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Money can make employees care


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With online materials using less text and more images and video, Michele Lange (center), director of training, says Habit Burger has created a successful training program. She served on a panel on the subject at the National Restaurant Association show this spring.

Just be really good at something.

That may sound like simplistic advice in the increasingly competitive franchise restaurant landscape, but it’s a mantra CEO Roland Dickey Jr. repeats to himself often as he leads the Dickey’s Barbecue Pit chain, one that’s grown to more than 500 stores in 44 states.

Targeting the health-conscious

It’s a lesson the third-generation owner learned again when the restaurant expanded to California in 2009. Aiming to go after a market thought to be full of health-conscious consumers who would dismiss a menu of Texas barbecue, Dickey’s launched a selection of salads, including a tofu meatball salad. Speaking during a franchise operator panel at the National Restaurant Association show earlier this year, Dickey could only shake his head.

“It didn’t work,” he said, laughing, and was quickly taken off the menu. Still, the trial proved to be a good learning experience for the chain, Dickey said, and reinforced the notion of not being all things to all people.

Burger King, too, has fallen prey to unnecessary menu items. The company once introduced 29 limited-time offers (LTOs) in one year, said Bennie Arbour Jr., the CEO of 47-unit Burger King franchisee Goldco. The chain has since pulled back on its LTOs to concentrate on its core menu of burgers and fries, said Arbour, while still creating new options using items already on the menu, such as the A1 Ultimate Bacon Cheeseburger.

“We can do different things without bringing additional SKUs into the supply chain,” he said.

The result has been a sales turnaround, with same-store sales in the first quarter up 6.9 percent in the U.S. and Canada. For Arbour’s Burger King stores in southern Florida, some of the growth is likely due to upselling—something his employees get paid to do.

Arbour and Goldco started by identifying “leading indicators”—including upselling and speed of service—that drive sales and profits. Then to get his company’s 1,400 employees moving in the same direction, Arbour began paying monthly incentives—$25 to upselling crew members, up to $1,000 for managers who hit their goals.

“How do you get someone making $8,000 a year to care?” said Arbour. “Put money in their hands.”

The skinny on training

Faced with an influx of employees in their teens and early 20s who expect online and mobile availability of, well, everything, franchises are changing their tack when it comes to not just the where of training but the how.

Recognizing that today’s learners want more accessible materials, Habit Burger Director of Training Michele Lange said the company not only offers its training materials online, but also in what she called “little snippets” that are easier to understand and reinforce.

“We skinny everything down,” Lange said during an NRA session on franchise training, using less text, more images and videos that reinforce those learned systems and standards. Habit Burger even has training tablets available in its restaurants so managers can incorporate training into the daily schedule.

“Our culture is that we train all the time, every day,” Lange said. “All of our locations are training locations.”

Along with the turnover rate and customer evaluations, store profits are the success indictor of Habit Burger’s training program, Lange said, and the Irvine, California-based chain reported a 12.6 percent increase in same-store sales for the first quarter. That increase was driven by a 6.8 percent increase in transactions and a 5.8 percent increase in average check.

For the 332-unit McAlister’s Deli, that style of “quick hit” repetitive training is also proving successful, said Mike Freeman, senior director of training for the Alpharetta, Georgia-based fast-casual sandwich franchise.

“We train less, more often,” he explained, since the company found its employees digest information better in smaller pieces that are continually reinforced. McAlister’s also blends its modes of learning across print and online platforms to reach employees who come from different generations.  

“We put the perspective of the franchisee first,” Freeman continued, with the understanding that not everyone coming to the brand knows how to use those online and mobile tools.

The acceleration of new hires to higher levels is attributable to McAlister’s training program, Freeman said, as is lower attrition.

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