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Firehouse Sub's selective franchisee process leads to training program success

Posted by Meredith Kay  10/13/2016   0 Comments


The best business models are always driven by passion, and the franchise operation of Firehouse Subs is a perfect example. What began as a simple sandwich shop started by two brothers, who were also firefighters, has become a wildly successful franchise, with 970 stores across North America. Brothers Chris and Robin Sorensen, along with their passionate and energetic team have developed a franchise model that is not only successful, but steadily growing and adding new franchisees, while utilizing their unique training and management system.

Firehouse Sub's Pickle Bucket community campaign initiative 
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The founders describe their growth, and future expansion plans, as a "slow burn" process. They will tell you that they only allow a franchisee to hang up the Firehouse Subs sign if they sincerely feel that a candidate is all in, heart and soul. In fact, Firehouse Subs only approves 15% of all franchise applications submitted. Josh Culbreth, Senior Manager of Training for Firehouse Subs, states that, "We don't just want to take people's money and open restaurants. We want to start a relationship," that will not only survive, but thrive in today's incredibly competitive fast casual food industry.

Onboarding at Firehouse Subs is unique.

Headquartered in Jacksonville, Florida, Firehouse Subs employs a unique onboarding system that not only allows potential franchisees a glimpse into the firehouse, so to speak, but it also gives the executives and training managers the chance to take an intimate look at these future partners. It also allows both parties to decide whether, or not, a mutually beneficial relationship can be formed. All interested franchisees will be assigned to an Area Representative. This person will become the training manager for the new franchisee, and will cover the area where a new Firehouse Subs restaurant might be located. Each Area Manager is also a franchise owner, and takes on the added responsibility of training new franchisees from the very beginning, in order to receive a percentage of the franchise royalties. The Area Representatives are not employees of Firehouse Subs. This incentive creates truly committed trainers, as they will have a long term, vested interest in the success of a new restaurant. It is a training model that is unique to Firehouse Subs, and has proven to be very successful, both for the company and the new franchisees.

Onboarding then begins with a "Week of Discovery", wherein an interested franchisee will spend one intensive week immersed in the daily operations of a Firehouse Subs location. This week is hard work, and involves long hours on your feet. It can be spent at an approved local store, or at a location that has been handpicked by the Area Representative assigned to train new franchise owners in that region. Firehouse Subs requires that new franchise owners must have an Operating Partner, who will own at least 51% of the business, and be committed to actively working the franchise, and handling the daily operations. It is this partner who will complete the training, and ultimately become the Firehouse Subs representative for the new store.

The next step for a potential franchisee would be to spend one incredibly intense "Day of Discovery" in Jacksonville. Here, a new owner will meet with Don Fox, the CEO of Firehouse Subs, along with the Sorensen brothers, CFO Vince Burchianti, and each department head within the company. Culbreth states that, "Each interested franchisee is interviewed by each member of the team. They interview us as well as we interview them." The key to finding people who really care about their business, and the Firehouse Subs brand, is a long and often arduous process, but the company is very committed to its franchise partners, and is very selective when awarding new stores.

Once awarded a Firehouse Subs franchise, new owners will undergo six to eight weeks in a local training restaurant, learning everything there is to know about running a successful restaurant. This will then be followed by one more week of corporate training back in Jacksonville. Here, the owner will receive his or her very own Captain's Advancement Manual, which walks them through all of the operating procedures, so that they can open their new store, and successfully train the new Firehouse team, along with their Area Managers.

The company is committed to their training model and the Firehouse Subs culture.
"Firehouse Subs wants to foster consistency across the country. Your Firehouse Subs sandwich should taste the same in Michigan, as it does in California." Josh Culbreth goes on to say, "There is intense pride in the Firehouse Subs culture. We want to create an experience for our customers. That is what brings our guests back." It is also the reason that most of their franchisees began as Firehouse Subs customers. The company strongly encourages franchise owners to keep with the Firehouse Subs program, and to model themselves after other, successful franchises. They are so committed to this, that they have even created a position entitled Fire Marshall. This individual is an employee of the Area Manager and is tasked with the job of performing audits on area restaurants. This is to make sure that Firehouse Subs brand standards are being upheld, and that customer service and cleanliness standards are also being met. These Fire Reports, as they are called, allow corporate to monitor their systems and fine tune procedures as the industry, and franchise owners' needs, change over time.

Giving back to the communities they feed.
Firehouse Subs was started by two firemen; the ultimate job of community service and protection. So, it only stands to reason that Firehouse Subs is also a company that strives to give back to the communities that their restaurants serve. At the very heart of this company is the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation. Created in 2005, after Hurricane Katrina, brothers Chris and Robin Sorensen rushed to New Orleans, in order to help feed a hurting community in need. This launched the foundation, and along with their two dollar pickle bucket campaign, and Round Up at the register campaign, Firehouse Subs has raised and donated over $18 million to communities, throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico. This money goes to help under budgeted organizations buy life saving safety equipment, such as the "Jaws of Life". In fact one of their donations wound up actually saving the lives of two of their very own employees, following a serious auto accident.

Many companies today will state that they strive to forge a true partnership with their associates or employees, but through their Area Manager Training Program, and their tight franchisee vetting system, Firehouse Subs is proving that they are a company with heart. This is an organization founded on the firefighters code of ethics, and they are only interested in working with those business owners who truly understand the concept of working as a team, toward a common goal. However, if somebody is able to succeed in the Firehouse Subs training academy, then they will have a team of committed individuals, ready to wrestle the flames of the food service industry for life.

For more information about franchising with Firehouse Subs, please visit

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