Outback Jack’s on the menu for Queensland couple

By Sarah Stowe | 29 Oct 2015 View comments

We weren’t really looking for a franchise to start with but I was the sales manager for Macquarie Southern Cross media and did all the marketing to open the Outback Jacks outlet that was being built across the road from my office in Cairns, and that is what sparked our interest in the idea.

We were looking for an opportunity to move back to Townsville and when a site in the town was offered we thought seriously about it and decided to put the wheels in motion. Both of us were attracted to the restaurant chain because it was a brand that was received well in Cairns by locals and tourists alike and we always enjoyed our visits. As we have young children ourselves, we liked the idea of a family friendly dining environment.

Researching: Once we looked into franchising and agreed that this path might be for us, we researched other locations and gathered what customer feedback we could about the chain. The fact that Outback Jack’s is a relatively new franchise appealed to us; we believe consumers are looking for changes in their dining habits and this casual dining offer really fits the bill.

We did consider some other businesses at first but the only other serious option we investigated was building an indoor children’s play area. But it didn’t really suit our purposes.

So I researched the background of the chain, used the web extensively, spoke to Graeme Diamond who founded the business (he came up to Cairns for a meeting with us) and spoke to a few other franchisees about support and how their franchises were going. I looked at how other franchises had expanded in comparison and found the Outback Jacks’ team keen to expand and we were eager to get involved in the brand early on.

Funding: To fund the business we went into a 50/50 split partnership with a silent partner who contributed some finances, and then approached ANZ where my business partner was involved. The process was fairly simple.

We did a business plan: expenses are hard to judge on a new business so we took a median average from other stores and worked on a percentage for wages. But fixed costs are a big concern and council rates and liquor licences all add up.

Timing: We opened the doors in March 2009. We expected it to be a quicker process but we had timing issues with our landlord over the building and renovations. The building we’re in is under the Grand Mercure Hotel and it was supposed to be completed at the end of October but renovations didn’t start until late January.

I project managed this myself and we worked in conjunction with the landlord – it was very stressful. We had no income for two months. We opened about three months later than we first envisaged. A liquor licence is necessary to operate the franchise and of course it takes time for the application to be approved.

We expected about a four month preparation period once everything was signed but in reality it was about seven months between signing the agreement and opening the doors to our restaurant.

Expanding: So many factors influenced us in signing up with Outback Jacks but probably the most important part of the equation was the high profile location: Palmer Street is the main dining precinct for Townsville. I believe we have the two premier sites in the town for our restaurants.

We were offered a second site very early in the piece and I said no five times, I wanted to get Palmer Street bedded down; I’m a chef by trade and am used to managing hotels but it’s very different running your own business. We always wanted to be out at Cannon Park but had a two year time frame.

However it was a good deal from the landlords, and if we had passed it up, we may have been waiting a few more years before anything else came through. From a business point of view, the economies of scale certainly added up with marketing and admin costs though.

Most of the tradesmen we employed had worked on the first site and that certainly prevented a major headache. From a personal point of view I knew more about what I was doing second time around, so that helped a lot.

The whole process was probably a bit quicker, although we had some issues with council because of the grease trap which was the landlord’s responsibility, and took a while to sort out. Going for the second store was more difficult with the bank because we didn’t have 12 months of figures to show from the first franchise outlet, but we got around that and the second site opened its doors in August this year.

We both work in the business, Monica controls admin and I look after kitchen issues; I also run Palmer Street while she looks after the second outlet.

We have run other peoples’ businesses all our lives, so that transition into managing our own business was not difficult.

The greatest challenge is the franchising dilemma: having invested all this money, we still can’t make all the decisions about our business because we are part of a franchise network.

The plus side, of course, is having a lot of systems and procedures in place, which when you are new to the franchise, is a massive bonus.