Lessons Earned: Start Small. Stay Small. Be Big.

By staying small and lean, Browns Restaurant Group has found success in the face of competitors who always go big.

With over 60 franchised restaurant locations across Canada (under the Browns Socialhouse brand), Browns Restaurant Group has redefined the casual dining experience. With an inventive dining concept — premium casual — that combines exceptional dining with the familiarity of your favourite neighbourhood pub, this Vancouver-based franchisor stays relevant with a simplified business model and smaller footprint for their restaurants.

“There are a multitude of brands that are ‘big box casual’ with restaurant space stretching up to 10,000 square feet in some cases," Executive Vice President of Business Development, Bruce Fox describes. However, you get a completely different effect when you’re in a smaller space — it’s very social with customers feeling welcomed and part of a network of friendly faces.”

Unlike a number of their competitors, whose typical restaurant space is often upwards of 5,000 square feet, the Browns Restaurant Group’s smaller footprint allows them to build a more sustainable business in the long run with locations that are easily managed and attractive to patrons. “If you took 75 people, for example, and put them into a 5,000 square foot restaurant, it appears almost empty; whereas, if you put 75 people into a smaller space it appears more lively,” says Bruce. “You get a completely different feeling in that small room in comparison to a larger, emptier one. You get a sense that everybody knows your name and knows your face. It’s very social.”

And this makes for a clear win for customers and prospective franchisee owners alike, as well as the brand overall.

The smallest lessons provide the biggest learnings
 

When thinking back over the company’s journey, Bruce notes that it’s been a case of steady, small lessons along the way that have made the biggest impact on both their  success and making the leadership team better business people. “We’ve overcome everything we’ve come up against — we’ve learned from it, and we’ve adjusted the way we do business in response,” recounts Bruce.  

One of the biggest takeaways for them over the years has been to exercise caution around letting real estate drive the decision to enter a market just because its available. “An attractive real estate deal doesn’t automatically mean you will have a successful business,” Bruce emphasizes. You have to do your homework, and the franchisee must be complicit in the selection of any location.

With reflection, he also adds that those lessons have been learned through years of experience but that it’s important to always look back on how you could have done it better. “You learn over time that you’re only as good as your last opportunity — to prepare a meal, open a restaurant or do a deal,” says Bruce. 

Facing marketplace challenges
 

Back in 2008, when the Canadian economy took a downward turn, Browns Restaurant Group also made a strategic decision to re-visit their menu to make sure they added even more value back in. “We recognized that we were in this for the long haul, and we had to make sure we protected our guest space and respect the situation we were all in together,” recalls Scott Ward, President and COO. 

Forecasting a six-month recovery period, the company wanted to boost its customer base and so they dropped their menu prices — and consequently their sales. But traffic remained stable, which was the objective. “We made that decision with our franchise community on board. Thankfully that strategy worked and provided us with benefits in the long term,” says Scott.

Finding value in CWB Franchise Finance’s specialized service
 

Given their unique sector, Browns Restaurant Group values the practical experience and dedicated resources that CWB Franchise Finance provides. “They’re specialists,” says Bruce. “They have different teams who do different things but they also have a dedicated team who understands the hospitality, restaurant and franchise markets across Canada.” 

Bruce emphasizes that CWB Franchise Finance offers a tailored approach that provides the type of clear-cut data and information they need, particularly when it comes to the Canadian market. 

“CWB has shown great interest in our business and have kept true to their character. And we look forward to a long and prosperous future with them,” he concludes. 

CWB Franchise Finance provides customized, flexible solutions for restaurant and hotel financing. Speak to an account manager today to see how they can help your business grow.