By Kevin Klein, Chairman, National A&W Franchise Association (NAWFA) & Birch Run, Michigan Franchisee
In the best of times, franchisee-franchisor relations can be a challenge. In a crisis, they often collapse, threatening the system’s existence. Fortunately, A&W’s franchisees are, in effect, the franchisor, as they bought the company from YUM! Brands in 2011. It’s a unique structure, bringing together owners who range from multi-unit operators in major cities to individual owners with one hometown restaurant. All have a voice through the National A&W Franchise Association (NAWFA).
Back in 2012, NAWFA and our A&W Chairman Dale Mulder created the “One Team” concept. The team consists of NAWFA, Franchise Partners, the A&W Restaurant Support Center staff, along with our supply chain co-op, Restaurant Supply Chain Solutions (RSCS), and our other vendor partners. Collectively, we work toward two goals: driving profitable same-store sales and opening profitable new restaurants
There is no doubt in my mind that we will successfully navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as future challenges, with the One Team approach. Between depression, recession, inflation, wars, and conflicts, A&W has survived adversity over the past 101 years. We’ve learned to be tenacious.
Going into COVID-19, A&W had a strong balance sheet, critical during times like these. When the crisis struck, NAWFA – which meets routinely with the Support Center staff – increased its involvement. Engagement with RSCS and our vendor partners also was elevated, as we worked as One Team to manage the emergency.
Nothing about COVID-19 has been easy, but I cannot imagine where our franchisees would be today if not for this coordinated team effort. Critical communications and feedback between team members continue to take high priority. And I don’t know of any CEO who hosted national webinars three times a week with franchisees, as Kevin Bazner did.
Together, we addressed evolving issues, such as restaurant cash flow and royalties, new local store marketing family bundles, delivery options, and personal protection equipment acquisition. As a result, more than 90% of A&W restaurants operated through the crisis, and sales are returning to pre-virus levels.
The A&W family is a tight-knit group, with some restaurants run by second and third-generation family members who jokingly claim to have Root Beer flowing through their veins. I believe there will be lasting changes post-pandemic, but the core of the A&W brand and the A&W guest experience will live on. I also know that we will continue to rally as a family, as One Team.
My history with A&W goes back four decades, and I’ve been an owner for more than 20 years. There is still a lot of uncertainty ahead, and it’s hard to predict what is in store precisely, but if any restaurant franchise can endure – and prosper – beyond this crisis, it’s A&W.