Uphill battle for downhill skiing star

Even for a downhiller who made his fame on the slopes, Mr. Brooker felt the playing field titled too steeply in favour of McDonald’s. Mr. Brooker’s lawyer said the McDonald’s franchise agreement was so one-sided that he shouldn’t sign it unless he really, really wanted a franchise…“ I learned since I quit ski racing that you shouldn’t want things too badly”…

The Globe and Mail
September 29, 1998

Uphill battle for downhill skiing star
Todd Brooker worked for years to win a coveted McDonald’s restaurant. But faced with a rigid franchise contract and pervasive corporate culture, the independent-minded celebrity went instead with Wendy’s.
John Southerst


'Wendy's doesn't say in the franchise agreement you have to give up all your other business interests,' says restaurant owner Todd Brooker, who also does TV commentary of major ski races and makes instructional videos.

When his international skiing days ended, Todd Brooker wanted a McDonald’s franchise in the worst way.

The downhill skiing star seemed to have the right stuff to own one of the lucrative outlets. He’d organized ski events for years, raising millions for Ronald McDonald Children’s Charities.

He completed training at McDonald’s rigorous Hamburger University in Chicago in 1994. For two years, Mr. Brooker worked six days a week, between April and November, at a Barrie, Ont., franchise – without pay.

Yet McDonald’s Restaurant of Canada Ltd.’s head office in Toronto told him at the end of his second Barrie stint that he wouldn’t get his own franchise for a year or two.

“All along, they kept reminding you that they may never give you a restaurant and if they did, it could be anywhere in Canada,” says Mr. Brooker, 39, who left the ski circuit a decade ago.

In the end, he couldn’t wait. Last December, Mr. Brooker opened a new restaurant in the Wendy’s International Inc. chain in downtown Collingwood, Ont.

His experiences underline the critical need for franchise buyers to link up with franchisors whose style is a good fit. Style reflects the company’s characteristic features: communications, spending habits, sales methods, product marketing, franchisee assistance and more. If your style doesn’t mesh with your franchisor’s you’re destined for trouble.

The degree of control exerted by a fanchisor is one strong indicator of style, and that’s where Mr. Brooker parted with McDonald’s. Even for a downhiller who made his fame on the slopes, Mr. Brooker felt the playing field titled too steeply in favour of McDonald’s.

It wasn’t just the wait that made him look elsewhere. Mr. Brooker’s lawyer said the McDonald’s franchise agreement was so one-sided that he shouldn’t sign it unless he really, really wanted a franchise.

It stipulated, for instance, that he would have to forego all “non-passive” business interests other than a McDonald’s franchise. That meant Mr. Brooker would have to give up television commentary for ESPN and CTV network coverage of major ski races, as well as coaching, teaching and making ski tips videos.

Mr. Brooker also intended to purchase land on the main drag in Collingwood, close to the resort town’s ski hills. But McDonald’s required that he lease the restaurant’s building back from the company rather than own it outright.

“They’re able to demand everything their way because everyone wants a franchise so badly.”

But Mr. Brooker also believes that his celebrity status may have conflicted with McDonald’s corporate personality.

“It’s their culture. They all have McDonald’s on their licence plates and on their ties. It would be hard for them to take on someone well known for doing his own thing and really promoting himself as well as the franchise.”

McDonald’s has framed its franchise agreement with the explicit intent of encouraging active franchisees rather than investors. Lawyers, doctors and dentists have given up practices to own a McDonald’s restaurant and become “the Mr. and Mrs. McDonald’s” of their communities, say Rem Langan, a McDonald’s vice president.

“To be successful in the hospitality business,” he adds, “you have to be grinding it out day in, day out.”

Mr. Brooker turned his back on McDonald’s after his second stint in Barrie. “I more or less blew up and that was the end of it.”

His Wendy’s franchise is located on that choice corner lot he owns in Collingwood. An old ski lift purchased from the local Georgian Peaks ski club – complete with towers and chairs – sits beside the drive-through.

In the local ski magazine, Mr. Brooker’s name appears in his Wendy’s advertisement as the restaurant’s owner – operator, a spark of individual visibility seldom seen amidst franchised trademarks.

“I’ve been allowed to do things I never could have done with McDonald’s…” he says. “I promote that fact that it’s my restaurant.”

Always a familiar figure in Collingwood, Brooker played heavily on his celebrity status when his restaurant opened last December. Decked out in his Wendy’s jacket, he gave away coupons on visits to area businesses an on the ski hills. He served nearly 2,000 people in his first couple of days.

He also kept up his local community appearances – as Collingwood’s ambassador to the Special Olympics, master of ceremonies for the parade, participant in local equestrian event celebrations and forerunner, coach and prize-giver at children’s ski races. “I don’t wear a big Wendy’s band on my head,” Mr. Brooker says, “but people know that I own the restaurant and they support me in return.”

That’s not to say anything goes in a Wendy’s franchise. Mr. Brooker says the Dublin, Ohio-based franchisor is strict about such matters as menu items, pricing and how the food is made. But franchisees have more flexibility where local marketing is concerned.

Meanwhile, he continues his ski activities and television appearances. “Wendy’s doesn’t say in the franchise agreement that you have to give up all your other business interests,” he says, “but the intention is that your franchise is going to be your main line of business. And it is for me.”

The apparent fit with Wendy’s may lead to further ventures. Mr. Brooker has begun the process of applying for a new joint Wendy’s and Tim Horton’s outlet.

He carries no bad feelings for McDonald’s – it was simply a matter of being unsuited to each other, although he wishes he has realized it earlier. “ I learned since I quit ski racing that you shouldn’t want things too badly,” Mr. Brooker reflects. Two years ago, for instance, he was forced out of a local resort hotel and condominium venture that he had helped finance.

“I knew things were changing but I wanted it so badly that I didn’t know when to drop it. It was the same with McDonald’s.”

Company Units

McDonald’s 1,058
A&W 495
Harvey’s 348
Burger King 269
Wendy’s 245
Valentine 120
Lick’s 20
Willy’s 8
Fast Eddie’s 7
Fatso’s 6
Source: Francon

(Canada) The Globe and Mail

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