JFE/SNOWFOX’S 23 POSITION TITLES, FEW WOULD SAY THE TITLE BRANCH MANAGER BRINGS TO MIND THOUGHTS OF MODEST RESPONSIBILITY AND A CAREFREE WORK ENVIRONMENT. For most of us with a restaurant or retail background, regional management, as it’s also called, evokes two themes: responsibility and stress.
But Branch Manager John Jin would point out that the definitions of responsibility and stress are relative if you’ve ever actually owned a restaurant. Jin finds his work these days plenty challenging but mostly a lot of fun.
While overseeing more than 75 Snowfox grab-n-go kiosks in Ohio, Michigan and West Virginia, Jin describes his stress level as a far cry from the previous decades of his life as an entrepreneur then restaurateur. Although his youthful appearance belies his age, when one learns he’s 52 it’s not surprising that Jin’s breadth of business experience also includes everything from running a dry cleaning business and video arcade to being partner in a roofing and siding company.
Running his restaurant, Jin had much in common with the typical Snowfox franchisee, with whom he said he now has the pleasure of connecting and supporting. In addition to his background in permitting and food safety, one frame of reference that apparently helps Jin manage his branch is understanding customers.
“At my restaurant in Columbus lot of my potential customers were college students. I even asked them for their opinions when I developed the menu. I gave one kid free food for a month for helping me name the restaurant,” Jin laughed.
An unexpected turn of events
Despite JFE’s steady growth in the middle of the recent recession, the consensus among many franchisees I’ve spoken to is they took nothing for granted during the country’s financial stress. It’s not uncommon for a Snowfox operator to have run his or her own restaurant, and they tell us that JFE’s format provides a lot more financial security.
The Ohio branch manager illustrated this point, his appreciation for his current career and empathy for JFE’s small business owners with a sobering tale of how an infamous national event impacted his Columbus enterprise.
“Following 9/11, a lot of people started moving out of the downtown area. It hit businesses like mine hard. You have to go back and remember the fear and uncertainty in America at that time. There were rumors that Columbus was a likely terrorist target,” recalled Jin.
“In addition to other factors, it put a big strain on small businesses and many of us started winding down, being more cautious and eventually closing many stores and restaurants altogether.”
Checking out this rather startling claim, I learned there was indeed a marked shift post-9/11 in the way Ohioans viewed urban life. According to researchers from The Ohio State University, in the years immediately after the terror attacks homeowners surveyed in Franklin County (which includes Columbus) seemed to associate densely populated city neighborhoods with terrorism.
Despite the relative safety of their medium-sized Midwestern city, interest in all other factors surveyed, like school quality and home prices, noticeably dipped below the desire to get out of the city. Fortunately for the city, according to researchers, interest in the other benefits of living in or near downtown rebounded a few years later. One can imagine it was great for new business, but, according to Jin, it was too late for many of the businesses like his.
Jin said his experience gave him a deep respect for the challenges Snowfox’s small business owners face. But his decision, in 2012, to join the small but rapidly-growing sushi company also seem to have exemplified his entrepreneurs’ spirit of making decisive moves.
Learning the ropes
John Jin’s first branch manager position was actually in Virginia, from where he later returned to his home of Ohio. But before Virginia he had to drill on the retail sushi basics.
“Starting as the assistant in Ohio, I just learned from the branch manager. One of the harder parts at first was, for example, learning the protocol of when to bring something to the client grocer’s attention and who was appropriate to contact,” Jin said. But visiting the stores and speaking with the chefs wasn’t hard for me and was pretty fun from the beginning.”
Jin pointed out that in that challenge lies the most important thing for new JFE manager to learn. “Take care of your store, but don’t be afraid to talk to the [client company] division manager.” This extends not only to asking for support but when communicating a mistake on JFE’s end, he said.
“A newbie JFE manager’s first instinct might be to worry how they will look and work on a problem without letting the client grocer know, but I’ve learned that when you keep the client informed, they can help, and you build trust,” offered Jin.
One of the reasons for Jin’s sunny demeanor, as described by his bosses, became more apparent when he put his JFE career in perspective. Reflecting upon all the changes and growth at JFE and Snowfox since his arrival, the branch manager didn’t hesitate to offer what’s kept him at the company so long.
A father of two, a son in college and a daughter recently graduated, Jin contrasted his challenges as an entrepreneur with the stability of being on JFE’s team. “I really appreciate JFE. Personally, whatever I needed, if I had a financial hardship, they were there for me. My friends are even jealous when they hear about me experience,” he chuckled.
Asked about the future of the company, Jin’s confidence was unwavering. “We’ve always made fundamental changes that needed to be made in order to grow.”
Among those adaptations Jin cited responsiveness to customers on social media, Snowfox’s in-store design and Chairman Jim Kim’s full commitment to Snowfox’s Korea restaurant operations. “He was always looking to the future and taught us not to be timid about it,” said Jin. “Right now we’re seeing what he promised, and some things are even better than what we imagined.” TSS