By Mark Hoskins
While I was brought up to be entrepreneurial, I didn’t find it as easy as I expected at first to launch my own business. When I felt like I was drifting, however, a ground-floor franchising opportunity came along that was perfect for me. Today, I am a multi-unit franchisee for Wing’n It, with one franchise in St. John’s, N.L., and another in Gander, about a three-hour drive away—and I am actively planning more locations.
Building my skills
I was born in Corner Brook, N.L., and have one sister who’s two years younger than me. As a kid, I was into computers and technology. My best subject in school was history and I became a Second World War buff. I was weak at math, but good at the social sciences and writing essays. I also enjoyed sports like archery and track and field in high school.
After graduating from high school, I went to Cape Breton University in Sydney, N.S., for a degree in information technology (IT) and business. The courses involved small group work, where we would set and reach goals as teams. In retrospect, that really helped prepare me for dealing with my restaurants’ managers today.
I always wanted to start my own business when I grew up, as I’m from an entrepreneurial family. My mother, a nurse by trade, ran a home-support agency for elderly people, which assisted them so they could stay in their own homes, rather than move into a nursing home. My father worked at a paper mill for his whole career and helped my mother with the agency. They ran that business right outside my bedroom door for 12 years and I learned a lot from them, including ‘intangible’ skills, like how to deal with unexpected situations.
After 25 years, they sold the business and retired. I knew I wanted that kind of control over my own career.
Walking into an opportunity
When I first attempted to start up a business of my own, as well as a gym with a partner, however, they were non-starters. I had held some IT and sales jobs, but was drifting around looking for an opportunity when I walked into the first Wing’n It restaurant. It was in a great downtown St. John’s location, an old, converted three-storey house on Bates Hill. It was always packed and they had people happily waiting in line for an hour to get a table. The product was fantastic—they offered 93 flavours of chicken wings—and I loved the aviation-themed décor. I immediately wondered if the concept would also work elsewhere.
It turned out the owners were wondering the same thing. When I e-mailed them to express my interest, I got a message back indicating they wanted to franchise the business.
So, I had a meeting with the owners about two to three weeks after our e-mail exchange. This was in early 2011. Within about three to four months, we put together a franchise agreement. I signed on as their first franchisee, with the rights to open four restaurants.
Taking a Gander
I wanted to open my first location in my hometown of Corner Brook, which is about six hours from St. John’s, but ran into issues getting real estate there. In Gander, meanwhile, there was a building going up with attractive lease and rent terms. I opened my franchise there on December 19, 2011.
Gander is a small community and I would’ve preferred to open earlier to ramp up. With the Christmas season, our restaurant was bursting at the seams right from day one! Lots of students were back in town visiting their families when we opened.
Within the first three days of opening, I burned my foot in the kitchen. With all of the demand, though, I still had to put in 15-hour days, limping around the restaurant. We had a strong January, too. Word of mouth had spread quickly. We just had to open the doors and the customers were there.
People really dug the concept. When you’re in rural Newfoundland, you still want that ‘sports bar’ feel, but without the huge size of a Boston Pizza or comparable franchise. My restaurant is around 3,600 square feet. The ‘sweet spot’ for Wing’n It seems to be anywhere from 3,000 to 4,000 square feet.