Franchise Business Review recently spoke with East Coast Wings + Grill franchise owners Leah and Mike Morrell to gain insight on what it’s like to be a franchise owner and the challenges of running your own business. Excerpts from the following interview with the Morrells are featured in FBR’s 2022 Top 200 Franchises issue.
Names: Leah and Mike Morrell
Location: Lynchburg, VA
Franchise owners since: 2016
What were you doing prior to owning an East Coast Wings + Grill franchise? How did that help prepare you for what you’re doing now?
Both of us have over 20 years of experience in the nuclear fuel industry. Both of us are engineers. Mike left that industry to start the franchise and Leah continues to work in this industry. Having held many leadership positions in the nuclear industry this gave us a solid foundation on how to form and lead a team to a successful outcome. Also, the nuclear industry follows rigid procedures and processes with no room for error. The franchise is also a process that you conform to and follow to be successful.
What are the most critical skills that you feel are needed to be successful?
Patience. Leadership. Empathy. Attention to detail. Gratitude. Patience was the hardest one and sometimes still is. Starting a business takes time and you have to be patient and make the right and wrong decisions to learn and grow. If you follow the system and take care of your team, it will come. There are “soft” skills and “hard” skills. The soft skills are the people related ones and the hard ones are the mechanics of the restaurant business. We had the soft ones. Corporate was invaluable in teaching us, and continuing to teach us, the business skills.
What were you looking for in franchising that you were not getting from your previous career?
What was the process you went through to select your franchise brand?
We always wanted to own our own business and wanted to start it 10 years or so (prior to retirement). We started looking at various franchises 2-3 years ahead of signing with East Coast Wings (ECW). We dined at an ECW in Tennessee and realized it would be a hit in the Lynchburg area. After over a year of talking with a recruiter for ECW, we submitted our application. We then went down for Discovery Day, and we were selected shortly after that.
Were there any pressing questions you needed answered before signing your agreement that future buyers should ask?
Make sure you understand the time commitment involved and that the EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest, Depreciation, and Amortization) they tell you will not come for a long time. It is not a get-rich-quick plan. It is a long-term investment. Also understand the training process — it is mostly OJT (On The job Training) with a lot of support from corporate. When you open your business, you are at your absolute weakest point of preparedness, and will be the busiest. This is very hard, but patience, hard work and perseverance and surrounding yourself with a great team (that takes time too!) that knows more about the business than you will make you successful.
What convinced you that this was the right brand for you?
The food. The corporate staff. And knowing our market here and how well we knew this brand would do in this area.
Now that you have been up and running for a bit, are there things you know now that you wish you had insight into before that might have made it easier for you?
Understanding the business more ahead of time and a lot of the day-to-day mechanics better would have saved some pain. Again, back to patience. Also understanding the low profit margins and how to stay ahead of that. It is a long-term deal, not a get-rich-quick plan.
If you think about your first year in business, what was the biggest obstacle you’ve faced, and how did you overcome it?
There were many here, but probably the biggest was when our credit card processing company had an error and we were not getting reimbursed for the sales. When we discovered this, it caused the credit cards to be back-charged for all the transactions. Needless to say, when people were getting hit for multiple past transactions all at once, they were not happy. We literally took over 200 calls a day with angry guests for about a week plus face to face. It cost us a lot of gift cards and money. But the corporate worked very hard and guided us through this and we were able to recover the lost money. But the damage this did to our guest base took over six months to recover from. Very hard.
What advice do you have for prospective franchise buyers?
Talk to (franchise owners). Understand the training process in and out. Keep your expectations low for the first year. Be patient. Your employees are the key — value them, show up (be present), and show them how much you appreciate them. They will make or break you.
For more information on East Coast Wings + Grill franchise opportunities,
Call: (336) 760-4985