By Molly Doyle
Mary Brown’s Famous Chicken & Taters first opened its doors in 1969 at Avalon Mall in Newfoundland. Thirty-four years later, Greg Roberts became a franchisee, buying a Mary Brown’s store in the province, followed by two additional restaurants. By 2007, he had bought the entire company and today celebrates the opening of its 100th restaurant in Barrie, Ont.
An introduction to franchising
Roberts had been involved with an independent restaurant before he became a franchisee for Mary Brown’s, but had found it difficult when employees left and he had to train new staff because of the varied menu and length of time it took for new cooks to reach the quality of food the restaurant needed to serve. So, he decided to get involved with a pizza franchise, finding it much easier to train new staff with a simple system to follow. Since then, he has always been attracted to the franchising world.
He stayed with the pizza franchise for a few years, but felt the franchisor did not have high enough standards in place and did not offer enough support. The brand was not growing and the company was struggling. Then Roberts discovered Mary Brown’s in November 2003.
He felt it was a very strong brand with a great product; he liked the support from the franchisor when it came to inspection and quality control. He bought one franchise and then two more units a few years later. However, Roberts soon saw the company was not growing, despite its incredible potential. He felt there was no strategic path forward for the company and that the franchisor was not as proactive as he could be, so he offered to buy the entire franchise system.
“I felt the brand’s tremendous potential was not being capitalized on by the owners,” he says. “So, for a number of years, I really chased the franchisor and kept offering to buy the company. Finally, in 2007, I succeeded, though there were numerous other bidders.”
Growing the brand
Roberts’ first task, once he purchased the brand, was promoting Nigel Beattie to president because he had 25 years of experience with the franchise system. Together, they went through the company, hired new executives, developed a growth plan and strategy and tightened controls of operations at the store level. They started enforcing standards more vigorously and made changes to their marketing strategy, including hiring a new firm. Additionally, Roberts began investing in technology and communications.
With his background in franchising, he was able to understand expectations and requirements from franchisees. In other words, he knew where they were coming from, and he says this has been his biggest advantage over the last seven years.