Franchise Success: a Watch and the Love of Hockey of an 8-Year-Old


Gerry W. B. Weber is a serial franchisor who started his franchise career back in the early 70’s when franchising was making its debut as the new way of expanding businesses. A franchise turn-around and start-up expert, Gerry has created, led, saved, and grown major franchise names in Canada and the US, such as Shoppers Drug Mart, Blockbuster Entertainment, AutoNation, Lady of America, and his newest venture, Saladarity.

Many people credit the words “honesty and integrity” as the cause of their success.  But for Gerry, these are not merely words; they are principles that have run his life since childhood. At the age of eight, Gerry was on his way to a Santa Claus parade in Toronto, Canada, when he saw a shiny object lying on the snow covered ground. He discovered that it was a watch, and his decision at that moment shaped the rest of his life. That day, young Gerry took the watch to the police station and left all his contact details with them. Unbeknown to him, the watch belonged to his childhood hero, Conn Smythe, whose name was synonymous with hockey in Toronto for five decades. After surrendering the watch to the police, Gerry and his friends went on to the Christmas parade and forgot all about it.

Weeks later Gerry’s parents received a letter from Conn Smythe expressing his desire to meet young Gerry and to thank him personally for returning his watch, which had been stolen during a house robbery. When the meeting took place Mr.  Smythe gave Gerry the watch, which he had cleaned and re-conditioned, a letter, season tickets to hockey, and the greatest gift of all: a conversation about honesty and integrity. Gerry has never forgotten this conversation; and, the anecdotes that Mr. Smythe shared with him that day have guided his life since then.

What does this story about an 8-year-old finding a watch have to do with franchise success? For Gerry, it simply has everything to do with it. Brutal honesty and integrity are of paramount importance in any relationship; and, franchising is all about relationships. “You have to have the fortitude to say ‘no’ to a franchise prospect that you know is not a good match to your company. That franchise fee is really tempting at times. But, you have to have the integrity not to take the deal today when you know that it won’t work in the future,” Gerry comments. “In the end it’s all about being able to look at yourself in the mirror every morning and to like what you see,” he adds.

For Gerry Weber, franchise success boils down to unit economics and fun. You can’t have franchise success if one of these two conditions is missing. “If you love what you do but can’t pay your bills, you won’t be happy for long; likewise if you are making money but hate what you do, you won’t stay with it. It is simple: fun, economics and success are interlinked,” Gerry explains.

Gerry is passionate about franchise success. He believes that a responsible franchisor must ensure that the unit economics are there before offering a franchise opportunity. “This is common sense, you would think; but unfortunately, there are too many franchises out there where this is not the case. It is amazing that even as litigious as the franchise world is, there are still charlatans out there taking advantage of trusting people,” Gerry emphasizes. He goes on to say that: “Systems are critical and must work, but without a formula that consistently results in positive economic returns for the franchisee, you can never have franchise success. “

Gerry points out that “Franchising is a collaborative affair between franchisor and franchisees; a relationship where teamwork is critical. Collaboration can’t exist without trust or honest communication,” Gerry continues, “that’s why I constantly seek feedback from franchisees. I want to hear it all, positive and negative.” And, Gerry starts communication from the beginning. He makes sure to meet each franchise prospect. “In franchising, picking the right people is the number one step. I meet each franchise prospect face to face; I meet their families, and I want to see them interact in a social setting as well as in business meetings.”

If you are contemplating entering the world of franchising, it will serve you well to listen to Gerry’s advice.

  • You should own and operate corporate locations. You lose touch with the real world if you operate from your Ivory Tower. You need your own locations to introduce systems, products and services; and, to test them before you ask your franchisees to implement these changes.”
  • “You must be 100% sure that your franchisees can make money.”
  • “Create an environment where fun, communication, and teamwork are fostered.”
  • “Take the time to pick the right franchisees for your company. Don’t take the deal even when you need the money.”
  • “Ask yourself: can my formula work without me having to nurse it along day in and day out? If it doesn’t, don’t go into franchising.”
  • “Always watch the unit economics. If your franchisees can’t recover their investment in 3 to 3-1/2 years, franchising may not be for you.”

Gerry is heeding his own advice in his new venture, Saladarity. “It is nice not to be cleaning someone else’s mess for a change, and not to be dealing with the dark side of franchising by constantly being involved in legal disputes. Instead, we are doing things right from the start. We are setting ourselves apart. For example, we pay our employees more because we want to attract and retain a level up of employees. This out-front investment pays up in savings of employee training; and, it produces employee retention and higher morale. We are going for the customer’s experience from the moment they walk in; and, we only use superior ingredients that are fresh, wholesome, and local wherever possible. We decided on this concept because we knew that the unit economics were there and the formula worked. ”

And so, Gerry Weber continues to build his legacy of honesty and integrity, making the right decisions just like he did when he was eight years old. Back then all the stars aligned to teach him a lesson that started with a watch and hockey – a lesson that would stay with him his entire life. The right decision and a conversation with his childhood hero set Gerry off in a journey of successful ventures and strong relationships, a path towards franchise success.