Hamra Enterprises is expanding the level of customer service at its Panera Bread and Wendy’s locations.
By Alan Dorich, Senior Editor at Knighthouse Media
Hamra Enterprises’ business may be centered on food and hospitality, but its staff is what is critical to its success, President and CEO Mike Hamra says. “[We hire] people that are committed to our business and our vision of providing a great experience for all our customers,” he says.
Based in Springfield, Mo., Hamra Enterprises is a franchisee for Wendy’s, Panera Bread, Noodles & Co. and Holiday Inn Express. The company started operations in 1975, when Hamra’s father, Sam Hamra, became a Wendy’s franchisee.
Today, Hamra Enterprises has 158 locations in five states that employ a staff of more than 7,000. But even after more than four decades of success, the company continues to focus on improving its operations so that “we’re providing value to the customer,” Mike Hamra says.
Hamra Enterprises regularly reviews its pricing, as well as how it delivers food. “That’s certainly a strategy that we talk about,” he says, noting that its people every day “support the vision and support the business.”
Hamra Enterprises continuously reinvests in its business, such as through the acquisition of 25 Wendy’s locations from the parent company in 2016. “They’re all in central and northern Illinois,” Hamra says.
All the locations, he adds, have retained their employees, as well as district managers. Hamra Enterprises also added Regional Director of Operations Bonnie Simon, who now overseeing the Chicago operations. She was previously a leader in the Chicago market with Wendy’s for 25 years. “Now, she is working for us,” Hamra says.
The company is relocating and remodeling several Panera locations, as well as remodeling Wendy’s restaurants. “We’re repositioning some existing locations in the markets we’re in and adding drive-thrus to existing Paneras where we can,” he says. The company is seeking better locations and building new prototypes with better efficiencies and elevated design features and store layouts for its customers.
Hamra Enterprises has implemented new technologies at its restaurants, including the 2.0 initiative platform, developed by Panera LLC, at some of its Panera locations. This allows customers to access locations and order food through a mobile app or kiosks, Hamra says.
Hamra Enterprises is rolling out café-based delivery service in its Panera locations in Boston and Illinois. “That allows a consumer to order food while at home or office,” Hamra says, noting that Panera takes it from there.
“A dedicated Panera team member will come to your house or office in a Panera Bread delivery uniform and deliver your food for a small fee,” he says. Hamra Enterprises is hiring people specifically to provide this service.
The company also is training store employees to prepare food for delivery. “[They’re] packaging and checking for accuracy for the delivery and handing it off to the driver to make sure it gets delivered in a timely fashion,” he says.
Hamra Enterprises’ locations also have added table service in some locations. Guests are handed a transponder after they pay for their purchase, and the restaurants’ staff brings them their meal by finding them through the transponder’s radio-frequency signal.
Hamra recently tried this service first-hand. “As a consumer, I can order my food at the register, go sit down and I never have to get back up again,” he says. “[My guest and I] can start having the conversations we wanted to have versus standing in line, waiting for food and eating through the lunch hour.”
Location, Location, Location
Hamra Enterprises plans to grow its brands, but the company needs to find locations that will allow it to be successful for years to come. “We’re focused on identifying better real estate,” Hamra says.
This can be challenging in markets where Hamra Enterprises already has strong penetration. “That’s very important to us from a strategic standpoint,” he says, noting that it looks at such aspects as occupancy costs.
However, the most important trait is convenience. “It’s got to be in a location that works for the community that we’re building in,” he describes. “The site has to have strong visibility and strong access and parking, as well as good circulation for anybody to get around the building and parking lot.”
Making Waste Simple
Hamra Enterprises values its relationships with its vendors. “As we’ve gotten larger as a company, we’re looking for partners that will be able to provide level of service that works for us,” Hamra says.
One important area of service is waste and recycling management at its locations. “We are excited to bring a tech-enabled solution to how we managed waste, similar to how we manage energy across our portfolio,” Hamra says.
“We recently chose a company called Enevo to manage our waste and recycling services,” he continues. “They have a sensor that goes into our dumpsters so they can reduce missed collections, manage service levels and prevent overflows.
“Enevo makes managing our waste simple as a single point of contact to proactively manage our billing, work with our haulers and make sure that our locations are right-sized and receive the service we pay for,” he says. “Enevo brings the combination of technology and team that no other waste service provider brings and is the best-suited provider to deliver the savings that Hamra was looking for.
“We are just starting to realize results, but the savings are expected to be 10 percent,” he says. “We have benchmarked and improved our water and energy usage. We are now going through the same process with our waste and recycling to improve our diversion rates.”
The low national unemployment rate has made it challenging for Hamra Enterprises to hire people at the hourly level, as well as managers. The company also is seeing cost challenges on the horizon, Hamra adds.
There is legislation in the Massachusetts market to increase the minimum wage rate from $11 to $15. “That’s indirectly applied some pressure on all of us to continue to look at opportunities at how we will absorb those costs,” he says.
Hamra Enterprises is examining how it can cope, which includes increasing menu pricing as well as creating more efficiency in its operations. “Both are very challenging especially in this economy,” he admits. “The impact will be fairly dramatic if it does pass.”
Making it Easy
Hamra Enterprises’ main source of recruiting for its locations is its existing staff. “They’re incentivized to make referrals,” Hamra says. “They’re already inside of a community of people looking for opportunities.”
The company also uses technology to find people. In addition to utilizing employment sites, it has its own, www.hamracareers.com, which is advertised in all of its locations.
Not only can visitors learn about Hamra Enterprises at the site, but it also directs them to job opportunities.“We’re looking every year at new opportunities on how to attract good talent and reach those people,” he says.
Thanks to the site, “They can text us and react through SMS technology,” he says. “We’re looking for ways to make it easy as possible looking for job opportunities.”
Hamra Enterprises has nurtured staff loyalty through Hamra Employees Reaching Out (HERO), an employee assistance fund. Employees contribute money to the program through their paycheck.
But the company matches every dollar that employees contribute. “Over the last six years, we have raised $1.6 million through the fund,” Hamra reports, noting that this has helped workers with emergencies that have included funerals.
Hamra employees have had family funerals in Mexico, South America and Europe, but they were not able on their own to afford a plane ticket to attend. “So we fund that ticket for them so they can get home,” he says.
The company also has supported workers with transitional housing, which has helped them escape situations such as domestic abuse. “Once the employee has the courage to share about that, we can get them out of their situation within two to three days,” he says.
The HERO fund also has helped employees who had to take extended medical leave or suffered catastrophic losses. The fund also recently helped an employee provide the down payment for a home in Illinois.
“It gives them access to all the services of that particular community,” he says. “We’ll continue to work on that and build on that fund.”
Hamra, who developed the HERO program seven years ago, considers it a source of personal pride. “I saw the opportunity to put in a better structure to support people,” he recalls.
“It is a stand-alone organization in the business,” he says, adding that HERO’s governing board consists of location managers and above-store leadership. “They [the selection committee which is different than the board] vote very quickly to put the funding with the hands of the people who need it the most.”
The company also recognizes those who have helped employees through the HERO fund. “If you go to any of our locations and if you see an employee with a star on their uniform, it means they contributed to that fund to support employees,” he explains.
“It really just shows that they care about their fellow employees and want to help out,” Hamra says. “We typically find that people who contribute will contribute as much as they can afford to support others in need..”
Hamra predicts growth for Hamra Enterprises, which will allow it to continue initiatives like the HERO fund. This vision allows the company to “support people differently and support them in ways that they would [normally] not be supported,” he says. “I’m interested in growing and contributing to employees and families that work for us.”