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Creating special moments for people at BeaverTails

Michelle Hill opened her BeaverTails location in 2020.
Michelle Hill opened her BeaverTails location in 2020.

When Michelle Hill made the decision to get into the world of foodservice franchising, she knew she wanted to go down a unique path.

So, when she discovered BeaverTails, a quick-service pastry and snack franchise, she knew it was the perfect option, not just for her personally, but also for the cottage country town she resides in.

With 20 years of running and managing businesses for others, Hill says she had the experience, but not even that could have prepared her for opening her franchise during a
global pandemic.

Hill recently discussed these issues with Canadian Business Franchise as well as why BeaverTails invokes such fond memories for customers.

Canadian Business Franchise (CBF): Did you always envision yourself as an entrepreneur?

Michelle Hill (MH): Yes, I have always envisioned myself as an entrepreneur. Prior to owning my franchise, the previous 20 years of my career were spent running and managing businesses owned by others, so I had a pretty good understanding of what was involved in business ownership. At one point, an opportunity came up for me to purchase one of those businesses, but the deal just couldn’t get finalized.  From that point, I started looking at different business ideas. I think I’ve seen every episode of Dragon’s Den and Shark Tank—both set to record weekly on my PVR—and admired the products/businesses people were coming up with. I was just missing that initial piece—what business could I start?

CBF: Why did you choose franchising?

MH:  I chose BeaverTails because it is a proven concept. I didn’t have to come up with the product or business idea, and I didn’t have to figure out how to start it from scratch. I could purchase an existing “playbook,” if you will, of something that already works. I also wouldn’t be alone in my business journey because there would be support and a community of other franchisees to talk with.

CBF: How did you discover this franchising opportunity?

MH: I discovered BeaverTails while researching different franchises on the internet. I was specifically drawn to this one for a few reasons. Number one, it’s a Canadian business, which was important to me. Secondly, it had a reasonable start-up cost. BeaverTails also has a relatively easy product to prepare compared to many other food service concepts. Lastly, it would fit in the community where I live. I wanted a franchise that was unique—I didn’t want to own just another pizza store or hamburger place. The brand completely fit in the cottage country Muskoka town I live in—Buffalo plaid, Muskoka chairs, and a casual, relaxed, fun atmosphere.

CBF: When did you buy your franchise?

MH: I purchased my BeaverTails franchise in 2020. I applied for the Canada Small Business Finance Program through my bank to assist with the start-up financing. To me, location was one of the most important things. If I couldn’t secure the right location for the business, I may not have moved forward.  You know what they say, location, location, location.

CBF: What was involved in opening your franchise?

MH: After securing the location, we sent renderings to BeaverTails head lodge, and they provided us with a design layout. We hired a local contractor to oversee the project. As with most renovation and construction projects, we ran into a few delays and extra costs. We had a great response to the post that was put up looking for staff. With staff in place, our district coach from head office came down for the week to help train us and get the store set up and ready for opening day.

CBF: Describe your opening day.

MH: Opening day was extremely exciting. Seeing all my hard work and efforts coming together, seeing customers finally walk through our doors with their smiles, and creating new memorable moments was truly amazing.

CBF: Describe a typical day of running your franchise.

MH: The BeaverTails business model is easy to follow. A typical day involves me arriving at the store for 9 a.m. to get things ready to open for 11 a.m. My staff shows up for their shift and I will then assist them on the floor for the daily lunch rush. Once that is complete, staff will take over and I will retreat to the office to make phone calls and do paperwork (review sales, inventory, scheduling, bills etc.). If required, I will stay and work the evening shift and lock up.  However, as we continue to build our staff, we can train key holders for opening and closing.

CBF: Do you feel your educational background helps in your day-to-day tasks and overall business decisions?

MH: I feel my background definitely helps in my day-to-day tasks and overall business decisions. As I mentioned, I spent a lot of my career running and managing businesses. I use those skills when looking at everything in my business (inventory, staff, proficiencies, analysing profit and loss numbers, etc.).

CBF: What have been the highlights and challenges of running your franchise?

MH: A few highlights are meeting and learning from other franchisees, being involved in my community, and being the captain of my own ship—having the flexibility to manage my time and create a work-life balance. One of the challenges I’ve faced has been staffing. Hiring people has been a bit difficult the last few years. I believe this is another outcome of COVID-19 and I know I’m not the only business affected by this.

CBF: Is there anything unique about your market?

MH: My market is a bit unique in that we are in a small tourist town. The unique part of this, however, is we are not just a one-season destination. In addition to the community that supports us, people come to Muskoka in spring, summer, winter, and fall to enjoy the beauty and various seasonal activities and BeaverTails is always a highlight of their visits. We have two large provincial parks, a ski hill, and hundreds of lakes for people to enjoy.

CBF: How do you make your franchise stand out amongst others in the market?

MH: BeaverTails pastries are a widely recognized product that people usually associate with some fond memory, and I wanted to be a part in creating those special moments for people. To make my franchise stand out amongst others, we like to get involved in the community. As our business is in a downtown core, we are part of the business improvement area (BIA) and members in two local chambers of commerce, and we like to give back to the community.

CBF: How has the business evolved since you started?

MH: The business is constantly evolving every day. My entire staff has become more proficient in their roles. We always look for different ways to improve what we do.

CBF: How has COVID impacted your franchise?

MH: COVID had a huge impact on my business. Opening a new business at any time is difficult and stressful, and then you throw in a global pandemic on top of it, and wow, I just couldn’t seem to get my feet on the ground during the first year. We were open, then takeout only, then back to open…you know how it went. Unfortunately for me, because of the time I opened, I was not eligible for many of the government support initiatives, so it was a tough year. But we made it, and things are starting to look up.

CBF: What are your future plans?

MH: My future plans are to continue to grow my business and create more special moments with BeaverTails. I’ll continue to hire the right staff in management and leadership roles, and I will continue to look for more ways to be involved in the community by continuing to participate in every local event and festival.

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