Open for business
In March 2018, Olimpia and I opened our Stoney Creek franchise. Thanks to support from head office, our grand opening was phenomenal. The franchise system works with a public relations agency that put us in touch with a range of news outlets. We were even featured on the local news network in Hamilton. Head office also provided us with resources and graphics for advertising, as well as templates for social media posts. This helped us build our online presence to get the word out and build familiarity with the brand.
For the first month or two we were open, Olimpia and I were in the restaurant from open to close. It was challenging because, at that time, we were the only ones who were familiar with the operations. Our staff members were not even trained on how to make sandwiches! Olimpia and I spent a lot of time in-store, leading by example and demonstrating the culture we wanted to project in the restaurant. We did not want to be franchisees who are simply ‘passive investors;’ we were excited to be part of a brand we believed in and were eager to show our team we were committed to the business.
Though the first few months were tough, working side-by-side with my wife felt great. We learned a lot about each other, too. In the beginning, I had a hard time delegating tasks to our team members. We had invested a lot in the business, so letting go of some responsibilities and asking others to take the reins was difficult. Olimpia is a great team leader in that way. She is comfortable letting people make mistakes and resolve them on their own, which helps our employees build their confidence through problem solving. I have learned a lot about how to effectively manage a team by working with Olimpia.
Developing a strong, passionate staff has helped us both step back a bit from operations at our Stoney Creek location while simultaneously being ever-present. We are in constant communication with team members, making the rounds and checking in on how things are going, but we do not have to physically be in the store from opening until close anymore. While we have yet to name an official store manager, we have several trusted employees who oversee operations for morning, afternoon, and evening shifts in a rotational schedule.
As far as growing our business is concerned, receiving ongoing support from the franchisor has been invaluable. The formal training allows a franchisee to learn a little bit about all of the minor and major elements of a business, from social media and marketing, to human resources, to policies and procedures—I cannot imagine starting a business without having all of those aspects in place!
Nonetheless, Olimpia and I still had a lot to do in regards to building our business. Namely, we needed to inform community members of the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation of Canada and find out how we could help local residents.
We soon learned about an unusual shortage of smoke alarms in homes in Hamilton. In 2017, the city lost six families in residential fires. We started raising funds to help rectify this problem. It was eye-opening to see how quickly the community rallied around the cause. Within a few months, our franchise raised $20,000, which helped Hamilton Fire install 2400 smoke detectors in homes across the city. It felt great to be able to give back to the community so soon after opening our doors.
Other Firehouse Subs locations across Ontario have had similar fundraising success. Oshawa Fire Services received a $10,000 grant, which went toward a junior firefighter program, while $22,089 was donated to Whitby fire and emergency services to fund rescue equipment and training.
In October 2018, four months after the birth of our third child, Silas, we opened our second Firehouse Subs franchise in Milton, Ont. This location is very special to us, as it is in the same city as Olimpia’s former fire house.
Becoming multi-unit Firehouse Subs franchisees has been fantastic for our family. It has allowed me and my wife to spend more time together and be there for our three kids. While we are always at the mercy of our franchises, working together and owning our own business allows us to create our own schedules.
As a police officer, I work 12-hour shifts, four days on and four days off, so I am able to spend a lot of time at our restaurants. Meanwhile, Olimpia is at home with our children and they regularly come with her to work. Our oldest, Dior, is a very enthusiastic member of our team. She often helps out, bringing food to dine-in visitors and encouraging them to complete customer satisfaction surveys.
Firehouse Subs has allowed us to continue to support first responders—even if we are not the ones responding. I am so proud of what we have accomplished and am excited to see what the future brings.
Steve Panella is a multi-unit Firehouse Subs franchisee based in Ontario. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Established in: 1994
Date of first franchise: 1995
Franchised/corporate units in Canada: 19
Initial franchise fee: $30,000