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New Brunswick Company Looks to Bring Panera Bread to More Canadians

In September, New Brunswick’s Franchise Management Inc. (FMI), owned and operated by Dwight Fraser and Greg Walton, announced its acquisition of 12 Panera Bread locations in Ontario. It is an exciting next step for the Woodstock-based company, which began as a simple mom-and-pop operation in the early 1990s.

The company has seen tremendous growth since its humble beginnings, now employing just over 5,000 people in both Canada and the U.S.

Opportunities NB (ONB) spoke to Fraser to learn more.

ONB: Let’s begin with a bit about the company’s history. 

dwight-fraser1Fraser: Before Subway was well-known here, my wife Fay and I opened one in Woodstock. It would have been about the tenth Subway in Atlantic Canada. We needed $80,000 and I was sure we qualified for a small business loan. I approached the banks and was rejected at each one. I missed the memo saying nobody was lending to restaurants in 1991. I was in a panic.

I spoke with the SouthWest Valley Development Corp, and they agreed to lend us $30,000. We still needed $50,000. We thought Fay should try next, and she landed us a $30,000 loan; we were $20,000 short. We were able to launch, stretching trade payables where we could. We opened with ourselves and a couple of employees and made $900 profit that first year.

ONB: You’ve seen incredible growth since then. That’s been through acquisitions?

Fraser: Yes. In 1996 we opened Pizza Hut Express in Woodstock, then later A&W. Greg Walton joined us in 1999 as a Pizza Hut manager and proved to be a tremendous operator. When an opportunity arose in Nova Scotia to buy corporate stores from Pizza Hut, Greg became a partner with FMI and moved to Halifax. We did well with those stores, and other markets opened for us from there. In 2008, we moved into the U.S. with acquisitions in Chicago. In 2011, we acquired most of the KFCs in Atlantic Canada. Last year we purchased KFCs in Mississippi, and this year we added locations in Ontario, Quebec, and Arkansas.

ONB: That brings us to the company’s latest announcement. Tell us about Panera Bread. 

panera bread Fraser: Panera Bread is a great franchise; they do more sales in the U.S. now than big names like KFC. They are not as well-known in Canada yet, but the few stores here do very well. We began discussions with them two years ago, and we’ve now officially announced the purchase of all corporate stores in Canada. Our plan is to grow the brand north of the border and make it accessible to many more Canadians. We don’t have a store count in mind, but as we learn their business and their markets we’ll grow across the country to make it a national brand. We’re very excited about this news.

ONB: This is big win for FMI. Panera is selective in terms of who it welcomes into the fold, isn’t that right?

Fraser: They only have 29 franchisees. They haven’t let a new franchisee in to their system in 10 years. They’re very selective, and all of their tremendous growth has come from existing stores and franchisees. It is definitely a major coup for us.

ONB: FMI employs 5,000 people, how big is the Woodstock team?

Fraser: We are now at 45 people in this office. We are still growing here too; the office is expanding as we add 4,300 square feet to our existing building. The Panera announcement means more growth as well, we’ve added to HR, accounting, sales, etc.

ONB: What are the benefits of operating in New Brunswick?

Fraser: It’s a smaller market so business relationships are more easily established here. We are proud of the talent we have here, and on the administrative side it’s all homegrown talent. We’ve had no problems finding good people. Public sector support has been strong as well. ONB for example has assisted us with growth efforts and local recruitment.

ONB: Let’s wrap with your top advice for entrepreneurs?

Fraser: Find something to sell, whether it’s time, pet rocks, or Subway sandwiches, and be passionate about your business. During my time I have sold everything from ball caps, to baseball cards, to cash register tapes. I’ve had a lot of discouraging moments over the years, but eventually you just hit your stride. You learn a lot from your mistakes.

I would suggest to new entrepreneurs, don’t ever be satisfied, keep moving forward. There is safety in contentment, but it comes with complacency, and to truly build a business you cannot be content. I have never felt safe and have never been content. Fear is my great motivator.

Be driven by passion, not by the dollar. Take good care of your employees, and they will in turn take good care of your customers, the dollars will take care of themselves.

Want to learn more about locating or growing your business in New Brunswick? Connect with an ONB Business Development Executive at the button below.

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Cover image via Flickr Creative Commons