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(Ambrosio’s note: This is a special treat for all you hamburger lovers out there. If you’re looking for a quick service restaurant franchise to invest in, check out Checkers Drive-In Restaurants. This interview with Jennifer has made me a fan.)
Jennifer Durham was named Vice President and Corporate Controller of Checkers Drive-In Restaurants, Inc. in October 2007 and has since been responsible for leading the company’s Corporate Finance department, including financial reporting, budgeting, forecasting, debt compliance, and decision support for the company.
In April of this year, Checkers’ CEO Rick Silva asked Jennifer to step in as Interim Chief Development Officer and lead the franchise restaurant growth initiatives at Checkers.
I was a frequent guest of Checkers before I joined the Company — as a transplant from Chicago to Florida. It seemed as though Checkers was always a part of my life. In high school, one of Checkers first restaurants was across the street and when I attended the University of Florida, there were several locations throughout Gainesville. I would ride my bike across campus for a Champ burger and those famous fries.
2. Why should someone interested in owning his or her own business consider a hamburger quick service restaurant franchise?
There are several reasons Checkers is an attractive investment opportunity for franchisees. Checkers is relevant to the customer no matter what the economic situation is. We feed hardworking people and it’s affordable to them.
We have a very efficient investment model. Our restaurants are built around the concept of efficiency, using every inch of space to maximize returns. Our standard double drive-thru fits on ½ acre of property, which is much smaller than our competitors.
Our model also works well in in-line and end cap locations, and we have also taken advantage of conversion opportunities. These options provide flexibility and growth opportunities for franchisees.
Our food is our biggest point of difference. We offer big, bold flavor in all of our products. From our fries and signature banana shakes to our line of fully dressed, home-style burgers, we put flavor first.
We’ve also introduced a number of innovative products that give guests more reasons to visit us time after time, which drives revenue for our restaurants and franchisees. Classic Wings, LTO burgers such as Philly Cheese Steak Burger, Aussie Burger, American Melts and fully loaded fries are examples of how we have continued to innovate in the growing burger segment.
Consumers are looking for speed and convenience. Checkers/Rally’s double drive-thru service system makes us unique. Our service is quick and guests don’t have to get out of their car.
Our building is highly visible, especially at night. The stainless steel and neon bands around the building make us glow and stand out among the competition.
4. What qualities do you look for in a prospective franchisee of Checkers?
Our ideal franchisee is a strong restaurant operator interested in growing with Checkers and operating 3 to 5 restaurants. We also look at their financial qualifications — $750K minimum net worth, of which $250K (per restaurant) should be liquid assets.
We also look for candidates with a solid financial portfolio and business experience. We will work with them to find an operating partner to join the business. Our operations bench strength provides the opportunity to pair experienced operators with business people who would like to invest. Not only does this strategy opens us to a new group of prospective franchisees, but provides development opportunities for our operations leaders.
We have been very successful in urban areas. The price point at Checkers proves to be a great value and these trades are simply underserved. While there are hardworking people in every neighborhood, many of our guests live and play in urban areas. We create jobs in areas where some businesses don’t go.
6. Based on your observations, what concrete steps do your most successful franchisees take in order to build and grow their businesses?
Location is one of the keys to a successful Checkers restaurant. A good site with easy access is the foundation of a thriving restaurant.
Successful franchisees know how to build a strong operations team. They hire good people, train them properly, and keep them motivated.
They understand the business and how the restaurant operates. Even if the franchisee isn’t involved in the restaurant on a daily basis, they need to understand operations to ensure it’s running at an optimal level.
7. What kind of ongoing support do you extend to your franchisees to help them become more successful?
We provide new franchisees support in all aspects of the business. Our training supports a new franchisee from the time a franchisee signs a development agreement through his/her life as part of the Checkers family.
Our support system follows the growth of each franchisee and the development of every restaurant. Starting with real estate and construction, into training, new restaurant openings and long-term marketing and operations support. Checkers places value in providing each franchisee the support he or she needs to succeed.
We are continuously working to develop new and innovative ways to drive sales and profits in our restaurants. In the last 18 months, we have implemented a number of revenue generation and cost savings initiatives for our restaurants to capitalize on the already established foundation that we have in place.
9. Can you describe your typical day as Interim Chief Development Officer and VP of Finance for Checkers? What do you enjoy most about your job?
The brand is vibrant and very fast paced. When I joined the company, I fell in love with QSR (quick service restaurants) and I’ve had a phenomenal restaurant education during the past ten years. I love the size of the organization that is just right — skip the bureaucracy and get right to the action.
While I have held various roles during my 10 years at Checkers, I always start my day with sales. I look at the sales growth performance of the restaurants from the day before at about 6am and it really sets the tone for the balance of the day. The business operates at nearly all hours of the day and night and the email activity keeps pace.
As VP of Finance, my role is to ensure that we set the expectations of the company through forecasts, as well as evaluate our performance with as much frequency as needed to ensure that we stay on our course.
The Interim Chief Development Officer role has been a great learning experience for me. It’s given me the opportunity to learn a side of the business that I didn’t have much interaction with in my Finance role. I’ve channeled my inner creative more than I ever thought I would. I’ve put new people and processes in place, have greater interaction with prospective franchisees, and have positively impacted the long-term growth of the brand.
10. Is there anything else that you’d like to share with us about Checkers?
There’s never been a better time to join the Checkers system. Over the last 3 to 4 years, we’ve been working hard to fine-tune the brand and improve the investment opportunity for our franchisees. We have an investment model that works and we’re proud of it.
We look forward to connecting with interested parties through our franchise opportunities website at www.checkersfranchising.com.