In this exclusive Q&A, we get to learn more about the Pokeworks franchise opportunity from Peter Yang, the company’s co-founder and managing partner.
Franchise Chatter (FC): The restaurant/food industry has likely been the industry that has been most shaken by the pandemic. From your experience, how has it impacted the restaurant industry as a whole?
Peter Yang (PY): Whether it be quick or full service, the entire restaurant industry was shaken to its core from the very beginning of the pandemic restrictions in March. Within a day’s notice, the consumer mindset and expectations drastically shifted and our industry was challenged to rise to the occasion by creating digital, carryout, and delivery experiences that wouldn’t detract from the customer experience or brand presence. Even outside of mandates by local governments, people now have a greater desire to stay home and are tapping technology more than ever before – and we don’t see this changing any time soon.
For example, we learned from an almost accidental test that the imagery of an online menu is what consumers rely on heavily when making ordering decisions. When our menu images were accidentally removed from a third-party app, we saw sales drastically drop by 30% over the course of a week. Once the glitch was fixed, our sales bounced right back. This proved that visuals do impact sales. It’s all about paying attention to your current offerings and how your guests are responding to it through the pandemic lens.
FC: What out-of-the box innovations does Pokeworks have in response to that shift in consumer behavior?
PY: When facing any crisis, you must have the desire and ability to embrace necessary changes in order to keep the attention of your consumer base. Luckily, innovation is one of our core values at Pokeworks. We always have a keen ear to the ground on industry trends, while also prioritizing creative ways to incorporate those trends into our existing brand. To date, we are:
- Rolling out our first “Cruise-Thru” lane in Knoxville, TN where customers can order ahead online and pick up without leaving their vehicles.
- Optimizing user experience in our app to maximize convenience and bring the Pokeworks experience to life virtually through elevated graphics and functionality, including in-app delivery (launching soon).
- Operating our first franchised Ghost Kitchen in Chicago in partnership with Epic Kitchens, with plans to continue expanding our ghost kitchen footprint in Los Angeles.
- Working on redesigning packaging with sustainability in mind while improving quality for takeout and delivery orders by separating rice from the rest of a bowl’s toppings.
- Cutting unnecessary costs and improving profitability for franchisees by doing things like streamlining the menu and refining our restaurant buildout process to bring costs down by 14% for new franchisees.
FC: How have you navigated your QSR business through the pandemic? What advice do you have to other leaders in the franchise industry when navigating a crisis?
PY: I think what really set us up for success was the diligent research that informed all of our decisions from the beginning. The whole leadership team took part in webinars with health and retail industry leaders overseas, since they were experiencing the repercussions of COVID a little bit earlier than us and had better insight into how to best respond to the crisis.
Prioritizing the safety of our franchisees and their teams, we were swift in establishing COVID sanitization and health check procedures and closed our dining rooms even before government mandates were announced. As a result, we have experienced very few COVID cases between our corporate and franchise locations. We made sure to keep the lines of communication open through weekly calls and daily email conversations, providing constant updates. For locations that were financially impacted, we helped to renegotiate leases and offered loans to stay open as we weathered the COVID storm together.
To other business leaders in the franchise space, my biggest piece of advice is actually one of our core values at Pokeworks, “Practice Aloha.” This is as simple as spreading good vibes, kindness, and compassion within your franchise network. The health and success of franchisees during this time is our responsibility, and the only way to achieve both is to keep them top-of-mind in everything that you do, from instating new health protocols to facilitating streamlined communication. Our franchise partners have invested in our brand to build their livelihoods, so it’s up to us to be supportive every step of the way.
FC: How has your leadership style shifted through the pandemic? Any key takeaways you plan to maintain, even after the pandemic?
PY: For my leadership style, the pandemic has really shown me the importance of taking a step back and allowing more time to truly connect with my team on a deeper, more personal level. Everyone is impacted by the pandemic in one way or another, whether it be financial, health, or family-related hardships. We are all being tested in new ways throughout this time as the pandemic continues to evolve and progress. This not only impacts professional performances, but, most importantly, it can take a toll on our overall morale. Taking the time to connect with your team and simply asking how they are doing will show that you care about their wellbeing outside of the work setting and help establish mutual trust, compassion, and humanization. This is definitely a practice I will continue even in a post-pandemic world. Practicing Aloha can only induce a positive domino effect, resulting in a network filled with support and empathy.
For more information about Pokeworks or its franchise opportunity, visit www.pokeworks.com.