The Importance of Supply Chain Partnerships

By Bill Fry, Sr. Vice President of Restaurant Support Services and Supply Chain Management

Hands of friends in medical gloves greeting each other with fist bump. Background is navy.

I’ve been with A&W for 26 years. If a franchisee ever asked me to source face masks, I would have said, “Sure. What kind of Halloween promotion are you planning?”  Today, I know better.

We’re talking about things now that we never before considered. Our team is sourcing not just face masks but also thermometers while showing operators how to build DIY face shields. It’s been a heck of a few weeks.

Photo of Bill Fry, Senior VP Restaurant Support Services

Bill Fry, Sr. VP of Restaurant Support Services and Supply Chain Management

Thank goodness for our long-time partner Restaurant Supply Chain Solutions (RSCS). During this pandemic, RSCS enabled our A&W franchise partners to stay open by helping them acquire the personal protection equipment needed to keep our team members and guests as safe as possible – even items in short supply, like hand sanitizer.

Working with RSCS allows A&W operators to purchase goods and services at lower costs than our competition because RSCS is the purchasing co-op for Yum! Brands. If we were trying to buy masks just for ourselves, that’s not a good position to be in. Instead, we are leveraging the buying power of brands many times our size.

RSCS comes through for A&W in countless other ways. They have reliably kept our franchisees’ kitchens stocked with food and other supplies, and they provide our operators with the same high level of service our franchisees provide their guests. And since RSCS works with many of the world’s largest food vendors, it’s a pipeline for new product development, which will continue long after the coronavirus crisis is over.

People sometimes ask, “Bill, what keeps you going?” I tell them it’s the franchisees. Without them, we’d be nowhere. Seeing them work their tails off and spill out their hearts in support of their community has been truly inspirational.

How Guiding Principles Are Steering A&W Through COVID-19

A message from Kevin Bazner, CEO:

Image of Rooty the Great Root Bear holding mug of A&W Root Beer. Text above Rooty reads "We're all in this together."

When A&W’s franchise partners bought the company from YUM! Brands and I returned as CEO, we created a few guiding principles. Building profitable, same-store sales and engaging our franchise leadership in every key decision topped the list.

Today our focus has shifted to protecting sales, while our franchise leaders are busy managing challenges never before experienced. Yet, we remain committed to our guiding principles, using them to steer us through this crisis. It’s paying off.

Today, more than 90 percent of our restaurants are open, with an increasing number participating in our new delivery partnerships with DoorDash, Postmates, Uber Eats, and ChowNow. I was thrilled when some owners of seasonal A&Ws decided to open early, even in the middle of the crisis, to serve their communities. We’re seeing sales stabilize, with some locations reporting growth; we’re optimistic sales will improve as more consumers receive stimulus checks and continue adapting to their conditions.

Photo of A&W CEO Kevin Bazner

Kevin Bazner, CEO

To protect our franchisees’ investments, A&W deferred royalty payments and suspended advertising contributions for March and April. Other franchisors have taken similar actions, but we went one step further, completely refunding all advertising account balances.

In keeping with our guiding principle to engage our franchise partners, these decisions were made in conjunction with our franchise association executive board, whose meetings increased from once a week to three.

Together, we developed a plan that includes system-wide webinars, also held three times a week, on topics ranging from SBA loans to delivery. I serve as host, with members of our support center team presenting on current events, timely topics, and evolving conditions.

Our R&D and marketing teams quickly developed new family packs and supporting materials, while our supply chain co-op, RSCS, kept provisions coming and sourced hard-to-get sanitizers, masks, and other protective equipment.

Karen Cary, a long-time, multi-unit franchise partner in California emailed me the other day with a touching message. “I’m writing to tell you how impressed I am with the great job that you and your staff at A&W Corporate are doing to assist the franchisees during this crisis.  You all show so much compassion and dedication, and I know that you know exactly what each franchisee is feeling and how frightened many are. I’ve never seen this level of help before. It is a pleasure and comfort to have leaders who are A&W people at heart and who work with – and for – the franchisee community.”

To Karen and all of our franchise partners, thanks for all you do! You are the reason that A&W is still going strong after nearly 101 years and why we will emerge together even stronger when the crisis passes.