It was the best of times for Gerald Tritt and Noah Cantor, co-founders of the Vera’s Burger Shack franchise, as the summer of 2011, saw Vera’s Burger Shack ink a deal to expand the Vera’s franchise to the United States Pacific Northwest. Vera’s was flushed with a run of several years growth and had grown from a seasonal concession stand in West Vancouver to a flourishing franchise with sixteen locations. However, it wasn’t to last – without an underlying business model that went beyond depending upon the personalities of individual Franchisees and a cartoon logo – it could not last.
A clue to the coming debacle for many of the Vera’s franchisees can be found in Gerald’s choice of individuals to expand the Vera’s brand in the USA. The purchaser, Paul Brown, a promoter, who promoted such sport luminaries as Tonya Harding, figure skater turned boxer, appeared, at least according to Vera’s own press release, to have no experience in operating a single restaurant, let alone operating/managing several restaurants within a cohesive franchise system. On the face of it, Gerald and Noah seemed to want someone to promote the brand as oppose to having someone with strong restaurant experience to screen and assist prospective franchisees in opening Vera’s franchises in the Portland area.
Up to the time of the signing of the U.S. expansion deal, Vera’ s Head Office had often emphasized style over substance when managing the growth of the Vera’s franchise system. A failure to establish a head office training system for new Franchisees, a comprehensive training manual, regular inspections, and even one method of cooking the burgers had led to an absence of standardized behaviour across the Vera’s franchise system. All the while, Gerald Tritt was fond of telling Franchisees he had spent over a $100,000.00 on branding the Vera’s name.
By the spring of 2013, Gerald Tritt had found himself rid of his most troublesome Franchisee who had made the painful business decision to lose six figures as oppose to continue being a participant in a franchise system that was failing to maintain standardized behaviour amongst its Franchisees. However, it was clear that franchise’s troubles were just beginning.
By August 2013, eight of the thirteen franchises were listed for sale (and this was excluding the two that were sold at the beginning of the year) – a stunning indictment of the Vera’s franchise system for the stampede of Franchisees wanting out was nearly as crowded as the last train rolling out of Paris in June 1940 before the Nazi advance.
It is now over a year since the Franchisee stampede began and with the exception of North Vancouver and Broadway (which sold at a loss of at least six figures to its franchisee – see A Poor Broadway Performance), the remaining six Franchisees continue to list their stores for sale – albeit some at substantially reduced listing prices. It was rumoured that others were listed for sale but these cannot be substantiated at the time of this article. The U.S. expansion plans remain exactly just that – plans.
To date, Vera’s is limited to being a Lower Mainland franchise with half of the franchisees wanting to sell and with its head office having no immediate plans to open locations elsewhere in Canada or the USA. As Gerald Tritt’s plans for a thousand store empire slowly fade to oblivion, the Vera’s nightmare lives on for its Franchisees.