I am often asked by potential Great Harvest franchisees, “How long is the application process?” Candidates are looking for a specific answer, but the truth is there is none to give. Some candidates complete the application, due diligence, required question and answers session, and visit us in Dillon for Experience Great Harvest Day in a matter of weeks. For others, the process is months to years.
As I become more comfortable in my role as Franchise Development Specialist, the answer seems more straightforward. The timeline does not matter as much as the need to follow the process laid out in each flowchart. Bakery resales and new bakery cafes have different processes, and each step of the process is unique and important.
Readers might recall that a few months ago, I wrote about the importance of visiting the franchise office in Dillon for Experience Great Harvest (EGH) Day. It is a pivotal step in the process of becoming a Great Harvest bakery cafe owner — one that is sometimes undervalued. It can be hard for candidates to understand why an in-person meeting is necessary. It means traveling to Dillon, MT which can be difficult. It means pausing life for a few days to spend eight hours with our team. But those eight hours are arguably the most impactful eight hours of the entire application process. Usually, after we spend a day with our candidates, we have a decent read on each other. We know what they will bring to the system and candidates get a good feel for us. At the completion of your EGH Day, we determine whether we are going to extend a franchise agreement and then candidates decide if they want to proceed.
Although not the preferred method, on rare occasions, we do host a virtual EGH Day. I want to share the story of how that worked for Nick and Amy Smith. I started working with Nick and Amy in December of 2014 when they expressed interest in purchasing the Tulsa, Oklahoma bakery. The Tulsa bakery had experienced some turmoil over the course of several years and had even paused operations for some time. Due to the huge demand from customers in Tulsa, Great Harvest Franchising sent a team of former owners to Tulsa to reopen the bakery and prep it for sale.
Nick and Amy were on a tight timeline to purchase the bakery and get to Dillon for training which was to start in two weeks. Due to the nature of the transaction, we allowed a virtual EGH Day for them. Amy has shared her experience with me and generously allowed me to share that experience with the world:
“I opted to pass on the Experience Great Harvest Day. We participated via video conference. It was nice to meet and greet with those who stopped into the conference room. But really, how well can you connect with people through your computer?"
— Amy Smith, Owner, Tulsa Great Harvest Bakery
The Smiths took over the Tulsa bakery almost immediately after signing their franchise agreement, which pushed their training from July to January. Of their atypical transition, Amy said: “Honestly, I wasn't aware of the life change I was stepping into and being surrounded by other prospective bakery owners would have given me more of an idea of what I was getting into.” If the process is followed as intended, Great Harvest University Online Course Work, Sandwich School, Bread Week, and Bakery Boot Camp are all completed prior to bakery ownership in both the resale and new location process.
I was lucky enough to meet Amy when she attended a training several weeks ago. She was outgoing and had an easy smile, but one thing about her was different than any of the other owners attending training. I had never met her in person.
It is typical for franchise employees who are not part of the training process to interact with owners during their Sandwich School training. New owners practice their sandwich-making skill set, and we get the opportunity to eat a delicious Great Harvest sandwich! The atmosphere during Sandwich School is exciting when you walk through the door and see the candidates you’ve helped bring through the process. It is not atypical to share a hug and do a bit of catching up. It is quick catching up — very quick — as they are busy serving all of the employees who stop in for a little bit of yumminess.
I vividly remember walking into the bakery during Amy’s training. I was immediately greeted with a hug from another set of candidates that were attending training. I almost felt guilty that I was sharing this bond with them in front of Amy, but I did not know Amy with the exception of a few phone calls and a few email exchanges.
Later, she told me:
“[When] the training started, I knew a few things, but I was determined to learn everything from scratch. Training started, and it was good — actually it was great! People kept coming into the bakery and saying ‘hi’ to the bakers and everyone seemed to know each other. I felt a little left out because I didn't know anyone. The other bakers kept talking about the Experience Great Harvest Day, and that was when I realized how much I had missed.”
Amy’s experience of deviating from the traditional process did more than just affect her bond with the franchise employees. It made her first few months of bakery ownership more challenging than usual. In her own words, Amy shares how exhausting her first few months in the Tulsa bakery were:
“I postponed my training until four months after taking over the bakery. The first four months in the bakery were exhausting, and I felt like I was juggling or trying to juggle so many things I wasn't clear on. I wasn't able to truly grasp what I was doing. My background is in management and marketing, so I knew those two things were the most important to me. I kept those as my priority and did the best I could in the other areas of the bakery. However, when I was working in the other areas, I felt disconnected, in terms of how they all related, and how on earth I was responsible for it all. I actually made a list on the nine million questions I had on how to run a bakery. Training for me was in January; I was dying to go and get the answers for the questions on my list.”
When I asked Amy to share her story, she was more than willing to help others understand why there is a process and why the process works.
“When you go to Dillon [to] meet the team and see why we do what we do, something amazing happens. The lonely island you were working on while trying to figure out how it all connects suddenly connects and you’re no longer alone. You’re working with this amazing team of specialists who want to help you succeed in what you do. Not just as a successful bakery but [as] a phenomenal Great Harvest Bakery. There are so many amazing people at Dillon and they are all good at what they do. . .
For me, going to Great Harvest University was joining this amazing team. Looking back, I wish I would have attended Experience Great Harvest Day. I would know what amazing part each of the Dillon team members do, and I wouldn’t have missed the opportunity to love, not only my bakery but Dillon, the people, the love I have for what I do.
I don't have my nine million questions answered and each day brings new obstacles. That’s the gift of Dillon and the amazing team there. Something happened when I was in training: it clicked. I finally got it. My purpose is no longer to get my list answered but . . . to learn to have fun, be loose, run fast to serve others, and bake phenomenal bread. Being in Dillon, getting to know the people, the team in Dillon was teaching me how to relax. Thanks to training, I am not alone, I get to wake up every day, do what I do, and love what I do.”
Amy’s story underscores the importance of Experience Great Harvest Day, and, more broadly, of our bakery processes and systems. We understand how exciting bakery cafe ownership can be, but we also know why we have to work through the application process and follow the path step-by-step. As a franchise, we have a set of tested bakery processes and systems that work. We owe that knowledge, experience, and Sharing Community to our owners to make them successful. Our team has invested a lot of time into refining the process so that our new owners can learn as much about being new owners as possible. Everyone at Franchise Headquarters is committed to helping build strong and exciting bakery cafes and providing a premium product to our customers!
- Why Do I Need to Come to Montana to Open a Bakery?
- Infographic: Path to Bakery Ownership with the Great Harvest Franchise
- Practice Makes Owning Your Bread Business Perfect!
Image credit: © yumehana / 123RF Stock Photo; modified by text overlay