Michelle Hill opened her BeaverTails store in 2020.

When Michelle Hill made the decision to enter the world of foodservice franchising, she knew she wanted to take a unique path.

So when she discovered BeaverTails, a quick-service bakery and snack franchise, she knew it was the perfect option, not only for her personally, but also for the country town in which she resides.

With 20 years of managing and running businesses for others, Hill says she had the experience, but even that couldn’t have prepared her to open her franchise during a
global pandemic.

Hill recently discussed these issues with Canadian commercial franchise as well as why BeaverTails invokes such fond memories for customers.

Canadian Business Franchise (CBF): Have you always imagined yourself as an entrepreneur?

Michelle Hill (MH): Yes, I have always considered myself an entrepreneur. Prior to owning my franchise, the last 20 years of my career were spent running and managing businesses owned by others. So I had a pretty good understanding of what business ownership entailed. At some point, an opportunity arose for me to buy one of these companies, but the deal just couldn’t be finalized. From then on, I started looking at different business ideas. I think I’ve seen all the episodes of The dragon’s lair and shark tank– both ready to record weekly on my PVR – and I admired the products/companies people were offering. I was just missing that initial piece – what business could I start?

FCB: Why did you choose the franchise?

MH: I chose BeaverTails because it’s a proven concept. I didn’t have to come up with the product or the business idea, and I didn’t have to figure out how to start it from scratch. I could buy an existing “playbook”, if you want, of something that already works. I would also not be alone in my professional journey as there would be support and a community of other franchisees to talk to.

FCB: How did you find out about this franchise opportunity?

MH: I discovered BeaverTails by researching different franchises on the internet. I was particularly drawn to this one for several reasons. First, it’s a Canadian company, which was important to me. Second, it had a reasonable startup cost. BeaverTails also offers a product that is relatively easy to prepare compared to many other restaurant concepts. Lastly, it would fit into the community where I live. I wanted a franchise that was unique, I didn’t want to own another pizzeria or hamburger restaurant. The brand fits right in with the country town of Muskoka I live in – Buffalo plaid, Muskoka chairs and a laid back, relaxed and fun atmosphere.

FCB: When did you buy your franchise?

MH: I purchased my BeaverTails franchise in 2020. I applied for the Canada Small Business Financing Program through my bank to help with start-up financing. For me, location was one of the most important things. If I hadn’t been able to find the right location for the business, I might not have moved forward. You know what they say, location, location, location.

FCB: What happened in the opening of your franchise?

MH: After securing the location, we sent renders to the main lodge at BeaverTails, and they provided us with a design layout. We hired a local contractor to oversee the project. As with most renovation and construction projects, we had to deal with some delays and additional costs. We had a great response to the message that was posted looking for staff. With staff in place, our district coach from head office came in during the week to help us train and get the store ready for opening day.

FCB: Describe your opening day.

MH: Opening day was extremely exciting. Seeing all my hard work and effort come together, seeing customers finally walk through our doors with their smiles on and creating new memorable moments was truly amazing.

FCB: Describe a typical day of running your franchise.

MH: The BeaverTails business model is easy to follow. A typical day involves me arriving at the store at 9am to have things ready to open at 11am. My staff show up for their shift and I then help them onto the floor for the daily lunch rush. Once this is complete, the staff will take over and I will retire to the office to make phone calls and do paperwork (review sales, inventory, scheduling, invoices, etc.). If necessary, I will stay and work the evening shift and lock up. However, as we continue to build our staff, we can train keyholders in opening and closing.

FCB: Do you think your education helps you with your daily tasks and overall business decisions?

MH: I feel that my background helps me in my daily tasks and in my overall business decisions. As I mentioned, I have spent much of my career leading and managing businesses. I use these skills when looking at everything in my business (inventory, personnel, skills, analysis of profit and loss figures, etc.).

FCB: What have been the highlights and challenges of running your franchise?

MH: Some highlights are meeting and learning from other franchisees, being involved in my community and being the captain of my own ship, having the flexibility to manage my time and creating a work-life balance personal. One of the challenges I faced was staffing. Hiring people has been a bit difficult in recent years. I believe this is another result of COVID-19 and I know I’m not the only company affected by this.

FCB: Is there anything unique in your market?

MH: My market is a bit unique in that we are in a small tourist town. The unique part of this, however, is that we are not just a one season destination. In addition to the community that supports us, people come to Muskoka in the spring, summer, winter and fall to enjoy the beauty and various seasonal activities and BeaverTails is always a highlight of their visits. We have two large provincial parks, a ski resort and hundreds of lakes for people to enjoy.

FCB: How do you make your franchise stand out from others in the market?

MH: BeaverTails baked goods are a widely recognized product that people typically associate with a fond memory, and I wanted to be part of creating those special moments for people. To make my franchise stand out from others, we like to get involved in the community. As our business is located downtown, we are part of the Business Improvement Area (BIA) and are members of two local chambers of commerce, and we love giving back to the community.

FCB: How has the company evolved since your beginnings?

MH: The company is constantly evolving every day. All my staff have become more competent in their roles. We are always looking for different ways to improve what we do.

FCB: What impact has COVID had on your franchise?

MH: COVID has had a huge impact on my business. Opening a new business anytime is tough and stressful, and then you add a global pandemic on top of that, and wow, I just couldn’t get my feet on the ground for the first year. We were open, then takeout only, then open again…you know how it went. Unfortunately for me, due to when I opened, I was not eligible for many government support initiatives, so it was a difficult year. But we got there and things are starting to look up.

FCB: What are your future plans?

MH: My future plans are to continue to grow my business and create more special moments with BeaverTails. I will continue to hire the right staff in management and leadership roles, and I will continue to look for other ways to get involved in the community by continuing to attend every local event and festival.

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