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Before he became a restaurant owner himself, Chuck Edwards drove 7,000 miles a month visiting McDonald's franchises in seven states.
The experience of seeing good business practices and bad, he said, will be invaluable as he takes over as chairman of the Henderson County Chamber of Commerce.
"First of all, I have the perspective as a small business owner and as an entrepreneur and I've had the incredible experience of working with hundreds of other business owners when I was a consultant to evaluate what works and doesn't work," said Edwards, who will take the gavel from 2012 chairman Vince Rees Friday night.
In his consulting work he had to "collaborate and seek solutions and listen to the needs of others, and so the learning from that experience coupled with my personal experience as a business owner gives me a perspective I think I can use to make a contribution to the chamber."
Edwards, 52, and his wife, Teresa, bought the local McDonald's franchises 15 years ago when a company executive suggested that his success as a trainer would make him a good owner. The couple owns seven McDonald's restaurants — four in Hendersonville, one in Brevard and two in Canton.
Edwards started working at the Spartanburg Highway McDonald's at age 16 flipping burgers — a job he calls "grill person."
"It's not uncommon that someone would be able to work their way up through the ranks and become an owner but it's very unusual that someone would have the opportunity to own the restaurant that they started in."
A franchise owner does just about everything.
"As a business owner we're responsible first of all for maintaining McDonald's products and standards, marketing, human resources, financing and legal aspects," he said. "We're really responsible for everything. We buy from McDonald's the right to sell their products and we have to maintain their standards. Everything else is left to us."
His years of training franchisees taught him that the difference between success and failure comes down to "how close they are to the restaurant," he said.
It's a lesson he lives.
"We're in the restaurants almost daily," he said. "We're consulting with our team, evaluating our processes and our ability to take care of the customer. We're trying to be available to our team."
The big push in 2013 for his company, the C. Edwards Group, is customer service.
"What we are looking at this year is how we can better serve our customer, particularly in the area of hospitality," he said. "We're taking a lot of steps to become distinctly different in how we serve our customer."
The company has 350 employees and "turnover is far less than you might think," he said. Each restaurant is operated by a general manager and two supervisors.
"We're developing our own mystery shopper program to evaluate only how we come across to our customer," he said.
Edwards and his wife believe customer service in today's business world has deteriorated.
"We don't think we can change that nationally but we feel confident we can change that in seven restaurants," he said.
His volunteer chamber job is made easier because of "the high level of confidence that the board has in Bob and in his staff," he said. He's not sure how much time he'll spend on chamber work over the next 12 months.
"It's hard to say," he said. "I don't measure it because I enjoy working with the folks."