Joni Lien, The SupperWorks Franchisor and Founder
Making the leap from the world of social work to an entrepreneurial life and becoming a franchisor is a dramatic change. Now with 10 franchised stores and expanding, Joni Lien, SupperWorks Franchisor, shares her journey with us.
When her husband passed it was the great team at SupperWorks that pulled her through the devastating loss of her husband, her best friend and business partner. Joni is determined to grow the business to give back to her incredible team.
Our interview with Joni Lien
Fab Fem. From the concept of “assembly meals” that you read about in ‘O’ magazine to the opening of your first store, what were some of the challenges you faced, since you didn’t have an entrepreneurial background?
It’s funny, but I almost think that NOT knowing what we were getting into was a blessing in disguise. It was all new, so every step was a hurdle.
Fab Fem. Is there anything from previous careers that helped you with the challenge of opening your first store.
More than anything, I think it was my university research experience that helped. I thoroughly enjoyed digging deep and finding out what needed to be done.
Fab Fem. Where do you get the inspiration for your recipes and how much testing do you have to do before a new product is added?
In our early days, we purchased recipes from U.S.-based meal assembly businesses and various chefs, but we found that the time, and ingredient costs associated with multiple tests and tweaks, combined with the initial expense of buying the recipes just didn’t make sense.
Over time, we started developing our own recipes. There’s inspiration everywhere – cookbooks, online recipes, magazines, restaurants, meals at friends’ homes, my Grandma’s recipe box. I’ve also brought recipes home from countries around the world, including Italy, India, and South Africa.
We discard far more recipes that we use, and we won’t put any new food item on the menu until It’s been approved by our “lunchtime tasting panell” – our Staff at SupperWorks Oakville. They’re a seasoned bunch of foodies so they’re tough critics!
Fab Fem. What services did you offer when you first started? Are they the same as you offer to-day?
When we first opened, we offered in-store meal assembly sessions, a pickup service, and in-store parties. Since then, we’ve added national delivery, complete dinner packages for Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s, and Summer BBQ’s, side dishes, salads, seasonal treats, microwaveable Meals for One, and local delivery. Wow. We’ve been busy!
Fab Fem. When did you think about franchising your business?
Originally, we’d planned to open Oakville and then a second location. Franchising wasn’t even a consideration.
That all changed when Maclean’s magazine featured us in an article soon after we opened our doors. After that, we did countless TV, newspaper, and magazine interviews, and customers came from as far as Ottawa. Requests for SupperWorks franchises came from customers who loved our service but didn’t live in Oakville. Thank you Maclean’s!
Fab Fem. What resources did you use when you set up as a franchisor?
My husband joined SupperWorks as our Franchise Director. He got pointers from a friend who was involved in franchising for Dairy Queen. We hired the lawyer who drafted our franchise agreement, I wrote our operations manual, and we just dove in. We already had the general contractor, architect, food suppliers, equipment supplier, website, and “national” marketing team in place.
Fab Fem. Being a franchisor and operating your own store are two different business concepts. What have been the biggest challenges as you moved from store owner to franchisor? What steps did you take to put a franchise package together and how long is a franchisee’s training before they open a store?
My role in SupperWorks had evolved considerably before we started franchising, so I was already transitioning out of the day-to-day store operations. I’m a stickler for detail and I’m absolutely passionate about SupperWorks, so initially, my biggest challenge was learning to help our growing team replicate Oakville’s standards of excellence in food and service in other locations, while also respecting the special and unique contributions and personalities of each of our franchisees.
We developed a step-by-step “Startup Guide” (which includes everything from architectural specifications to a complete equipment list), an Operations Manual, and training protocols.
Training consists of 2 weeks at SupperWorks Oakville (our head office), followed by 1 week in the Franchisee’s home store, and ongoing email, phone, and in-store support.
Fab Fem. In what cities do you have franchises? We have stores in Oakville, Newmarket, Leaside, Etobicoke, Ancaster, Waterloo, London, Orleans, Kanata, and Nepean.
Fab Fem. Any plans to expand to a wider area in Canada?
We’ve had national delivery in place for several years, and we are currently developing our local delivery business. We’d love to open locations in Barrie and North Mississauga. A master franchise agreement could lead to exciting prospects further afield.
Fab Fem. Do you have any plans to expand your franchise globally?
We still have tremendous growth potential at home, so we’ll be staying in Canada.
Fab Fem. With the passing of your husband 2 years ago, how has that affected the running of your business?
He was ill for three years, so I and other members of our Team had been gradually taking on some of his responsibilities. I can never adequately thank our incredible people for their love, support and patience through his illness and through the time it took me to learn to breathe again. Now that I’m “back”, I’m working harder than ever to develop and grow the SupperWorks brand. I owe it to my Team!
Fab. Fem. What would you say to anyone who is thinking of franchising their business. Could you give us a few tips for aspiring franchisors?
Do your homework. Look at the market, your finances, your team, and your operations. Is your model ready to roll out? Remember that any weaknesses in your operation will be replicated and magnified with each franchise. Check out franchise associations. Talk to a franchise expert. Thoroughly document all operations. Think about WHY you want to franchise and how your role will change if you do. Get a good lawyer – a solid franchise agreement protects both you and your franchisees. Develop a profile of your ideal franchisee. What traits MUST she/he have and what skills can be taught?
Joni Lien bio:
Founder and Franchisor of SupperWorks: 2007 Entrepreneur of the Year Award (Oakville Chamber of Commerce/Rotary Club) I am passionate about helping busy people get good food on the table! I really love good food, and I feel that gathering around the table – talking, laughing, and spending time with my loved ones – is what makes life worthwhile. The problem is that good food takes time to prepare and, in our busy lives, time is always at a premium.
For inquires about franchising contact Joni at: email@example.com
About Fabulous Fempreneurship
Fabulous Fempreneurship Founder, Elaine Slatter is the principal of XL Consulting Group, a small business advisory consultancy, helping startups launch their businesses. Elaine is author of Fabulous Fempreneurship, a complete startup guide for women. Join our Fabulous Fempreneurship facebook mastermind for continued support or sign up for the mentoring program by our fabulous group of female entrepreneurs.