Wendy’s Franchise Convention Recap

It’s Tuesday night and I’m still a little jet-lagged after last week's week-long trip to Las Vegas.

Here I am moderating a panel discussion with my fellow Senior Leadership Team members.

Why? Each fall, we host a convention-style meeting for all of our U.S. and Canadian franchisees. Every other year we include our global franchise partners as well. These conventions involve lots of planning, a reasonable amount of stress (you try guessing what 1,500 people want to have for dinner), and time away from home and family.

But the work is all worth it.

This was my third annual convention at Wendy’s, and it’s quickly become my favorite time of year. Our franchise community is the heart and soul of the Wendy’s brand and this annual gathering is equal parts old home week and business update. In fact, after my first Wendy’s convention in 2014, our team “rebranded” the event and it’s now called our Family Reunion.

todd penegor hosted a 6 am "fun run" for all willing participants during the convention

In the Wendy’s system today, we have a little more than 300 franchise organizations. They range in size from those who own one restaurant to hundreds. Some have been a part of the family since the earliest days of the brand -- it’s not widely known, but Dave Thomas started Wendy’s with the money he made from being a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchisee. Many say that this brand was started with a franchisee’s heart.

And other franchisees have just joined the family and are quickly learning about our culture or the way we do things around here. I had the pleasure of having dinner with two brand new franchise organizations while in Las Vegas, and it felt kind of cool to be the “veteran” explaining what makes our family so special.

Among the highlights of our conventions are “main stage” presentations from many of our business leaders with a sneak peek of what’s to come in areas like Marketing, Operations and Restaurant Development.  And we also take the time to host smaller group breakout sessions to get further into the weeds on more complex topics; and we spend time with our suppliers who are important partners in Wendy’s success and are very much a part of our extended family.

A photo from one of our general session presentations

The business updates are critical. It’s the one time of year that everyone gets together in person to talk about the things that will help our brand grow successfully, and to address any challenges that may be holding us back. But the best part of the event is the recognition we give to some of our very best, and the commitment that the Wendy’s family shows to children in foster care who are waiting to be adopted.

We recognize top performers throughout the system – rewarding individuals, teams and entire markets for their efforts. The most prestigious awards we present are DMA of the Year, Founder’s Award and Wendy’s Hall of Fame.

The DMA of the Year recognizes an entire market.  At Wendy's, DMA stands for Designated Market Area and restaurants in a DMA work together to delight every customer at the local level. This year’s DMA of the Year was Chicago! 

Founder's Award Winner Mike Zak is joined by Scott Weisberg, Abigail Pringle, Todd Penegor and Bob Wright

Founder's Award Winner Mike Zak is joined by Scott Weisberg, Abigail Pringle, Todd Penegor and Bob Wright

There is a strong unity among their 160 restaurants. More than half of the market has been remodeled and 65%  are operating to the highest of Wendy’s standards (we call it A-level operations). As passionate supporters of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, the Chicago DMA has funded not one, but two Wendy’s Wonderful Kids recruiters to help foster children in Chicago find loving, permanent families.

The Founder’s Award is of course in honor of Dave Thomas, and it’s kind of like our MVP award. It recognizes our franchisee who had the best all-around year by: connecting with customers and their community, running fantastic restaurant operations, and filling their restaurants with crew members who delight our customers and managers who motivate and inspire their teams.

This year’s Founder’s Award winner was Mike Zak of the WenZak organization. Mike’s restaurants are in the Chicago market, so he was a two-time winner this year! Mike is a fantastic Wendy’s franchisee and restaurant operator. He is a role model for living Dave Thomas’ legacy, empowering his people to deliver 100% quality every day. Almost half of his 18 restaurants are remodeled and he’s building a new restaurant as well. Developing and supporting people is his passion as he's promoted nearly twenty team members over the last year. Our top General Manager of the year came from one of Mike’s restaurants too! Mike is also President of our Advertising Co-Op. The Founder's Award was a well-deserved honor for a fantastic franchisee.

eddie accepting his award during his offical induction into the wendy's hall of fame

The final award we present is the formal induction into the Wendy's Hall of Fame.  It’s the absolute highest honor in the Wendy’s system as it recognizes a lifetime of achievement to the brand.  Members of the Hall are nominated, voted on, and inducted by fellow members. This year’s winner was Eddie Rodriguez of JAE Restaurants. Eddie and his partners headquarter in West Palm Beach, Florida, and they own and operate 176 restaurants in Florida, Texas and New Mexico.

We surprised Eddie with the news in August when he was surrounded by his family and restaurant team.  So last week in Las Vegas, he was officially inducted as the 71st member of the Wendy’s Hall of Fame. He’s a true class act. He’s served for more than a decade on our Franchise Advisory Council, with two years as Vice-President and two years as President. He’s a big believer in creating opportunities for his people to grow and develop. He tells them if they continue to live the values of Wendy’s, they will have a job for life. He’s been a franchisee for twenty years and has been a big part of how our brand has grown.

Edna green, a wendy's wonderful kids recruiter and our guest speaker at convention

After all the awards were given, we turned our minds and hearts to children in foster care. It is a longtime tradition for the Wendy’s family to give thanks for our annual successes by raising funds and awareness for the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption and the foundation’s signature program, Wendy’s Wonderful Kids.

We were honored to be joined in Las Vegas by Edna Green, a Wendy’s Wonderful Kids recruiter from St. Louis, and a beautiful family that she helped bring together through adoption. Edna’s words captured our hearts: “We all have a voice to help those that can’t speak up for themselves”

I'm on stage with ed Anderson and his bike. 

I'm on stage with ed Anderson and his bike. 

So with that as our inspiration, we raised our auction paddles and bid cards and raised more than $1.3 million in one single evening! We added to that with the $300,000 raised by our franchisee Ed Anderson who rode his bicycle across the country to raise money and awareness for the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption.  We loved seeing him and his family in Las Vegas!

And later in the week, we hosted our annual golf tournament, The Dave, which (you guessed it!) raises money and awareness for the Foundation. The third edition of The Dave once again served to unite our valued supplier partners and franchisees to honor the cause that means so much to the Wendy’s family.  Together, we were able to raise more than $700,000 in this outing.

Quite a successful week in Las Vegas, wouldn’t you say?

So now, here we are, back to work at our Restaurant Support Center in Dublin, Ohio, and already planning for our return to Las Vegas in 2017 for our next Family Reunion.

Until then, it’s time to sell some Taco Salads… 

we threw it way back with this one; check out the wind breaker! 

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