Paul Connan is franchisee of five McDonald’s outlets. He talks about what that entails, the McDonald’s brand, and how the company can be a real education
Has it been your experience that fast food has benefited from the recession?
It is a popular myth that our business growth and success has been dependent upon the recession.
We have experienced 16 consecutive quarters of growth, and that is growth that pre-dates the economic downturn. Whilst no business is ‘recession proof’, the investment we have made in our people, our restaurants, and our menu over the last few years has made the company recession resilient.
Our customers are responding positively to the changes we have made over the last few years. These include the provision of free WiFi access, which has been hugely popular.
Extended trading hours and more focus on different eating occasions like breakfast and coffee breaks have also played a significant role as well.
Has the emphasis on healthy eating impacted on a venture such as McDonald's which is renowned for its burgers and fries?
As far as McDonald’s food is concerned, there’s no question that it can fit into a balanced active lifestyle, and we try to help our customers make the right choices for their lifestyles, by providing clear nutritional information on packaging, in our restaurants, and on the internet.
We’re also offering more choice than ever, and making changes such as reducing salt content where we can, but overall we know that our customers enjoy McDonald’s food and I’m proud of that.
Has the economic downturn resulted in an increase in applications for posts?
The extended trading hours of my restaurants has resulted in an increase in the number of staff we employ.
Last year we launched an online system for recruitment which has proved to be popular, and people are interested in finding out more about the opportunities we provide.
We hire on the basis of qualities, not qualifications, and look for attributes that show an applicant is likely to succeed in a dynamic and fast-paced environment.
What are the positives and negatives associated with being a franchisee, as opposed to owning the business?
Franchisees within McDonald’s are considered to be key business partners, who play an important role in developing the strategic direction of the company.
We are the day-to-day guardians of the brand, and are responsible for delivering high standards of customer service. We sit on the main business working groups, and are involved in regular engagement sessions with the executive team, who we work alongside to develop plans.
How many outlets do you have?
I have five restaurants, two in Belfast City Centre, and three in Craigavon.
McDonald's is a global brand, but do you use local suppliers, and is there a condition that suppliers must be approved by McDonald's?
McDonald’s is committed to sourcing from local suppliers and supporting local agriculture. In Northern Ireland alone, over 2,400 farmers supply us with beef, and DPP in Coleraine provides over half a billion cheese slices to McDonald’s restaurants across Europe every year.
Serving quality food that our customers can trust is McDonald’s number one priority. We believe that quality starts at the farm and we have worked with colleagues across Europe to develop McDonald’s Agricultural Assurance Programme (MAAP), which allows us to ensure that our food standards are fully integrated into our production cycle right from the start.
Do you have any expansion plans?
I opened the new restaurant in Victoria Square in 2008, and towards the end of 2009 I invested £300,000 refurbishing the restaurant in Donegall Place. If the right locations became available in the future I would definitely be looking to grow the business.
What line of work were you in before becoming a McDonald’s franchisee? What qualities would someone need to possess to be a franchisee?
I worked for McDonald's in a number of roles before becoming a franchisee seven years ago.
The qualities that McDonald’s look for in a franchisee include a track record of business success, an ability to successfully lead people, a real interest in the operation of the business, and the ability to
focus on the details as well as the over-arching company vision.
McDonald's would be considered as a low-skilled job provider, but are there opportunities for career progression or graduates?
I would disagree with the low-skilled tag. We provide all employees with access to training and development and there is significant scope for career progression. Two out of our last three CEOs started off working in restaurants, and our vice president of national operations, Helen Humphrey, started off as an hourly-paid crew member.
I think our education system is as good as any in the industry. We provide apprenticeships in hospitality as recognised by City and Guilds, our shift management courses are now the equivalent of studying for an A-level in hospitality, and our restaurant managers have the option to take a degree in Business Management.
Every day I see employees in my restaurants taking advantage of the rewards that are on offer to them. It can change their lives significantly and that’s brilliant to see, whether they stay at McDonald’s or take the skills to the wider work force.
What would your day-to-day job involve as a franchisee?
One of the best things about running your own business is that you plan your own time.
On Mondays I have an office day, which is spent reviewing the previous week’s figures. The rest of the week is spent mostly with the managers in each of the restaurants.
I nearly always work Saturdays, and I am constantly monitoring and reviewing operations in each of the restaurants.
How important would you rate brand recognition?
It's the key reason why I wanted a McDonald's franchise. I did consider other options, but having worked for the McDonald's organisation I understand why it became a global brand, and what it takes to maintain that success.
What is the best bit of advice you have ever been given?
Don't put off until tomorrow what you can do today!