The Family Business
For Danielle Dawkins, McDonalds is more than just a fast-food chain. It's a place where a daughter can follow in her parent's footsteps.
By Denise Clay
For many of us, the choice of what we're going to do once we're grown up is one that's made after a lifetime of searching for a place to fit in.
But for Danielle Dawkins, that decision was made as a 5-year-old, running around in the McDonalds restaurant that her parents, John III and Barbara Dawkins, owned on the edge of Temple University's Main Campus in North Philadelphia.
"McDonalds was what I grew up with," she said. "My father had [the Temple-area McDonalds] for 23 years."
But in 2010, John Dawkins decided to give his Danielle her own shot in the family business by allowing her to buy his first store to manage as her own. As the owner of the store, Danielle has been able to make her own way in a business that not even the trend toward more healthier eating can seem to stop.
In this interview with the SUN, Danielle Dawkins talks about how McDonalds is a chain that fosters familial succession, her biggest challenges as a businesswoman, and why a flexible definition of the word "management" helps when your business is fast food.
SUN: How did you and McDonalds come together?
DD: My father (John Dawkins III) was a Chemistry teacher at Hamilton High School in New Jersey when he decided to open a McDonalds franchise. He and my mother (Barbara) own all of the McDonald's on Broad Street except for the ones on Arch Street and Snyder Avenue. They also own one at 31st and Allegheny. I grew up around McDonalds.
SUN: While I understand that it's your family business, becoming a McDonalds franchisee isn't for everyone. What made you decide to take one on and how did you end up with this particular franchise?
DD: I got a business degree at North Carolina State University and I had other interests. But I knew that I'd end up here. After I graduated, I started working here and went to Hamburger University [McDonalds training facility] and started going to regional meetings. I ran a store, this store, for a few years, and they saw that I was running it profitably. I bought it in 2010.
I came back here because I like working with people and owning your own business. I grew up watching my parents do this, and it seemed exciting. You can set your own hours. If you see a need to come in during a particular shift, you can do that.
SUN: I've always wondered how some McDonalds franchises stay open for decades despite not being in really convenient areas while others that are congested areas wind up going under. How do you do it?
DD: Whether or not it works depends on how your sales are and how well you keep costs down. There are little ways to save when it comes to running your store like keeping an eye on utility and food costs. It also depends on your store's location. The profit margin for a large store would be different than that of a small one.
SUN: What is the biggest challenge that you've faced as a business owner?
DD: People. It's hard finding people. I have 70 employees. You have to get people to buy into your vision and you might get 50 percent of them to do it. But it's hard to get 100 percent. I do get some Temple students, but because of their class schedules, they don't always meet the needs of the store.
We tend to recycle the students. One of them was with us for her whole four years at Temple, and is working overseas building homes. I have another student who is working for a movie production company. We've had a few students work for us for their entire four years. They can also get scholarships while they're here. I have nine managers and 50 full and part-time employees.
SUN: I understand that you have also used your store to help women who are in need of a fresh start. Can you talk a little bit about that?
DD: My mother is a member of the Links organization. They do a lot of work with battered women's shelters. Some of the women they work with come and work for me. This gives them a fresh start and an opportunity to get back into the work force. One woman was one of my managers for awhile, but most of them just work here until they can get enough money to try something they'd really like to do.
SUN: You mentioned that you have a daughter (Madison, 4). Are you encouraging her to follow you into the family business?
DD: My daughter loves coming here the same way that I used to. I think that this is a good business to get into and to pass onto the next generation.
SUN: What advice would you give someone who wants to start their own McDonalds franchise?
DD: The first thing that I would ask them is have you had any experience with a fast-food business? What are you willing to do to get that experience? You have to work here to understand it. It's a different system. Just because you've had management experience doesn't mean that it's going to work here. You should make sure that this is something you're going to enjoy.
SUN: Well, congratulations on your achievements and thank you for your time, Ms. Dawkins.
DD: Thank you!
[Readers can also go online to see the YouTube Limelight Series interview with Danielle Dawkins on the SUNdial Channel]
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