Small town franchise: A&W CEO shares growth strategy with QSR

Article delves into why A&W Restaurants are especially compelling in small towns, and the quality and tradition that sets the brand apart.

CEO Kevin Bazner is sitting in a booth holding a burger, while the table top in front of him holds a Root Beer Float in an A&W-branded mug, a hot dog, chicken tenders, fries, onion rings and another burger.

CEO Kevin Bazner was featured recently in an article in QSR, explaining how A&W Restaurants is surging forward after a year of resetting, continuing along a path of intentional growth that is designed to make sure franchisees reap the benefits. One part of that strategy is celebrating our sweet spot as a small town franchise, a tactic that works because of big-brand advantages like our supply chain vendor, the largest purchasing cooperative in the quick-service restaurant industry, that provides A&W franchisees lower costs and broader reach because it also serves three of the biggest franchise chains in the nation: Pizza Hut, KFC and Taco Bell.

“We can take our time,” Bazner tells QSR. “And frankly we have to. That’s how our system works since every initiative touches a restaurant.”

QSR’s article noted, “Beyond the costs, however, A&W discovered that it simply works better in smaller DMAs. ‘Those are our roots,’ Bazner says. ‘We can get in those locations and do (significant sales),’ he adds. ‘That’s a very nice economic model.’”

A return to our quality roots

QSR noted the positive changes that have taken place since 2011, when a partnership of domestic and international franchisees purchased the brand and hired Bazner as CEO in an effort to return to the practices that turned A&W into the iconic brand beloved by so many for 100 years. Here’s an excerpt from the QSR piece:franchisees purchased the brand and hired Bazner as CEO in an effort to return to the practices that turned A&W into the iconic brand beloved by so many for 100 years. Here’s an excerpt from the QSR piece:

For A&W, it comes down to the cues, and that’s something that was getting blurry before new ownership jumped in. Something as simple as making the root beer in-house. A&W returned the core practice to stores systemwide and is in the process of rolling out a draft arm, “just like it used to be,” Bazner says.

In addition to reigniting past feelings, these changes also project quality, Bazner says. It’s where A&W plays in quick service, since it’s not designed to battle aggressively on price. “That has been our value proposition from day one, and we can’t compete in the dollar menu arena,” Bazner says. “We don’t have the share or voice to drive traffic there. We do that locally, but broadly it’s the quality initiative. We stand on our product.” Returning to the franchisee-focused leadership model, there are restaurants in A&W’s system run by third-generation operators…

“They have pride in being able to present and communicate to their customer they’re making [the root beer] fresh in store,” Bazner says.

The small-town franchise you’ve been looking for

Learn more about owning an A&W franchise. Fill out the form on this page to start a conversation, or explore our research pages to learn more about the A&W restaurant franchise opportunity. We look forward to hearing from you!

A&W Franchise Review: Phil Welch of Franksville, WI

After three generations of family ownership, Welch has A&W Root Beer running through his veins.

A vintage black-and-white photo shows a car hop taking a man’s order at an A&W drive-in.

There’s a saying among some of the long-time franchisees of A&W: They’ve got A&W Root Beer running through their veins. That’s certainly the case for Phil Welch of Franksville,WI, a third-generation franchise owner. But it wasn’t always the case. He had no intention of going into the family business until A&W was purchased by a partnership of franchisees. Welch shares his history with our 100-year-old brand in this A&W franchise review.

How do you feel about the direction of the brand?
The new ownership of the brand is made up of a partnership of franchisees; that helped give us the confidence to stay with A&W. We knew this group really got what it’s like to own an A&W restaurant, because they were all franchisees themselves. It was important for me to know that new leadership had decades of experience with A&W and truly understood the brand’s heart and soul. Now that we are an independent brand again we know our future is bright.

What makes A&W a good investment? Why A&W as opposed to another QSR brand?
I’ll be honest: If my parents were franchisees of Burger King or Wendy’s, I wouldn’t have been interested in taking over. I’ve had a passion for this brand my whole life. I love the quality of the Root Beer, chicken and burgers. Other brands don’t have the soul of A&W.

How does HQ help you? What are some of the most valuable things they do to support you?
We don’t need a whole lot, but when we do need something, we get it right away. Whatever it is. Our FGL picks up the phone right away and helps us. The team has empathy towards us and is very helpful. We are people first and feel the same from the corporate team. We have the same heart, same core beliefs and attitude.

What draws customers to A&W?
Quality food, great service and cleanliness. We have timers to check tables and bathrooms every 30 minutes. We smile when our guests come in. The presentation of our food is great, and if something doesn’t look right we have our crew throw it away and start over. We don’t serve the food and say, “We’ll do better next time.” We do not sacrifice the guest experience for food cost. We take food safety very seriously and received 100 on our last food safety audit visit.

Are you able to meet your business goals, or are you on your way to meeting your goals, by owning A&W?
We are protecting our family’s future, not looking to build and then sell off. Maybe our kids will take over. Maybe my brother’s kids will. Either way, when you own your own place you know you have equity in something.

How long have you been a franchisee?
My grandparents built their first A&W franchise in 1954 as a seasonal restaurant. Our restaurant has moved twice since then but we’ve remained under consistent family ownership.

What were you doing before becoming an A&W franchisee?
I was an electronics technician in the Navy from 1994 to 2000, and I became a software engineer after leaving the Navy.

How did you end up going into the family business?
We had a unique situation where the Wisconsin Department of Transportation took eminent domain of our restaurant due to a highway project. My parents were ready to retire, and I felt this was a good business opportunity to rebuild the A&W on the other side of the road. Right about this time a group of franchisees bought the A&W Restaurants franchise brand, and this gave me the confidence to leave my job and build a new A&W.

What’s the most satisfying thing about being an A&W franchise owner?
The most satisfying part of owning an A&W is helping young people develop a good work ethic and other good habits, like showing up on time. Some of these kids don’t even know how to hold a mop, but they are willing to learn. My wife and I are both driven and try to lead by example. We encourage them. We know you can’t help everyone, but we help plant a seed. If a team member needs an hour of extra coaching, we give it to them. You can’t put a dollar value on that.

What kind of experience do you need to be successful with A&W? What kind of person will succeed here?
My experience in the Navy helped immensely, giving me good experience in structure and chain of command.
A photo of a Bacon Cheeseburger against a red table background.

What’s your favorite menu item?
Root Beer and an Original Bacon Cheeseburger. I’m a traditionalist and literally drink Root Beer every day.

Knowing what you know now, if you were starting out today, would you still become a A&W franchisee?
Yes, for the same reasons. We believe in the leadership of the brand, the franchisee-owned structure, the product, the brand’s history and its bright future.

Learn more

Learn more about becoming a part of the A&W franchise family. Fill out the form on this page to start a conversation, or explore our research pages to learn more about the franchise opportunity. We look forward to hearing from you!