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GuestXM Best Practices - Kendall Ware WalkOns Fasika Melaku Denny's Fred LeFranc.jpg Ron Ruggless
At the GuestXM Best Practices Conference panel, from left: Kendall Ware, Fasika Melaku and Fred LeFranc.

Data’s importance extends to franchise brands, restaurant leaders say

Fasika Melaku of Denny’s and Kendall Ware of Walk-On’s share insights at GuestXM Best Practices Conference

Data’s Importance extends to local owners of franchised restaurant concepts as well as to the corporate team, according to leaders of Denny’s Corp. and Walk-On’s Sports Bistreaux.

Fasika Melaku, chief learning officer at Spartanburg, S.C.-based Denny’s Corp., and Kendall Ware, chief operating officer at Baton Rouge, La.-based Walk-Ons (which is moving its headquarters to Atlanta) participated in a panel Tuesday with Fred LeFranc, CEO and founder of the Results Thru Strategy consultancy, during the GuestXM Best Practices Conference in Irving, Texas.

“In all things franchising, you have to lead with influence,” Ware told attendees.

Walk-On’s, which took a growth investment in 2020 from Atlanta-based private-equity firm 10 Points Capital, was founded in 2003, but it began franchising 2015.

“We are fairly new,” Ware explained. “We're still at that beginning stage, and so we didn't have a lot of access to that right data.” The company went about gathering that information to benchmark all aspects of the business, from finance and workforce to guest metrics.

“We needed to know more about our consumers and more about how we pay and more about our team members — everything that goes in this business,” he said.

Walk-On’s uses data from GuestXM’s four platforms to benchmark the brand against others in the industry.

“We use that in all of our conversations now. And what's transformed is now we have something to truly talk about that's backed up by results vs. having conversations with a franchisee or GM about something that's anecdotal or what you saw or heard. … You're showing the progress of what's been transpiring underneath their leadership.”

Melaku said the 70-year-old Denny’s brand had franchisees who had been in the system more than 50 years.

“You're telling them their babies don't look too nice,” she said with a laugh. Influencing them means involving them in decision-making, she added.

“With the laws coming down from a franchise perspective,” Melaku said, “we can't tell them what to do with their teams. But we can say, ‘Hey, this is what can drive this for this. This is how you can add $1 million to your bottom line.’”

Guest data is also important, Melaku added, because the customers leave reviews and ratings.

“The guest has the power,” she said, “but the accelerators are team members.”

A clear narrative is important, Melaku added. “The franchisor only wins if the franchisee wins,” she explained.

Data can also change minds in the franchise community, even among older brands, Ware noted.

“We can chip away little by little, becoming more modernized,” he said. “For those older brands, it’s all about modernizing and just giving them the exposure to the data and let that data tell the story to them. And then that way you get that buy in.”

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected]

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