Missives from NOA board offer glimpse of what McD’s independent ‘zees want
Illustration by Jonathan Hankin
Every couple of weeks I (along with everyone else on the mailing list) receive a missive from leaders of the NOA, McDonald’s first independent franchisee group. Since they aren’t giving interviews, at least not yet, I’ve been poring over these newsletter notes to glean what I can.
The notes vary widely in tone and subject matter, from the patriotic to the critical to the nostalgic. Here are my musings on what they reveal and sometimes what they hide.
First, the big ideas, written by Blake Casper. He’s chairman of the National Owners Association board who started the group last October with an invitation to franchisees to come to his headquarters in Tampa, Florida, to kick things off. An overflow crowd of more than 400 people showed up, amidst Hurricane Michael, and the group has been rolling ever since.
“The Pursuit of Happiness” is one title from Casper, in May, writing in approval of the “Delivering Happy” program, “allowing us to take advantage of a new and improved partnership with UberEats. Happiness is fundamental to the Golden Arches and we can deliver it like no one else. Now we can deliver it to your door. Another step for brand McDonald’s and one that’s in step with America.” Translation: It’s about time.
Casper’s not above jabbing his competitors. In the same note, he takes a swipe at Burger King, which famously unveiled Mood meals in May in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month. Casper booed the project.
“Speaking of Happiness, Burger King is giving up on it. They have had an Angry Whopper for a while, but now have Mood meals to counter our Happy ones. Their claim is you can’t be happy all the time, so why try? One of the meals is ‘DGAF.’ It stands for ‘Don’t Give A F.....’
“Ray talked about using a hose when your competitor is drowning,” Casper wrote, referring to Ray Kroc. “I don’t think we are going to need one.”
He even revealed his penchant for “Game of Thrones.” “Tonight is the final episode of the Game of Thrones. Not exactly Happy Meal tie-in material, but America is watching … I find myself looking at what they are eating on the show, in the taverns, the palaces, and the prison cells. There is no common meal …
“Alas, there is no McDonald’s in Westeros. No place to lighten the mood and no place to go for a smile. The Game of Thrones is dark and brutal, it makes me want to go to McDonald’s (or have it delivered).”
They’re not lovin’ it
Next there are the critical posts, first on marketing. “Love will always have a place at McDonald’s but we need the next culturally relevant theme. It’s time for us to remind America why the Arches are just as important as we were 65 years ago. We need the next version of ‘I am Lovin it.’ We must use our voice at McDonald’s or someone else will.”
Second, on guest counts. “We are still losing guest counts. This continues to be a concern,” a note said. “Larger orders serving more customers” explain some of the drop, “but the magnitude of the loss in transaction counts is greater than what can be explained in order aggregation (especially in the Southeast U.S.).”
The group wants to change “our approach to value. We learned from last year that everyday value at the national level is impossible and ineffective,” and the board wants Dollar Drinks to be eliminated from the annual marketing calendar. “It is not working for the majority of the U.S.”
The board’s biggest wish: “A favorite, that our customers want, is a chicken sandwich. Unfortunately, they have to go to Chick-fil-A for it …
“Our U.S. Southeast markets’ results should concern everyone. You may not have Chick-fil- As in your market or to the degree they have them in the Southeast, but they are coming. And they don’t discount.
“A Chicken Sandwich at McDonald’s should be our top priority. JFK called for a man on the moon, our call should be a category-leading chicken sandwich.”
Resisting urges to sue
The June 23 newsletter revealed the root of the unhappiness among members, which crystallized in the BBV2020 contract. (That stands for Bigger Bolder Vision 2020.)
“Most of us signed this contract (kudos to those few that had the courage to not sign). We can claim that we were misinformed, coerced, relying on our operator leadership, but we signed a contract. And so we are bound by it, as is the company. True, there is plenty that has not materialized as promised. There is plenty to build our case and perhaps we would have won our day in court.”
Board leadership, however, is against that move.
“We could have filed a class action lawsuit the likes of which our industry has never seen. The headlines would have been huge. And perhaps sweet vindication would salve our bitter wounds. But what of the collateral damage?” the newsletter said.
“How do we square a brand representing happiness with a brand that lives in a courtroom surrounded by fierce attorneys? No offense to attorneys, but generating happiness is not what they do.
“If you have been injured by the company, you should pursue all means of recourse and we will support you. But as an Association, we elected to not pursue legal action.” Translation: Plenty of operators are urging the group to take the combative route.
In his note dated July 28, NOA Chair Casper wrote that representing so many owners is not an easy task but all voices must be heard. “There is far more debate and discussion. It’s a lot faster to move with a small group. Traveling with 1,700 owners (with lots of strong and diverse opinions) takes more time. It’s worth the time. You are worth the time.”
Only time will tell if the NOA can keep its cooperative tone with all those “strong and diverse” cats to herd.
Beth Ewen is senior editor of Franchise Times, and writes the Continental Franchise Review® column in each issue. Send interesting legal and public policy cases to firstname.lastname@example.org.