By the summer of 2011, the Vera’s franchise chain was riding high. In 10 short years, Gerald Tritt had created a chain numbering over a dozen locations. The franchise locations were selling in excess of $300,000.00 with people lining up to buy them. Underneath the surface though, a series of decisions at Vera’s head office along with the simultaneous end of the North American burger craze and Olympic stimulus spending would send Vera’s on a downward spiral from which it has yet to recover.
Firstly, Vera’s head office failed to set up an adequate training program for new Franchisees. For the first franchised locations this did not prove too problematic considering these buyers came equipped with years of experience in the restaurant business. As some franchise locations were flipped to new franchisees, however, problems soon arose. The new generation of Franchisees did not possess years of restaurant expertise and were trained by the Franchisees on their way out who no longer had a stake in the Vera’s franchise system or brand. Secondly, Vera’s head office ceased inspections of franchised locations in late spring of 2012. Thirdly, Vera’s head office failed to provide a comprehensive operations manual for the Franchisees until the summer of 2013. The combination of these head office omissions resulted in an ill-trained and poorly supervised second generation of Franchisees who were being released onto an unsuspecting public creating a wildly inconsistent dining experience from location to location.
Rather than addressing these obvious shortcomings, Vera’s head office began to look for ways to simplify the burger making process for these ill-trained and unsupervised Franchisees. The first attempt at simplification came when some locations introduced a conveyor belt style oven to cook the burger patties. Vera’s, a place rooted in the tastiness of a flame broiled burger cooked under a gas grill, had thrown that aside and introduced an assembly-line-style oven using electrically powered coils to cook the burgers. Aficionados were not fooled and began to complain to Franchisees about how the burgers tasted different depending upon the location.
A quick scan of Yelp reveals reviews that range from 1 to 5 stars depending on the location with many of the reviewers commenting on how there was no consistency between locations or even between multiple visits to the same location. Vera’s head office’s failure to create a comprehensive training program, maintain inspections, and enforce even one uniform way of cooking the burgers, resulted in a complete failure in establishing standards for day to day behavior for its Franchisees thereby creating a product and dining experience that was markedly different from location to location. Franchisees were learning the restaurant business through “trial by fire” and became resentful at the royalties being charged by a head office that never seemed to provide an idea as to how to make operations easier or more profitable. Commencing in 2011, sales began to stall and decline at a significant number of the locations across the Franchise.
When concerns were raised regarding the absence of training and inspections within the Vera’s franchise system, Gerald Tritt brushed these concerns aside and insisted that the key to success for a Franchisee in the Vera’s system was for him or her to
- Get to know their customers’ names;
- Get to know the employees of surrounding businesses;
- Get to know their customers’ favourite burgers; and
- Tell the customers entertaining stories and become a person that your customers would want to patronize to differentiate from the nearby Quiznos.
It was becoming crystal clear to the more savvy of the Franchisees that Gerald Tritt was peddling a franchise system consisting little more than a cartoon face and a “magical” burger spice.