10 Things I Wish I Knew 37 Years Ago: Advice From a Franchise Founder

In my 37 years in franchising – as both a franchisee and then a franchisor, I’ve learned many things about family, business, and people. I know what it takes to be a franchisee and a franchise owner, from my time owning and operating Godfather’s Pizza restaurants and founding HuHot Mongolian Grill with my husband and son in 1999. However, there was a lot that I didn’t know when I started in the business, and I could never have imagined how much I would grow personally, in all aspects of my life.

Here are ten things I wish I would have known when I started my career in franchising.

1. No one builds a company on one’s own, hire good people

I firmly believe that this is the most important part of building a successful restaurant, business, and franchise. The best employees I’ve hired may not have had every requirement at that moment, but they were good people that were willing to work hard, were coachable, wanted to be a part of a growing company and wanted to do it honorably.

2. Lead by example, never be too good for the day-to-day work

Stay humble. There are few good leaders out in the world, be one of them. Inspire people and help them find their fire even on their bad days. A few good motivating words from management can make all the difference.

3. Know the right time to take a risk 

My husband was the risk-taker, and I was a more analytic partner. He taught me to be open to new ideas and concepts, get advice from people you trust and have a team with a wide variety of skills.

4. If someone works hard for me, I’ll work twice as hard for him or her

In franchising, people sign-up because they believe in the concept and more often than not, they put their life savings on the line. I know the value of the franchisees – that’s where I got started. As a franchisee I learned, to be successful, the franchisor and franchisee need to collaborate and work smart together.

5. Don’t sign a deal under pressure; sign the deal because it is the right thing to do for all parties. It should be a win for everyone involved.

It is easy to get distracted by numbers and added value, but remember that the decisions you make impact the brand and the people, so take your time and make sure you are signing a deal for the right reasons.

6. Know the numbers, don’t count on someone to know them for you

Even though you may have a CFO, don’t underestimate the value of knowing your business inside and out. I tell this to all of my employees regularly. We are all responsible for knowing the business for ourselves.

7. Listen to the franchisees and work as a team

Franchisees are essential to your brand and your franchise growth, so work with them and listen to what they have to say. If someone is not on the same page, take a step back and understand where he or she is coming from and make sure to explain your stance.

Never let your ego get in the way of working as a team. Don’t be a bully and don’t let yourself get bullied. Respect has to go both directions. I hear a lot about franchisor and franchisee relationships; it’s good to know when to get advice and insight and when you need to take the lead and make important decisions for the brand as a whole.

My goal to this day is to create a company with an atmosphere in which people are happy to work hard but also understand the importance of a quality life. This balance is key to building a great company.

8. Work/life balance is important for you and your employees 

Remember that your employees have lives outside of work and you need to value that.

We understand that there are things in life that we can’t control. We try to make allowances where we can, for example, allowing flex time, letting employees bring their dogs to the office, having adjusted hours for school, and even having kids come into the office in the afternoon after school from time to time.

9. You can’t be successful in business if you’re not honest with yourself and your business

Be transparent with your partners and brutally honest with yourself. Don’t make excuses for results and see them for what they are.

10. Be grateful and give back

I attribute my success with HuHot Mongolian Grills to my experience as a franchisor and franchisee. During my years, I established an appreciation for both sides of the business and am grateful for the opportunity to help others become entrepreneurs.

At HuHot, we help entrepreneurs get into the franchising business, train them and their employees and are always available to support their needs. Our franchisees are not just another number. We make sure that we set our franchisees up for success and that we are always available to support their needs.

I am grateful to be able to grow this brand with good people who take pride in the HuHot concept.

We donate to The Food Bank because it aligns with our mission of feeding people, and many people struggle to feed their families. We donated $10k to the Missoula Food Bank a couple of years ago and continue to do so on a regular basis. We also always encourage our franchisees’ to pick a charity to support during their grand opening and throughout the year.

Linda Vap is the president and founder of HuHot Mongolian Grill. An experienced restaurant executive, Linda has an impressive 37-year career in the restaurant industry. She is responsible for overseeing all departments of the company with a focus on finance, accounting, and company development. Linda has considered herself a mentor to many young business people during her career.


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