There might not be a Starbucks in Parkdale, but that doesn’t mean someone isn’t angling to open their very own chain coffee shop in a hood near you.
At Canada’s National Franchise and Business Opportunities Show this past weekend, middle-aged couples in sensible shoes clutched Kumon promotional bags and scanned the exhibits in the cavernous Metro Toronto Convention Centre. The salespeople wore blue lanyards and smiled hopefully at prospective clients. “Are you tired of working for the man?” a sign asked. “Then be THE MAN with a Perma-Dry Franchise.”
Over the speaker system, a voice announced that the “How to Choose a Franchise” seminar was happening in Seminar Room 1. The place teemed with representatives: from Hickory Dickory Decks to Teriyaki Experience to College Hunks Hauling Junk. Many of the show’s various talks championed the franchise model, where the appeal lies in the pre-established marketing, standardized staff training, and relatively low risk for investors.
A group of 30-odd people stood in the shadow of an enormous inflatable Pepsi can. Their eyes were fixed on a woman with gleaming teeth and a crisp polo shirt. She gave a presentation on Fresh-o-matic vending machine products, and laundry-listed the benefits of owning your own series of machines, including a 900 per cent profit margin and the potential for “passive income.”
The chorus to Poison’s glam-rock ode to Joe jobbing, “Nothin’ But a Good Time,” blared out of a flat-screen television at the Smoke’s Poutinerie booth. Ryan Smolkin, Smoke’s founder, said he had met a lot of younger people who were interested in buying a restaurant franchise, but who don’t have the capital. (“They look to their parents for financing,” he said.) Smolkin, who’s the former owner of a branding and design firm called AmoebaCorp, always intended for Smoke’s Poutinerie to be a franchise, and he put significant effort into the look of his first location in on Adelaide Street. The restaurant’s popularity is indicative of the overall restaurant boom in Toronto, but it’s also successful as a franchise model in that it still feels like a mom-and-pop style operation, albeit with slicker branding.
Paradoxically, it seems that the local trend towards carving out a gastronomical niche is something that translates into a plug-and-play restaurant, even if it’s an enterprise that has its own set of realities. “I see a lot of guys in their mid-to-late 30s looking to get out of a monotonous job,” said Smolkin. “But [Smoke’s Poutinerie] is a lifestyle; for the first few months you have to be able to stay up til 4 a.m. for the after-bar crowd.”
Karol Pacanowski came from Mississauga to check out the business opportunities at the show. He clutched a fistful of fliers, most of them for restaurant franchises. He worked at a pizza place for seven years, attended university, and was now looking into getting his own franchise. “Either for a restaurant, or a massage place because guys with benefits are lined up outside,” he said. “They’re packed all the time.”