Growing Your Business: Spotlighting Canadian Small Business Owners

Growing a business doesn’t come with a playbook. For entrepreneurs, the rules are often written and updated on the fly as they head towards a destination that is undefined.

For Shakeel Ahmed, owner of 42 franchise chicken restaurants across Canada and counting, the path to growth has been one that’s seen him transition from one country to another, and one industry to another. We recently spoke to Shakeel to hear how he grew such a successful business in a new country.

I emigrated to Canada from Pakistan in 2005. I had a textile business that exported garments to the United States and Canada. When we arrived, my intention was to increase my existing business in Canada and the US. Unfortunately, the costs associated with that, and the rates of duty, were very high compared to Pakistan. So, my existing business could not feasibly continue.

In a new country with a growing family, a change of plans was clearly in order. After evaluating his options, Shakeel made a transition to a line of work he’d never even contemplated before—the franchise restaurant business. From there, his trajectory went in one direction, up.

I jumped into the food business with a popular franchise chicken restaurant. We opened the first location in 2005 with two employees and now have 700 employees, 42 locations and a target of opening 10–12 new restaurants each year and crossing $100 million in sales.

It goes without saying that for a business owner embarking in an unfamiliar industry, Shakeel’s results were impressive. 

The power of the pivot

Even though he was used to running his own business, the pivot to a franchise business with set rules and guidelines made sense. Shakeel was new to Canada, a country with completely different consumer habits, market forces, and government regulations. By opening a franchise, he could get in on a business with a proven model that was already working. As Shakeel puts it:

I liked "this popular" franchise restaurant model because they had proved themselves by running a restaurant in a good way. And the chain was old—they started in 1974. I thought, okay this is like jumping into a boat that is already sailing. I watched other people investing in non-franchise businesses and losing money, so I figured okay, I should go with a franchise.

For Shakeel, the structure of a franchise business gave him an opportunity to transfer business skills he’d developed through his previous endeavours. Then, as with any industry, hard work and keeping an open mind began to pay off.

I applied all my business skills to managing the restaurant—implementing the franchise guidelines, applying health and safety regulations and treating my employees properly. By doing so, I was very fortunate in that I won the first Canadian “Gold Plate” award from the franchise for its top operators.

After this early success, Shakeel was ready to take on more. As Canada’s first Gold Plate winner, the franchise offered him the opportunity to take on the Vaughan territory in Ontario and open three more stores. Shakeel was up for the challenge.

Following the win, the franchise respected me and gave me the Vaughan territory, asking me to build three restaurants. I invested time and money and all else into making it happen—and after that, there was no ending.

Today, Shakeel oversees 42 franchise chicken restaurants and 700 employees. He says that to keep such a large operation growing, it’s important to have great people in place to keep everything afloat.

It’s very important to have qualified people with you on your team. From people on the floor, to store managers to take care of your business. When that is in place you can further expand your business.

Another point Shakeel makes, despite having so many locations spread out over three provinces, is to visit each location periodically. This means checking in to see how things are going—a personal touch goes a long way.

I personally visit the locations. I reside in BC, so it’s very easy for me here, but I go to Calgary as well, and spend one month per year in Toronto. I visit every location, chat with managers and staff and go for dinners with them. We are very much on the floor of every store.

He also explains that another key factor to growth is taking careful consideration when hiring staff and giving them opportunities for personal and professional advancement. In this way, staff are motivated to help the business reach new levels of success. As the business grows, employees can share in its success.

We treat our people well. We give them a target, and if they perform well, they are elevated to the next level. Most of our hiring comes from our internal staff. When they see a coworker rise from cashier to supervisor, to manager, they feel very proud to see that. As the business progresses, they progress along with us.

3 pieces of advice I would give other entrepreneurs:

  • When you run a business, you can’t stop. It’s like driving on a highway. If you don’t keep up your speed, your business will slow down.
  • Be hands-on with your business, whatever that business may be
  • Treat your employees well. Give them opportunities for growth, health, and dental benefits, etc.

How can TD help you?

If you have any questions about how TD can help your franchise business grow, book an appointment today.

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