! Take that leap, why not? I was definitely nervous but I’d say: “Don’t regret not doing it!” I’m so pleased I didn’t wait another five or 10 years. I get to start this journey as soon as possible, grow my business as much as I can and hopefully pass that on to my children – that NextGen step that’s possible with McDonald’s.

After a career as a pilot and entrepreneur, Rav Sandhu wanted to work among teams again, and so involvement with a ‘people business’ was an obvious choice.

What did you do before you embarked on your McDonald’s journey?

I was a pilot in the Royal Air Force. I flew the Hercules, which was one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done, and served in Iraq. It was always an ambition of mine to fly and I felt privileged to have served.

I did that for a decade and I retired after an injury. I then went to work with my brother within his food retail franchise. That sparked my interest in working for myself. I launched my own business, which mostly shipped products around the world, but it was a small operation and it was very clear, very quickly, that I missed being in teams (as I was in the RAF) and the buzz of people, like I had with my brother in his franchise. So, about three years ago, I started thinking: “Well, where do I want to go with this?”

McDonald’s was a very obvious choice. I wanted to work for myself, I knew the opportunities they had; it’s a fascinating business, it keeps innovating. It was something I always kept an eye on, and I could see myself being a part of their future. I went to an Insight day and thought: “This is the right place for me!”

How did you know it was right?

As soon as they started talking about “hard work”, “dedication”, “be hands on”, “know your people” – it all made sense to me and was something that I was missing.

We heard from a number of existing franchisees, too, and straightaway I thought: “Yes! This is the kind of thing I know and love!” But actually, it’s far more exciting, because there’s a lot more going on with McDonald’s. The Insight day made it pretty clear what I was getting into.

What happened next?

The next phase is thorough, there’s no denying that. It’s long, and so you have the opportunity to reflect on whether you’re doing the right thing – and that’s good, both ways. It’s rigorous – interviews go on for many stages. You meet other franchisees, you go and work in a store – it all benefits you as well. And at any point you can say: “This isn’t for me,” and I think it needs to be that way.

You have to be sure of what you’re getting into – it’s a very hands-on business. You also need to be a people person.

So it was a chance to make a big change?

Yes, because to do this, I moved some of my investments around, and I pulled out of my business to become a franchisee and for the purpose of setting myself up for these nine months. I know there is a bursary, which can make a big difference for some – all these things help. I’ve learned about banks and funding, too. At the open day, there are people from the banks who’ll tell you how confident they are lending to you.

Obviously, as a borrower you’re interested in what kind of deal you get. As a franchisee, you’re considered a very low-risk investment. The deal they give you is competitive – banks are generally supportive of the franchise model. Reassurance like that makes you very confident that there is lending available. The other side of the funding conversation is the commitment from your own savings – what you need to have depending on your investment.

Figures show that with a franchise – when compared with setting up a business entirely on your own – there’s, relatively speaking, less risk involved. During applying, you can say openly: “One of the reasons I’m here is to try to align myself with a brand that’s enjoyed success.” That’s the attraction of McDonald’s.

What should future franchisees do?

Talk to people. McDonald’s is very open. They’ll let you go and talk to as many people as you like. Get that feedback, find out what people do day to day, because it is busy – especially at the beginning.

In terms of qualities, you’re going to have to work hard, that’s obvious. Even more important is having people skills. You meet people from all walks of life. You’ve got students, single parents, older people – these are both our employees and our customers. So, if you can get on with people from every background, you’re going to do well here.

I keep hearing that it’s a people business!

It really is! Some people think: “Yeah, I’ve got it. I can talk to people” But actually, there’s so much more to it. And it covers so many things. You only need to spend a day in a McDonald’s store to know exactly what I’m talking about. Those people skills? Well, every minute you can be speaking to several different people – how do you get that connection with each one of them? That’s what we’re talking about.

And the community aspect – McDonald’s plant themselves in communities. If you do it right, you can have a positive impact on the people who come through the store, as employees and customers. There’s a lot of respect within the company. You need to be interested in people, really, and you can’t fake that. You need to get to know them.

Jonny Nassau is already a veteran of franchising at a relatively young age. Now he’s forging his future long-term plans through franchising with McDonald’s.

Why franchising, and why McDonald’s?

I’ve always been in franchising; I started running my own B2B automotive supplies franchise when I was 23. At the time – as now, with McDonald’s – I was the youngest UK franchisee in that network, so I knew the pressure I’d be under, the scrutiny, so I really wanted to push forward and progress. And I was pretty successful! But I really wanted to move into something where I would be working with my own team but with the brand power still behind me. And with that in mind, McDonald’s stood out as one of the biggest names to do this with.

How are you finding the recruitment and training process so far?

The recruitment process itself is the toughest thing I’ve ever done, and the most enjoyable! You go on an emotional rollercoaster, but you’ve just got to trust McDonald’s and trust you’ll get there in the end if you’re good enough.

But you’ve got to be yourself throughout the process as well. Being a people person, I match well with McDonald’s and I believe that’s really what they’re looking for, along with the business acumen required.

What was it like when McDonald’s said “yes” to you becoming a franchisee?

At every stage, I became more and more engrossed in the process, increasingly attached to the brand, as well as learning so much all the time about the business.

The toughest part was the penultimate interview. When they rang me afterwards and told me I was going through to the panel, it’s very emotional because of the different feelings I was going through. At that point you’re really wanting to succeed. Oddly, I found the final interview a lot easier than the one before! And when I got that ‘yes’ call I was going through a whole world of emotions, actually.

But now, it’s excitement. And just a great sense of achievement, ultimately, because it’s not an easy process. Delighted as well, because while I was confident in my ability, the sheer volume of people that apply is huge. And I got through – there’s no guarantee that you will!

What are your franchise expansion plans for the future?

I think McDonald’s would say “you’re not for us” if you were coming into it for just the one restaurant. I wouldn’t want just one and neither would McDonald’s – they want you to have multiple units. I’d like to grow, definitely, and I have a figure in mind! If I’ve got the right people around me, I’d like just to keep growing until I’m happy.

If the business won plaudits in the future I would put my people forward for recognition, not myself, because, ultimately, they are the ones who got you there – they come on the journey with you.

Does the franchise model lend itself to young entrepreneurs?

I got an opportunity to come into franchising originally at 23, and I’m a massive advocate for the young, and want to repay the same faith that I was given and have been given by McDonald’s.

Young people are great at initiating and fulfilling new ideas and they think outside the box, they’re not so structured by ‘this is the way it has to be done’. They just think very differently and that’s why I’d love to be an advocate and give them opportunities. And, of course, we might be the ones in a good position to buy the rights to run stores from current operators.

McDonald’s and its people have a really young-at-heart outlook. Bill, for example, can’t see himself ever retiring...

The brand just builds and builds and builds that excitement – it captures you and it makes you dream big. They give you the opportunity to do that, which I think is fantastic.

McDonald’s takes everyone as a blank canvas, saying: “Here’s a chance to prove yourself – if you’ve got leadership skills, if we see quality, then there’s a good chance you are going to progress.” Everybody’s unique, nobody’s pre-judged and that’s important. We’ve all been given an opportunity here and it’s one for the taking. And if you want to take it – go after it.

Any advice for anyone considering franchising with McDonald’s?

You have to be comfortable putting trust in the brand. There’s no point in buying a franchise if you’re not willing to work. It’s not a case of “I’ve bought a franchise, it’ll run itself” – in reality, that’s not going to happen. It’s about guiding the business in the right direction.

Follow the system, it’s proven. It’s very difficult to be successful just creating your own brand – with a franchise, you’ve got the brand there in front of you. Now use that to drive you forward, but implement the ideas that McDonald’s are giving you and you too may benefit from that track record of success.