How One Franchise Is Building a Systemwide Culture of Engagement

The world of franchising is exploding as more and more franchised brands and concepts emerge each year.

Sadly, in many of those organizations, there exists a wide chasm separating disenfranchised franchisees from the brand’s franchisor, usually stemming from broken promises and unfulfilled expectations. In those franchised brands that are thriving, however, harmony reigns supreme as both parties are firmly committed to the other’s success.

A shining example of this is Costa Vida, an 11-year-old chain of nearly 70 fast casual, fresh Mexican restaurants.

Employees and core values

Costa Vida offers a menu of Mexican-grill items, each made fresh from scratch every day using top quality nutrition-conscious ingredients. The restaurants are themed in a Pacific coast beach-like atmosphere, and they use a tidal wave in their marketing to consumers and integrate it to inculcate the company’s core values when training employees (aka, team members.)

Currently, there are only two Costa Vida locations in the Denver area, and my wife and I will happily drive 30 miles from our house to get to the one that’s closest to us. It’s that good.

In 2004, Sean Collins and Dave Rutter became the first franchisees of Costa Vida opening a store in Lehi, Utah. By creating a customer experience that matched the sensational quality of the food, Sean and Dave grew their business quickly and began opening more locations.

In 2009, five short years after opening their first franchised location, Sean and Dave bought the entire brand from the founders and transitioned from franchisees to Costa Vida’s franchisor. That’s when the concept really took off.

Sean and Dave obviously haven’t forgotten what it’s like to be on the opposite side of the equation. They pull out all stops to make certain that their franchisees are cared for, nurtured, trained, listened to, and supported. This was apparent last week at their annual franchise convention that began with a day of skiing at Sundance, followed by a cozy group dinner that had no formal agenda other than fun, fellowship, and camaraderie.

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You must be “all-in” for employees

The next morning, several hundred convention attendees at the Provo Marriott were directed from the organized breakfast to the opening session down the hall. As the crowd entered the amphitheater for my keynote address, I observed Sean, Dave, and other top company leaders personally greet every attendee with warm handshakes, high fives, and hugs.

As one who attends 25 or more franchise conferences each year, I can tell you that this sort of thing is extremely rare.

ON POINT – If you want your people to be “all-in” for your company and/or brand, you have to be “all in” for them. Telling them you care isn’t enough; they have to feel it. And the best way to accomplish that is to be consistently among them, eyeball-to-eyeball, belly-to-belly.

This was originally published on Eric Chester’s blog Chester on Point

Eric Chester is a leading voice in the global dialogue on employee engagement, and building a world-class workplace culture. He's an in-the-trenches researcher on the topic of the millennial mindset, and the dynamics of attracting, managing, motivating and retaining top talent. Chester is a Hall-of-Fame keynote speaker and the author of 4 leadership books including his newly released Amazon #1 Bestseller On Fire at Work: How Great Companies Ignite Passion in their People without Burning Them Out.  Learn more at and follow him at @eric_chester


1 Comment on “How One Franchise Is Building a Systemwide Culture of Engagement

  1. This is a positive article and more along the lines of my expectations of strong system-wide support and encouragement. Thx Mr. EC.

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