SINCE 1988

Firehouse Subs Readies Cash Incentives for Franchise Program


Firehouse Subs, the nearly 1,300-unit premium sandwich concept, plans to offer cash franchise incentives — as much as $100,000 per store for first responders and military veterans — as it prepares an expansion push, the company president said this week.

Firehouse Subs was purchased in in 2021 by Restaurants Brands International Inc.,the Toronto-based parent to the Burger King, Tim Hortons and Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen brands.

Mike Hancock, who took over as president of the Jacksonville, Fla.-based division in March 2023, said in an interview this week that “we really want to incentivize first responders to join the Firehouse family.

“We were founded by first responders and some of our best operators in both the U.S. and Canada are first responders,” Hancock said. “I think they are a group that truly understands the mission of the brand but also has done a fantastic job operationally and so we want to bring as many first responders into our brand as possible.”

Hancock, who has been with RBI for 11 years, previously as served as the chief operating officer at RBI-owned Tim Hortons for three years. Prior to that, he was with Burger King for five years both domestically and internationally, eventually becoming the head of North America field and business operations.

Hancock said the next phase of Firehouse Subs’ multi-year, growth strategy shared similarities to Tim Hortons.

New franchisees, approved through the franchise process, would be eligible for $25,000 toward their first two stores. If they build a third, they would get $50,000.

“It’s not a real royalty discount,” Hancock said. “It’s actually cash that we’re giving them. As soon as they start construction, we write them a check and they get cash toward that new restaurant.”

For first responders and military veterans, Firehouse Subs will award $100,000 per store.

“There are many parallels with Firehouse,” Hancock said, including “super-high guest satisfaction, incredible brand love and really a tremendous amount that we do for our community.” Firehouse Subs maintains its public safety foundation to support buying equipment for local first responders.

“Our public safety foundation has raised almost $90 million toward life-saving equipment,” or between $11 million and $12 million each year, Hancock noted.

Firehouse Subs has about 70 units in Canada and more than 1,200 in the United States. The 40 restaurants in the home Jacksonville market are company owned, and the remainder are franchised.

The company, through its international RBI arm, has opened units in Switzerland and Mexico as well.

“In the past year,” Hancock said, “we’ve seen a lot of positive momentum in the brand.” He cited increases in digital transactions, new smartphone applications and franchisee profitability.

“I feel good about the direction that we’re going,” he added, citing work in product innovation and improved operations.

“That positive momentum that we saw makes us feel it’s the right time for us to roll out a program like this,” Hancock said of the incentives.

Hancock envisions increasing the footprint by 100 to 200 restaurants a year.

“With the results that we’re seeing with our new openings, both in the U.S. and Canada,” he said, “we feel very optimistic that that that goal can be achieved fairly quickly.”

The division has worked on reducing the size of units, especially with sales peeling off to off-premises. “We were building closer to 2,000-square-foot restaurants,” he said. “Now we’re seeing a lot of success with even locations in the 1,200-, 1,300- and 1,400-square-foot range.”

“It’s kind of a win-win if you can if you can shrink that box down just a little bit but you still see you know the same or better volumes in the restaurant are there,” Hancock said.

Ideally, he added, Firehouse will seek franchisees that build and operate on average two restaurants. The average number of units for a Tim Hortons Canada franchisee is four or five stores, he added.

“We still want to be really ambitious about our growth trajectory,” Hancock said, “but we want to do it with the right folks.”


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