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How working at McDonald’s taught me to sell false eyelashes

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I spent the summer working full time at McDonald’s before starting my first year at university in September 2008. I was supposed to revert to part time hours when I started university but that never quite materialised. I continued working in McDonald’s full time.

By August 2009 I had been promoted twice and I was one of a handful of shift managers in my store. One of the great things about McDonald’s is that everyone I came into contact with in my store had been promoted from within. The vast majority of managers and salaried staff in McDonald’s start at the bottom and work their way up – it’s a great example of a functioning meritocracy where external hires don’t trump existing employees to promotions they deserve.

The journey to becoming a manager was around six months long. It involved a selection of courses and sitting various accreditations, I was also required to attend a two day course at McDonald’s HQ in East Finchley. After the first course I sat back and thought to myself: “these guys are really investing in me”. There was no expense spared.

I came away from my management training with a national diploma in shift management, a first aid certificate, a level three award in food safety, the “first in class honour” from my 96 per cent exam score at East Finchley, and I was also a member of the winning team from the management course.

Even though I was under no illusions as to who was really in charge at McDonald’s (the store manager and franchisee), I felt like an entrepreneur. There are few other roles in which a 19 year old finds themselves in charge of a shift of 30 employees. There are few other situations under which a 19 year old is the custodian of a shift that’s forecast to rake in over £5,000 over the space of a few hours. Whilst some people would no doubt crumble under expectation and pressure, the conditions were perfect for me – I thrived.

The systems and processes in each McDonald’s store are something that I studied closely during my time there. In fact, I’ve replicated the vast majority of the systems in some way in my own businesses. Every night, managers were tasked with counting the ten items of stock that deviated the most from the true count (usually due to loss or theft). This is something I do in my own business every day before I leave the office.

Another great thing about McDonald’s is that every store is split up into six or seven different stations. Each station has around four or five key responsibilities. Each one of those responsibilities is carefully documented – realistically anyone can do anything in any store just by reading these documents (their technical name is Station Observation Checklists – or SOCs for short). Whilst SOCs are great for training, implementing their use within my own business has allowed me to build a company that doesn’t revolve around me. Every last procedure and duty in my business is documented – so if I disappeared tomorrow it’d still run perfectly fine without me. SOCs are a huge asset in terms of training and exit planning.

Other valuable lessons I learnt include the first in first out (FIFO) stock principle, as well as the just in time (JIT) stocking method (because a lot of McDonald’s stock is fresh, it can’t be piled up for weeks on end). I base my business’ disciplinary processes on the process I administrated in McDonald’s, with a clear six or nine strike policy for disciplinary problems with staff. I also learnt to exercise due diligence when accepting deliveries of stock – rejecting any delivery above a “safe” temperate, as well as mastering the art of customer service and upselling.

One of the key requirements for new franchisees taking on a McDonald’s store is for them to spend a year “on the floor” – working their way up from the Crew Member position, learning about the business from the ground up. As far as I’m concerned it’s not just franchisees that should work a year at McDonald’s – any aspiring business owner or entrepreneur should.

Nowadays, I run two small businesses. One is in the e-commerce industry in the women’s beauty niche, with our flagship website False Eyelashes. To my knowledge we stock the largest selection of lashes in the UK! (nearly 500 styles at the time of writing.)

I also run a media company called ContentWriting where we specialise in writing website content, blog posts and articles for our clients. We also devise online content strategies for our clients as well as offering a content marketing consultancy. We’ve got lots of great clients big and small – from PLCs to start-ups. Helping our clients populate their websites with top quality copy and watching their online operations take off is extremely rewarding.

On reflection perhaps the only thing McDonald’s didn’t teach me about business was how to write a business plan, but I can forgive them for that.

Nick Whitmore is managing director of NDistribution Limited

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