How an army veteran found himself on the front life in his own hospitality business

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Inside Franchise Business: Former soldier Byron McDonald now owns a Quest Apartment Hotels franchiseWhether as foot soldier or franchisee, former army captain Byron McDonald has seen plenty of action, but it’s the hospitality world that has given him the greatest challenge. And he’s loving it, as he writes here...

No-one in my family before had been in the services, but I saw joining the army as a good experience, and an opportunity to develop management and leadership skills. It was my best decision to join the army when I did, and my second-best decision to leave when I did.

In the army, the most important thing I learned that is of value to me today is the importance of building relationships. It is the key to success in business, and very, very important when you are working with a chain of command and also with soldiers and other stakeholders (other armies, the media, community elders). It is important on several different levels.

I left the army nearly five years ago after returning from service in Afghanistan. I had originally intended to pursue a special-forces career, but the tour was very active and I felt I had achieved everything I wanted to do. It was time to move on while I was still at a good age.

Dicky David, a friend of my father and the founder of Ausfuel, encouraged me to take on a service-station business, and after checking it out I decided to give it a go. So I quit the army and drove across the Nullarbor Plain in my Mazda with everything I owned, leaving behind the sheltered workshop of the army and taking on three servos.

The benefits of a franchise

I built up the business to seven service stations and two car washes, and was doing really well. The good thing about working under a franchise model is that you’re buying systems and processes.

Working with oil companies was tough, though, and there was no extended tenure, no long-term security. I started to look at options. I wanted more control over my business.

Then I found Quest Apartment Hotels, which offered everything I want out of a business. Franchisees control their own room rates, and there is long-term tenure (the lease is 30 years). As I went through the selection process I came to know the people at head office, and all spoke highly of the business and represented the brand well.

The franchisees I met were impressive individuals and happy with the performance of their businesses. Everything stacked up.

For me, the biggest challenge was the transition from service stations to hotels and hospitality. The day-to-day running of the business was easy, but learning the basics and how to make a profit and how to manage sales, that was challenging.

The key to the business is sales activity, and how to get the most out of your sales team, as well as how to yield off your room rate, learning about the competition and how it all fits together.

Set up for success

Quest set me up for success. I have a franchise relationship manager looking at how things are running and whether overheads are efficient, plus an area sales manager who helps me with sales strategy.  

There is also support from the franchisor, which feeds business from its national accounts. A lot of the base business comes from big companies which use our national presence really well.

I’m in business by myself in East Perth, and with a business partner in Fremantle. I opened up both properties when the economy was softening. Many hotels are coming into the market, so it’s my goal to continue to grow the business in a tough and demanding market over the next five years.

Overall, I want to grow my business and ensure its profitability. I’m in for the long haul and have long-term plans for both venues. I understand the challenges of the next three to five years, and I’m prepared.

When you buy into a franchise you buy into a lifestyle – it’s all encompassing. Hospitality is all about generating sales and cross-checking operations. At night I might have dinner with a potential client or stakeholder, then I’m up in the morning and off again.

It’s very busy, and very, very enjoyable.

My advice to anyone considering buying a franchise is to ensure you get a return on your royalty. You pay to buy systems and processes, but if you get value for money, that’s good value.

  • Read more franchisee real life stories in the September/October edition of Inside Franchise Business, out in newsagencies now. To subscribe to future issues, click here.
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