McDonald’s franchisees offer supersized support

By Nick Hall | 17 Jun 2019 View comments

When former McDonald’s career corporates Gavin and Raylee McLeod made the decision to enter the franchise world, they had a goal of more than just money. Now the pair is serving up profits with a side order of selflessness.

With more than 65 years of combined experience behind the golden arches, the Central Coast husband and wife team know the McDonald’s system like the back of their hand.

Starting out as crew members when they were just teenagers, both Gavin and Raylee have enjoyed illustrious mixed store and corporate careers, with Raylee rising through the McDonald’s ranks to become senior vice-president of operations.

All that changed eight years ago, however, when the opportunity arose for the McLeods to get out of corporate life and into business for themselves, with the purchase of the Wyong McDonald’s franchise.

Since then, Gavin and Raylee have continued to grow their individual network, taking their number of franchised stores to six, but it’s what the pair is doing within those stores that is really making an impact.

McDonald’s Job Centre partnership

The McLeods have been instrumental in furthering McDonald’s partnership with Job Centre, a government-funded initiative that helps Australians with a disability find meaningful employment.

“It’s just something I’ve always done, even before there was such a thing as Job Centre,” Raylee says. “During my corporate career, that wasn’t something that I was directly involved with because it just didn’t fit, but then when we bought the restaurant, from day one, we started. As we bought more stores, we just broadened that over those restaurants.”

Their contribution isn’t small by any means; of the 1100 workers employed across the six franchises, around 12 per cent are people with a disability.

“We’ve helped Job Centre as employers where there are no rebates available, that’s not a driver at all,” Gavin reveals. “We hire people who have run out of subsidy at different employers and they get shifted on, we really try to help out as much as we can.”

In many cases, people with a disability struggle to find employment due to a lack of work experience, but as Job Centre trainer Ash Mackinnon will tell you, all it takes is someone like Gavin or Raylee with the patience, business acumen and social conscience to get the ball rolling.

Ash has worked alongside the Central Coast franchisees from day one, spearheading the training and support side of their disability employment efforts, and he’s seen first-hand just how important the program is.

“I come in as the support, but the management are really involved in coming up with solutions. The good thing about Gavin and Raylee is that they have a long-term picture, we’ve had some workers employed through the JobAccess program who have been here for five, six and seven years,” Ash says.

“McDonald’s is very repetitive, so when things arise that are out of the ordinary like this initiative, they really get behind it.”

The Job Centre trainer admits that while the job can be challenging at times, having the total support of Gavin and Raylee allows him to bring out the best in his clients.

“You get a lot of people who are very methodical, so there are all these jobs, in corporate, supermarkets, all over where these workers can be a real asset,” he says.

“We like the term ‘Focus on their ability, not on their disability’.”

Employ their ability

It’s exactly that attitude that government entity JobAccess is attempting to capture with its latest “Employ Their Ability” campaign, in the hope more small business owners will take Gavin and Raylee’s lead.

In late 2018, the employment resource centre released the findings of a nationwide study into employment among people with a disability, revealing that only 53 per cent of Australians with a disability are participating in work, compared to 83 per cent of those without.

The research showed that while many business owners were open to the idea of employing a person with a disability, many lacked the confidence to make the relationship a reality.

“Sometimes it’s not easy, but we don’t like to give up,” Raylee says. “Sometimes you’ve got to have a win, and when you have a win, you realise that it’s all worth it.”

Her advice for other franchisees looking to make a positive change is simple: trust your people and remember that no two workers are the same.

“You have to tailor the program to fit, it’s very much an individual thing. Some of the employees just can’t do the customer service piece, they would rather just do something repetitive, or offer maintenance and accept deliveries. Other employers should really look at their business and think ‘Where can someone add value that I could easily manage, help and develop?’”

“We just try and find something that suits and sometimes it doesn’t work out, but we always say, let’s be a positive first step.”

Gavin and Raylee’s Wadalba outlet was the first step in what has now become a successful McDonald’s career for spritely 24-year-old Chris Crocker. Born with an intellectual disability, the die-hard Central Coast Mariners fan joined the outlet three years ago and hasn’t looked back since.

“This was my first job, and I’m absolutely more confident for being here,” Chris says. “I mainly do table service and table delivery, that’s where I’m getting a lot of compliments on how good my customer service skills are. I absolutely love what I do, so I’m very happy.”

Over his time at McDonald’s, Chris has developed into an irreplaceable asset and a true barometer for the customer service success of the business.

“Our staff have embraced Chris like he’s a superstar and that’s great for our staff morale. While you don’t know what that brings to your business, you have to think good staff morale improves customer service,” Raylee says.

(From left) McDonald's franchisee Raylee Macleod, worker Chrisk Crocker, Job Centre trainer Ash Mackinnon and franchisee Gavin Macleod | Inside Franchise Business

(From left) McDonald’s franchisee Raylee Macleod, worker Chrisk Crocker, Job Centre trainer Ash Mackinnon and franchisee Gavin Macleod | Inside Franchise Business

The Central Coast franchisee believes that small steps are big victories, and in the rare case where the working relationship with a disabled employee comes to an end, her commitment to finding a solution does not.

“Often, someone comes in who hasn’t ever had a job, so we want that experience to be a positive, even if it doesn’t work out,” she says. “If they’ve had a job at McDonald’s on their resumé, it gives them an opportunity to go on to something more. We always talk about how we can get them into another job first.”

“With someone like Chris, it’s not about ability or disability, he’s just an asset to the business,” Raylee says. “On a lot of our Google reviews, people talk about Chris or the other workers we have in our network, it’s amazing.”

Just good practice

The pair’s commitment to equal opportunity employment has been met with resounding support from the local community, which Raylee says has been significant not just culturally but also financially.

“It’s just good for business,” Raylee says. “Your customers appreciate that you’ve helped somebody get a job and try and find a solution for someone who has a disability. Customers have proven to us over time that they would prefer to come to us over other businesses because of it. It’s just good practice from a corporate responsibility point of view.”

Other franchisees and small business owners would be wise to heed their advice. In 2013, the pair was awarded McDonald’s highest licensee honour, The Golden Spatula, but despite an abundance of accolades, the former career corporates believe their biggest achievement has been their disability empowerment.

“We’re lucky to own profitable restaurants so it’s important to give back,” Raylee says. “This is just something that we’ve chosen to be our focus. It could have been sporting teams or whatever, but this is more important to us as individuals. We think it’s good for our people to have a bit of a heart.”

Got an entrepreneurial spirit like Gavin and Raylee? Check out these outstanding fast-food franchising opportunities.