Mathews brothers focus on employee training

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 3,169 views 

The simple, warehouse style building located in Springdale does not give any outer indication of the learning — and cooking that goes on inside.

The new McDonald’s training facilities that brothers Bill and Walter Mathews built in the back of their new offices has received accolades from those high up in the McDonald’s corporate chain.

The Mathews brothers own 34 McDonald’s including all of those in Northwest Arkansas, and adjacent areas in Missouri and Oklahoma. They are in the process of rebuilding the McDonald’s in Cassville, Mo., which burned recently from an electrical fire. They are also planning a new restaurant in Springdale, eventually Elkins and will be moving the Siloam Springs location to a better location.

“We never planned for this,” Bill Mathews said with a chuckle.

They also have 1,700 employees, all who are trained in the new facility in Springdale. Crew members come each week for hands-on training when they are hired or when new products are rolled out. It pays off: the Mathews’ crews are already showing high returns within the corporation on results with the new chicken McWraps that came out recently.

Many McDonald’s around the country train their crews in the kitchen where they are employed, which can interfere with the store’s daily operations and creates a less-than-ideal training environment.

“There’s just too many distractions,” Mathews said.

Word is getting out about the training facility and franchisees are sending their crews to Northwest Arkansas for the training and the hospitality, including many of the Dallas, Texas restaurants.

Why invest – construction alone on the center was permitted at $175,000 – in such an elaborate training program when most franchisees consider on-site training sufficient?

“The quality of training for our crew and managers has improved dramatically,” Mathews said. “We’re executing new products better. Our sales are better than anyone else in our region because our crews are better trained.”

Whenever they open a new restaurant they have the newly hired crew go work in an existing restaurant for a weekend for on-the-job training so that when the new location opens the employees won’t be inexperienced, he explained.

Mathews said well-trained crews attract and retain good customers. If the crews are not well-trained, people won’t come back to that restaurant, he said.

Although the McDonald’s of Northwest Arkansas is one of the most successful in the market, it comes from humble beginnings. Bill Mathews worked at the first McDonald’s in Northwest Arkansas in 1973 (on College Avenue in Fayetteville). He was working his way through college, considering it “just a job.”

In 1976, he was promoted to a restaurant manager but still never gave thought to the idea of owning a McDonald’s, he said.

The owners of the restaurant asked him if he wanted to buy the store and he talked it over with his brother, Walter, who agreed to the venture. This was in 1979. The brothers managed their store and the company grew to four restaurants by the early 1990s. After that, things started to change.

“It pretty much exploded after that,” he said. “It wasn’t rocket science. The whole market just grew.”

Even with the economic downturn, the brothers have been able to maintain and even grow their success.

“Customers are more conscientious of what they spend,” Mathews said. “Our percentage of sales from the Dollar Menu is some of the highest of the country. That’s been surprising even to me.”

The brothers are focusing on remodeling their existing restaurants, a task they usually do about every seven years to keep each location looking new and fresh.

“We’re giving them a new look and expanding the dining and also putting in more of the dual-lane drive thrus,” he said.

He’s also looking forward to some of the new products that have come out and several more that are to come. There will be many more healthy options including the chicken McWraps.

“We now sell more chicken than beef,” he said.

The addition of the training facility and new offices several years ago was another big development for the company. Now all of their accounting, restaurant maintenance and repair, and other administrative roles are “in house,” providing more continuity between the restaurants and providing jobs for people within the organization but not in the restaurants.

“It’s really been all about the people,” Mathews said.