Franchisee Network Spotlight Interview: Shakeel Jivraj

Shakeel Jivraj is 38 years old and was born and raised in London. He now lives in High Wycombe with his wife and two children.

Having studied economics and then enjoying a fast-paced career in advertising, Shakeel decided to join the family franchise business in 2007. Starting out with one Pizza Hut Delivery store, Shakeel and his father grew the portfolio to 23 units by 2017.

Over the past 12 months, Shakeel has been investigating diversification into other industries and brands, reflected in a recent investment in fitness brand 9Round.

Shakeel recently spoke at the Multi-unit Franchise Conference, sharing his insights into how to find the right franchise brands for your portfolio. Here, he talks to The Franchisee Network about why he chose to diversify the family’s franchise portfolio, and some of the things he’s learned about making a success of multi-unit franchising. 

You started your career as an employee of a global advertising agency. What made you decide to become part of a family franchise business?

I really enjoyed my job and the lifestyle that went with it, but I’d been born into a family that has entrepreneurialism at its heart.

My father and his two brothers had always run their own businesses. They’d been very successful owning and operating a portfolio of hotels in the 1980s. After the recession in the late 80s they left the hotel sector, and each went in a different direction on the business front.

My dad invested in a couple of fish and chip restaurants and, as I grew up, he educated my brother and me in what it took to run a successful business.

My mother, brother and I were expected to pitch in, and we did! My dad owned the brand’s flagship store in Queens Park, and my brother and I had to help there before school, after school, and in the holidays. My dad really wanted us to understand the value of hard work and the value of money.

I grew up in an environment where being boss of your own business and master of your success was the norm.

As my brother and I went through school and university, my dad diversified into some small coffee shop franchises which he ran with my mum.

I was a couple of years into my job at the advertising agency when my dad approached me a about a new business opportunity with Yum! Brands Inc., as they were looking for new Pizza Hut Delivery franchisees.

My father got an introduction via another family member who was already in the Pizza Hut Delivery system. My dad wanted us to go into the opportunity together – and for me to leave my job!

It was a big decision for me to leave my employment, but the potential of the franchise opportunity was appealing.

Honestly, with hindsight, it was probably a bit naïve of me to leave such a good job that gave me a comfortable and fun lifestyle. I didn’t realise I was exchanging it for something that was going to require a 24/7 effort in the early days, but I’m glad I did.

You and your father have been running a successful portfolio of Pizza Hut Delivery units since 2007. Please tell us how you grew from one unit to 23!

We went through the selection process for Pizza Hut Delivery and were approved. At the time, there were no stores available in London – they were all owned by the brand – so we were offered a site in Cheltenham.

My dad ‘volunteered’ me to be on site in Cheltenham, so I moved there, and we opened the store in early 2007. It was an upheaval and challenge for me, not just because of the change in lifestyle leaving my job and London, but because I had to spend all my time at the unit initially, overseeing or even performing every kind of task. I was the restaurant manager and had to learn about running the franchise from the ground up.

Within 18 months, the performance of that store had improved and we were assessed as being excellent growth franchisees to take on more stores. Pizza Hut Delivery offered us the whole Oxfordshire territory and we ended up with five stores in the county, as well as the Cheltenham site. So, quite quickly we owned six units.

I moved into a role where I managed this cluster of units, having trained up a restaurant manager at each site. They would report into me, I reported into my dad, and we had a small support team in London by this stage.

Yum!, who own Pizza Hut Delivery, then announced in 2012 they were selling all their corporate-owned stores in the UK and this allowed us to acquire 11 stores in north and east London. We then bought out another franchisee who owned Central London stores, bringing our total holding to 23 London units.

Of course, every time we scaled up the Pizza Hut Delivery operations, we had to restructure the team behind them. Wherever possible we would develop people from within the organisation, promoting a restaurant manager to an area manager and so on – this created career development paths for those in our family business. Our administrative team would also grow to meet the needs of the expanded business.

Your Pizza Hut Delivery operations are clearly successful – what made you decide to expand into a new sector?

In 2012 I brought my brother into the business. He is a qualified chartered accountant and would look after the financial side of things.

In 2018 we decided to consolidate our Pizza Hut Delivery holdings and now own 14 units, all in London. This gave us bandwidth to look at new opportunities.

Though my brother’s background is in finance, he’s also a qualified personal trainer and is passionate about fitness. He wanted to channel this passion into a franchise, and after researching the sector and brands, we chose to pursue a franchise with 9Round.

9Round is part of Lift Brands, who also own further fitness and wellbeing brands including Snap Fitness. We’ve signed a small development agreement, which means we have a territory in which we can open more than one 9Round unit. We’re very excited that our first site is opening very soon at London Dock, Wapping. More units will follow. 

Many multi-unit franchise operations are family businesses. How do your father, brother and you work together?

We have quite defined roles. My father is the Managing Director so has overall responsibility for the business – strategy, legal, maintenance and so on. My brother is on the finance side of things as he has the skills and experience for that area. I’m responsible for operations, marketing and HR.

On the new fitness arm of the business, my brother and I are taking more of a lead, but we benefit from my father being in the background as a mentor.

The education our father has given us over the years about running a business, the lessons he passed on even as we were children, means that he does not have to be so involved as we diversify. He is always ready at the sidelines to give us a nudge in the right direction if we need it though!

What do you think are the key factors that have led your sites and employees to be awarded numerous national and international operational awards?

A key thing I learned from my dad is to have respect and compassion for every person in your company, regardless of what role they hold or what level they perform at. Whether they are a delivery driver or a restaurant manager, each individual is an extension of the family and it’s important to build a personal relationship with each person.

I got to know 300 employees by name, whether they were married, had kids, had a cat or a dog! When you build that granularity of relationship, people treat the business as their own, not as if they are an employee.

Their loyalty is to the family, more than to the brand. It’s why we’ve been able to retain the allegiance of our management staff and have fewer challenges with turnover at that level. Some of our people have been with us for more than a decade, and they’ve had other opportunities come their way, but they have chosen to remain with us.

If we look after their welfare and their family’s welfare, then the more likely they are to perform to the levels we are requesting of them.

Another aspect my brother and I both learned quickly is to be in the detail all the time. We never switch off; we’re always answering calls, in meetings, visiting stores, supporting them and looking for ways to improve.

Thirdly, my brother and I had the strong ambition to become best within the Pizza Hut Delivery system. Once we’d tasted that success, we then wanted and aimed for consistency – we didn’t want to be one-season wonders.

Once you achieve that consistency of quality, you garner the respect of your team – they want it too and we soon saw them winning restaurant of the year awards and manager of the year awards; and this contributes to our success as multi-site franchisees. Achieving and keeping high standards means you tend to retain the best calibre of people – they want to be part of the success.

Finally, I have to mention Pizza Hut Delivery and the support that they have provided! From the rigorous but very supportive franchisee selection process, to setting up and opening our initial store in Cheltenham, to the training and development opportunities I’ve experienced over the years, their input has also been instrumental to our success.

As a franchisee, you need your franchisor to be working hard on behalf of its franchisees, as well as the brand itself, so this is something to really research when you’re choosing who to work with.

In a larger multi-unit franchise operation like yours, how do you find the right role for yourself?

Leading the operational side of the business was a natural fit for me as I’ve always been enthusiastic in coaching people and driving standards.

Also, as I said, I had a bottom-up learning experience with Pizza Hut Delivery. I ran stores myself, and that helped earn the respect of people we were bringing into the organisation – store and area managers – because I had first-hand experience of what their job involved.

But I was also careful to pursue personal and professional development opportunities. I took advantage of the specialised development courses Pizza Hut Delivery made available to me. I was elected to their marketing board and I was also appointed to sit on the franchise council, which was the governing body for all Pizza Hut Delivery franchisees.

In summary, you need to look at your own skillset – where are your strengths? Then you need to think about how you can build on your experience.

You started with one franchise unit. What advice do you have for franchisees who have one or two franchises but are ready to start expanding?

First of all, if you’re looking to expand beyond one or two units, you have to be very clear on your next location. It may need footfall or high visibility, of course, but it would be challenging to have a new unit too far afield from your existing premises. You need to be able to get to the locations easily and – if you’re looking to scale quickly – to share resources across them. Look to build a ‘cluster’ of units in one area for easier management, but I reiterate: do also make sure a big enough customer base is there.

Secondly, think about your people and what they could be capable of. Every time we scaled up, we had to change the company structure. Our strategy was always to build from within – moving people from within up the chain. We also had to introduce layers within the office to support the financial and administrative aspects of the business.

You can’t be hesitant in allowing others to run parts of your operations for you. It’s a risk we all have to take, but it’s a calculated risk because you’ll only find out if it’s going to work if you empower the next person along the line. It might not work out every time, but you learn from the experience, and it’s only possible to scale up if you develop your people.

You have to empower individuals. That empowers you and your business.

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The Franchisee Network

What is The Franchisee Network? 

The Franchisee Network is a new initiative designed to help existing franchisees build connections with other business-owners from a diverse mix of franchise brands. It will allow you to learn from and collaborate with like-minded entrepreneurs as you navigate the challenges of running your own business. Find out more about joining The Franchisee Network here. 

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