It was the spring of 2011 and many of the Vera’s Burgershack locations had recorded their best ever calendar year sales in 2010. Flushed with success, directors Gerald and Noah must have been experiencing a supreme sense of confidence when Aberdeen Mall’s property management company approached them to open a Vera’s Burger Shack in the Mall’s food court to replace the recently vacated White Spot Triple O’s location.
Undeterred by the fact that Triple O’s had failed and clearly imbued with the confidence associated with his self appointed title of ‘franchising genius’, Gerald entered into a lease and quickly developed a concept that he was convinced would work in a predominantly Asian food court. Gerald’s ultimate goal was to open the store with the resources of Vera’s Head office behind him and then flip the store to a Franchisee for a price of $399,000.00 thereby pocketing a hefty profit – a common business play in the franchising world.
Vera’s Aberdeen opened in the summer of 2011 to great fanfare and high expectations for Vera’s directors, its franchisees, and its fans. However, from the beginning there were grumblings from the Vera’s fan club that the quality of the food was lacking as compared to other locations. Even more disconcerting to Vera’s head office, the daily sales figures were low and when the monthly sales rankings were published to the Franchisees, Vera’s Aberdeen finished dead last among the seventeen locations. Initially, it was downplayed with the excuse that ‘it was going to take time for the Gerald Tritt system to win over the Asian crowd in Aberdeen mall’ and that, ‘like Rome, a profitable and marketable Vera’s Burger Shack location would not be built in a day’. However, as the months wore on and became fiscal quarters, the sales figures at Aberdeen Mall lagged behind every other Vera’s location.
Franchisees began to question why the Gerald Tritt system was failing so badly in Aberdeen Mall. A quick glance at the physical layout of the location gave a clue that Vera’s Head Office had totally failed to take into account or simply disregarded that 90 per cent of Aberdeen Mall’s clientele is Asian. For example, the menu board was in English only thereby failing to communicate in the first language of the vast majority of Aberdeen Mall’s Asian shoppers. Further, Head Office failed to hire a Mandarin speaking manager to reach out to the Asian clientele to get to know the names of each customer or to tell them stories as burgers were being prepared. Amazingly, it seemed that most of the staff were unable to speak mandarin/Cantonese as well. The hallmarks of the Gerald Tritt system were seemingly abandoned in Vera’s Head office efforts to make this Vera’s location ready for a quick sale to a potential Franchisee.
In the fall of 2011, Vera’s Burger Shack Aberdeen Mall was listed for a price of $399,000.00 but the hope for a sale before Christmas 2011 quickly faded. It was clear that the failure of Gerald Tritt system to bring the sales above the 17th spot out of 17 locations was going to result in a sale price far lower than $399,000. As the months wore on through 2012, a number of Vera’s Burger Shack locations were experiencing sales figures far lower than the record year of 2010. Gerald Tritt responded to the grumblings of Franchisees by telling them they were not reaching out to their clientele and it was their fault the sales were dropping. All the while, Franchisees noticed that either Gerald did not even believe and/or follow his own rhetoric based upon his management of the Vera’s Aberdeen Mall location and its bottom-of-the-barrel performance in the sales rankings, or worse, his system wasn’t working.
Vera’s Aberdeen Mall location remained on the market with the listing price dropping from $399,000 to $369,000 and ever downward in Nortel stock-like fashion. For the next two and a half years, the price continued to sink with various incentives added in to make the location more attractive such as no Franchise fees for the first twelve months. There were no takers. By the late spring of 2014, it was being marketed for the price of $50,000.00 as a location that could be redeveloped into another concept. In other words, the Vera’s brand in Richmond was worth the value of used restaurant equipment in a mall food court.
Then one gloomy day in early July 2014, a visitor arriving at the top of the escalator at the Aberdeen Mall food court was greeted by an abandoned food stall with the cartoon face of Vera smiling over the dark and empty counter that was the only remaining legacy of the Gerald Tritt system in Aberdeen Mall.
As for the Franchisees who had watched this debacle unfold before their eyes, they were kept in the dark as much as that the darkness of that food court counter. Gerald, who made it a practice, to inform his Franchisees of a four hour closure of the flagship Kitsilano location due to construction, could not bring himself to tell his Franchisees of the passing of the Aberdeen Mall location. Even more incredibly, he did not even bother to tell his loyal Vera’s fans of its closure notwithstanding Vera’s Burger Shack presence on the web, Facebook and Twitter thereby leaving Vera’s fans to discover for themselves the closing of the Aberdeen Mall location. The question that arose from his omission was whether Gerald’s ego prevented him from announcing the failure of the Aberdeen Mall location or whether he knew deep down that no one in Richmond even cared.