Established in 2000 by Lee Howley, Howley Bread Group Ltd. (Howley) began as a franchisee of Panera Bread. Since then, the franchise has steadily grown from its first Panera Bread bakery in Cranston, Rhode Island, to 28 locations across Rhode Island, Connecticut, and southeast Massachusetts. As Director of Information Technology, Lee Howley III provides back-office IT support for three food-based concepts/franchises. Lee covers the company’s history and divulges the secret that let them punch above their weight.
“Howley & Company, not to be confused with our Panera Bread Franchise, Howley Bread Group, was founded by my father, Lee Howley in the 1980s. Thus, the business extends far past my tenure here, but since I’ve joined, it’s been a sort of boutique, back-office management firm. We primarily collaborate with smaller franchises, including one of our own, whose size typically range from ten to 30 units. However, we are open to working with franchises who have a higher number of units. Small businesses often lack the financial resources to support a sophisticated back-office, which is where our services come in. We provide them with the advantages of having a CFO, a controller, and other essential functions found in larger enterprises. By alleviating the burden of bookkeeping and payroll, we enable those business owners to concentrate on their core operations without unnecessary stress.
“Before focusing on restaurants, Howley & Company provided services in commercial real estate development and cable broadcasting. At that time, my uncle worked as part of Panera Bread’s general counsel when they were preparing for franchising. He suggested my father look into the opportunity to purchase the rights to operate a Panera Bread franchise. What set my father’s fledgling franchise apart was that despite its small size, Howley & Company had a well-equipped office with a CFO, accountant, payroll department, and other essential staff to support the newly formed Panera Bread Franchise, Howley Bread Group. Since, we have continued to pursue similar opportunities with other concepts that have sought our expertise,” he elaborates.
As Howley & Company is now working with many more small businesses, the quality and scope of its services has expanded. Lee explains the ways the company facilitates its customers’ operations. “We approach franchise ownership as if we were running the business ourselves. We provide our customers with the same tools and resources we would want in their position. We offer guidance and suggestions, respecting their autonomy if they have differing opinions. Our CFO diligently reviews their financial data daily, examining everything from labor hours to food costs. Using this information, we not only provide our analysis but also equip them with the necessary tools to conduct their own assessments. Furthermore, we streamline the bill payment process for them by having all their bills delivered to our office. This ensures that they are relieved of the burden of managing a stack of bills on their desk. We pay those bills on their behalf, providing them with peace of mind and allowing them to focus on running their business smoothly. As part of the IT support team, I ensure that our franchisees have access to modern and reliable internet and phone services, taking care of their technological needs. Additionally, we proactively manage their accounts and services, eliminating outdated or unnecessary expenses to keep their invoice amounts low. We actively seek out promotional opportunities from the state, particularly in the New England area, where power agreements with utility companies are available. By signing up for these agreements, our franchisees can enjoy a significant discount of 25 percent off their bills, providing them with cost savings and added value,” he enlightens.
When it comes to things outside of our area of expertise, we can pair our customers with our well-established vendors that have had our backs for years. Leveraging our existing contracts means it is easy to add a one- or two-unit start-up concept at a low rate. We’re good at bookkeeping, not fixing appliances or computers, but thankfully we have decades long relationships with vendors like A-Plus Handymen and RTG that extend the same level of service we like to provide to our customers.”
After over two decades of providing exceptional services to its franchises, Howley & Company has successfully distinguished itself from the competition by developing a unique selling point. “One of the key factors that sets us apart is our unwavering commitment to treating each of our locations equally, irrespective of the owner. We go above and beyond by equipping every franchise with the best tools available, regardless of cost as we spread the expenses across all our locations. Although other companies offer similar services, our approach stands out in terms of the level of support we provide to our franchisees.
We have observed that some companies simply provide tools and resources without offering additional guidance. In contrast, we take a more comprehensive approach by offering ongoing support and guidance to our customers. Everyone at all these franchises feels like family. Franchisees are encouraged to reach out to any member of our office team, and they can easily connect with the specific department that can help resolve their issues. Additionally, we are currently in the process of developing an internal reporting tool that will further elevate our services. This tool will be designed to facilitate seamless integration of data points for franchisees. It will enable the linking of various systems, such as the payroll system, sales system, accounting system, and the franchisees’ master database system. The integration of these four points of data will offer a holistic view of the franchise operations, providing valuable insights to anyone who seeks to gain a comprehensive understanding of what is happening. The revolutionary aspect of this reporting tool lies in the ability to view multiple data points simultaneously on a single screen. Typically, accessing different data points often requires switching between separate applications, which is time-consuming and hinders the ability to analyze and compare data effectively,” he clarifies.
The introduction of this brand-new tool will further enhance Howley & Company’s already optimized and automated approach to back-office management. “Automation plays a significant role in our operations as we strive to minimize manual work. Our goal is to remove paper and tedious processes for our partners. This focus on automation originated from our internal office operations, where we observed the inefficiencies and time wasted in manual data entry, spreadsheet management, and file transfers. We understand that no one truly enjoys engaging in monotonous tasks like manual data entry therefore, we sought to alleviate that burden through automation. By automating these processes, we not only save our customers valuable time but also enhance accuracy and reduce the need for repetitive manual work,” he concludes.
With its unwavering commitment to providing exceptional services, Howley & Company has successfully distinguished itself as a partner to franchisees. By equipping each franchise location with the best tools and offering comprehensive support, the company fosters a family-like environment where franchises feel supported. Howley & Company’s forthcoming internal reporting tool will further facilitate its customers’ operations and provide valuable insights through seamless integration of data points. Howley & Company’s dedication to innovation and efficiency sets it apart and ensures its continued success in the industry.