Bob Watson is a cautious man.
Before he built his franchised location of 5 & Diner in Worcester, Massachusetts in 2006 he thought long and hard about whether it was the right thing to do.
“We looked at about 40 different franchises but we liked 5 & Diner a lot for some simple reasons. It’s ‘50s/’60s style. It’s neat and cool and the food takes you back to a time when things weren’t so complicated. We were also very attracted to the fact that it didn’t serve alcohol because we wanted to be in a real family type atmosphere.”
And befitting his cautious nature, Watson is now poised to roll out 5 & Diner nationwide, following five years of watching where the market took the concept.
With a background in food—25 years in corporate feeding—Watson wasn’t coming in fresh, so it was no surprise that the venture took off immediately when he opened his store. In fact, it was tough to keep up with the influx of business, he says.
This was partly due to the fact that Watson took many of the skills he’d learned from the corporate feeding world into retail—but he had to learn new ones, too.
“The basic premise is the same: Good food, good service and good people will get you everywhere in both corporate feeding and retail restaurants. If you’re good at what you do, people will come back. It’s that simple.”
And to back this up, Watson adds, everyone in the company has two functions on their business card—they’re in customer service first, and their other position second. Being CEO is not Watson’s priority. “We learned all that from contract feeding,” he explains.
Corporate feeding to retail restaurants
But he had a whole new market to learn. “In corporate feeding you have a captive audience, but with a retail restaurant you have to work for every sale,” he says.
“We didn’t have that experience. We have done a number of things to work in the retail world: We’ve gone to shows, seminars, etc. to learn more about franchising and such, and we’ve hired as many people as possible from the retail world. Now have an experienced franchise salesman and operating officer.”
Learning about the franchise world has also been challenging, Watson says. “I’ve learned that each franchisee is an individual with their own hopes and wishes. It’s a challenge but not unlike how it is in corporate headquarters where everyone has their own hopes and expectations for a company.”
Before long, Watson realized he loved the retail world and two years after he started in it, he bought the 5 & Diner company. Then two years later, in 2010, he purchased the corporate store in Phoenix.
At just the time when Watson bought the company, he says, “the market came unglued and everyone’s 401ks took a hit. To improve the situation for his future franchisees, he came up with a new prototype that meant they could get involved in the company with less outlay.
When Watson built his 5 & Diner the outlay was $1.3 million. “We wanted a prototype that would be easy to operate so there’s less for franchisees to worry about, and would cost a lot less to put together.”
The new prototype will cost significantly less—$450,000 to $650,000 and will be smaller—2,800 to 3,000 square feet as opposed to the former stores, which run closer to 4,200. Seating will only drop from 112 to around 92, however, Watson points out. On top of all this, new builds will also be completed much faster.