Burt Gunning - Gunret Foods

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Many franchises today appear determined to give preference to multi-unit franchisees – for their proven business acumen, experience and financial capability. There is a reason for this: Burt Gunning personifies the successful multi-unit franchisee as an owner of 41 franchised units in the KFC network, with more than 1,300 staff, and is KFC Franchisee of the Year 2019.


The eighth FNB Franchise Leadership Summit was held on 3 March at The Ballroom, Montecasino in Johannesburg as one of the highlights of the franchising calendar.

Gunning’s rapid growth from a single Rustenburg-based store to the current 41, received an early boost when he grew from one to seven restaurants overnight. This occurred when KFC was required to disinvest from South Africa in 1987. In the right place at the right time, with bank funding he acquired six stores at an auction. Thereafter, his business grew primarily organically, but also by periodically buying out other franchisees, he explains. 

Key to success of the KFC brand is the policy to ‘refresh’ the band and stores every five years. For instance, says Gunning, during the course of 2020 he will be opening a new flagship store “which will be quite different from any of the other stores you see”, and will employ the latest automated ordering and self-service kiosk technologies. Previously, the biggest breakthrough in the KFC model was the ‘drive thru’ concept which Gunning says “people readily took to” and nearly doubled his sales at that time. He describes the latest trend which is boosting sales as being online ordering and delivery.

His advice on motivating staff, cultivating a culture of recognition and training is “to celebrate people doing things right; give recognition in the form of prizes; promote almost entirely from within; and pay good bonuses”. Training is an integral and ongoing part of his business, which allows people to do their jobs.

He advises prospective franchisees to look for a franchise with a track record of at least two to three years with good financial results, to get a list of franchisees and randomly contact and interview them, as this information is a compulsory Consumer Protection Act requirement for the Disclosure Documents. “Take time to work in that franchise at your own cost to see if you enjoy it and ensure you know what the exit strategy is should you wish to sell the franchise one day.”

Once you decide to become a multi-unit owner, and increase beyond six to ten stores, you need a structure in place, advises Gunning, consisting of operations, training, finance, IT, maintenance, development and marketing. “Then scale up as you grow. Multiple stores require a structure in place to make it easier to scale up and open new stores. To keep personal control as the business grows requires empowering people to do their jobs and take accountability. Keep shrinkage under control, avoid debt and keep your finances healthy.”

To accomplish this, Gunning has established a structure of six regional managers and six trainers (having seven restaurants each), who are his “face” to the network of stores.

“Always have people ‘on the bench’ ready and available to be promoted immediately in the event of a vacancy, especially to senior positions through a succession plan. Grow and develop your staff – encourage them to innovate, come up with solutions and take ownership.”

The key to success as a franchisee consists of being true to the core of the business with passion, hard work, enthusiasm, dedication, determination to make it work while doing the same thing every day until it gets done. But there are no guarantees that it will work.

An important tip is to ensure you are involved in the local community by participating and giving back – “they will support you”.

Gunning lists his single biggest achievement as the accolade of being nominated late last year as one of nine best operators globally in the KFC network of more than 23,000 outlets across 142 countries.

Describing how to achieve adaptability and agility in the market as a franchisee within the franchisor guidelines, Gunning says a franchisee can achieve this by taking solutions to the franchisor, franchisee council and panels, giving operational input and learning how best to operate within the franchisor network. Rules and guidelines are there for a reason, while the franchisor is there to help you run your business.

Transformation and promoting from within

 One of Gunning’s internal promotions and protégés is today a 29-store owner in her own right, as well as being this year’s KFC Manager of the Year. Kedibone Malatji  has more than 30 years’ experience with KFC and attributes her longevity with the group to the mentorship of Gunning. Within two years of joining the franchise she was promoted from cashier to QSC (Quality Service Control) leader, followed by further promotions which saw her appointed as manager of the first drive-thru store in Pretoria in 1994. Later she left the employ of Gunning, but remained in touch with him, and received encouragement.

“In every performance appraisal, I was given I wrote down that I wanted to be a franchisee. With advice and mentoring, I went through the franchisee approval process just like any other outsider. I was approved and I opened my own first store in 2007 and my second one two years later, consecutively finding managers for each and steadily building up to 29,” says Malatji, who now employs 980 people.

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