From satisfied customers to owners, Enza and Issam Soubjaki have made a name for themselves among the McDonald’s and Hungry Jacks of the burger game. The husband-and-wife team saw an opportunity when they stumbled into the original Burger Edge store in the Yarraville suburb of Melbourne.
“We were both sick of our professions,” says Enza. “Issam was in marketing for 12 years, I worked in a lab as a scientist for 11 years and we both thought that this was an opportunity for us to do something a bit different.
“Sushi was sort of the thing of the time, about six or seven years ago,” says Enza. “We thought burgers – this is a staple food for all cultures … we saw growth in that sector.”
From the kitchen to the boardroom
Before buying into Burger Edge, the pair had never worked in the food or hospitality sector.
“That was part of the attraction,” says Issam.
“It was new,” adds Enza.
“It was different. We could see that very traditional food was evolving into a gourmet twist,” says Issam. “Burgers were going down the same track as well. We thought this was the future.”
“The future is gourmet. It’s lifting up the quality of a standard product, of an everyday product,” says Enza. “People are more concerned and more aware of what they’re eating. We’re a more health-conscious society.”
At the end of 2005, after meeting with the franchisor, Enza and Issam bought into the franchise. Working in the store as master franchisees for four years, they managed to grow the business from within.
“We wanted to then take control of the business,” he says. “We had big ideas for the brand, big ambitions and we wanted to put them into action … The only way to do it was basically negotiate a purchase of the franchisor’s business so we bought the franchise from inside-out.”
In July 2009, they bought the franchise and since then have managed to fulfil the goals they had in mind for the business.
“We’ve almost doubled the number of stores. We’ve rebranded the business, we’ve reinvigorated the network with new franchisees, we’ve built new infrastructure into the store, into the system, such as new manuals, we’ve got a more robust rollout model,” says Issam. “The system is being re-geared for growth and that’s what we’ve been working on for the last 18 months.
“The franchise has been put on a different platform now,” he says. “It’s actually ready for an explosive growth and that’s been well-planned and very carefully executed to get us to this point.”
What you see is what you get
Enza and Issam hold firm to a key philosophy that dictates their relationship with every stakeholder in the business – what you see is what you get.
“At the end of the day, the buck stops with us and we pride ourselves on our transparency. Basically, whatever we say, we do,” says Issam.
“We’re accessible,” adds Enza.
“We don’t pretend to be anything we’re not. If we can’t do something, we’ll tell you we can’t do it,” he says.
The key to their grounded approach is their four years working from within the business.
“We’ve worked in stores, we’ve mopped floors, we’ve flipped burgers, we’ve served customers, we’ve worked our way all the way up, like we say, from the kitchen to the boardroom,” says Issam. “We trade off that because there’s a lot of franchisors out there that wouldn’t know their own systems.
“That’s very dangerous and franchisees are getting to the point where they’re not tolerating that anymore. They like to have franchisors that are credible, that have done the work and they’re approachable.”
In the end, they say the business begins and ends with people.
“It’s all about people. If you don’t have people, if you can’t relate to people, if you can’t talk to people in good times and in bad times, you just don’t have a business in franchising,” says Enza.
Working on the business
Moving on from the original structure, Burger Edge is now 100 per cent franchised, with all company-owned stores phased out of the network.
“The beauty of it is we get to work on the business, rather than in it, so we’re always focusing on how we can improve the system, how we can develop the brand, how we can foresee some of the issues coming up in 12 months’ time,” says Issam. “We try to always look beyond the horizon so we can address issues that are pending or about to hit.”
The added benefit of franchising all stores is that head office costs remain trim.
“We outsource all the skills that we need so if we need a PR company or a franchising recruiter, we outsource it. We go find a PR company and we go find a franchise recruiter,” says Enza. “We keep head office very lean and we outsource what we need, when we need it.”
“Our shareholders love it because they can see that we aren’t paying out enormous amounts in labour and headcount,” adds Issam. “It keeps our P&L very, very healthy.”
A franchising model has undoubtedly done wonders for the brand – but Issam and Enza are quick to point out they have encountered their fair share of challenges.
“How long have you got?” laughs Enza.
“We can rattle them off in alphabetical order if you like,” says Issam.
“You can have your contracts in place, you have all your systems in place, but at the end of the day, you’re engaging a person and with people comes all sorts of issues,” he says. “You’ve got to align your motivations and direction with the franchisee so that’s not always easy to do because different people go into business for different motives and intentions.”
“One of the other challenges in franchising is finding quality franchises and that’s probably a standard answer with all franchisors,” says Enza. “We can be choosy. We’ll just go slower. We don’t mind growing slow and organically as long as each step is measured and thought about and it’s spot on. There’s not point fixing it up later. You just lose too much.”
“It’s an oxymoron where if you’re more selective and choosy, you’ll actually grow and be more stable,” adds Issam. “You’ve got to be strong and stick to your guns and say, ‘I’m sorry, you just don’t cut the mustard.”
As for the future, the Burger Edge franchisors expect big things to come.
“We’ve got three sites in Victoria that we’re building … and there’s another four in WA,” says Issam. “All these satellite cities are very capable of taking on one, two or three stores each and that almost opens up Queensland to 20 stores over the next four, five years, so we’re going to continue to grow organically.”
“We’re going to take over the world,” laughs Enza.