photo and article courtesy of East Idaho Business Journal
Mary Johnson knows that a lot of her employees don’t see their jobs at McDonald’s turning into careers — and she is more than OK with that.
“When people come to work for me, I want them to use this as their jump-off point for whatever they want to do with their life,” said Johnson, who is the co-owner of the three McDonald’s restaurants in Pocatello and Chubbuck. “I know full well that they’re not going to work for me forever. I’m OK with that. But I want them to leave my employ with skills that are going to help them their entire life. If they leave me to go to another fast food restaurant, then I’ve failed. If they leave me to be whatever it is they want to be in their life, or for school, or for an internship in their major, I love that.”
For Johnson, however, McDonald’s was her career plan — and her family plan.
She started working at McDonald’s when she was 15 years old in 1976. She met her husband and current business partner, Mike, at McDonald’s. They’ve run the Pocatello stores for nearly 15 years. Her son, Jameson Johnson, is in the process of taking the business over from his parents. He has worked at McDonald’s since 2000, throughout high school and college, and joined his parents when they took over the Pocatello businesses.
So, really, McDonald’s ended up being Mary Johnson’s retirement plan, as well.
“As they’re ready to step out of the business, I’ll step in and they’ll travel more and hang out with their grandkids, and I’ll take over the business,” Jameson Johnson said.
Jameson Johnson is currently part owner-operator of the Yellowstone Avenue and Chubbuck restaurants and is the primary owner of Pocatello’s South Fifth Avenue location.
Both Mary and Jameson Johnson believe McDonald’s is more than just a place to grab a quick bite to eat and think the company is doing a lot to benefit both the communities it is in and the people it employs.
“The heavy focus on our people, that’s been our driving force in our company,” Jameson Johnson said. “There’s no better investment than in your people.”
As part of the company’s investment in its people, McDonald’s this year revamped its Archways to Opportunity to help its employees succeed beyond their jobs at the company.
Employees can improve their English skills, earn a high school diploma for free and even get tuition assistance to help them pay for college. After 90 days of employment, regular employees who work just 15 hours a week qualify for $2,500 a year to help cover tuition costs, and managers are eligible for $3,000.
According to www.archwaystoopportunity.com, more than 27,000 McDonald’s employees have taken part in the program, including more than 380 who have gotten high school diplomas and more than 6,400 who have graduated from the English Under the Arches program and nearly 19,000 who have received tuition assistance, totaling more than $26 million.
“We have employees that are great examples of life getting in the way … and they are high school graduates now,” Mary Johnson said.
Jameson Johnson said they also give employees health insurance and half-priced meals on and off the clock, and McDonald’s has recently changed to a system where even part-time employees can get paid time off.
Additionally, starting wage is $8.50 an hour — Idaho’s minimum wage is $7.25 — and Jameson Johnson said they don’t wait for annual reviews to get great employees raises.
“I would argue that … you don’t get a friendlier set of employees that are better compensated,” he said.
Mary Johnson said it was a different era when she started working for the company. Instead of getting to know their employees, managers then were discouraged from getting personal. But Mary said she wants to know how her employees’ lives are going, and she wants them to keep coming back.
“People are the commodity that you can’t order. You can’t buy it,” she said. “People are the heart and soul of any business. So when we have great talent, we value them and appreciate them.”
When asked to describe her management style, Mary Johnson said she is hands-off.
“I like to let people spread their wings,” she said. “I don’t want to take the credit. My husband and I might be on the lease, but these are the people who do the work. This is their restaurant. …. I’m not going to be here 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and I can’t be at all three 24 hours a day, seven days a week. My general managers have a lot of authority and autonomy in their restaurants. I want their ideas. … I want my people to know they can take care of it, that they can handle it.”
Jameson Johnson said he believes McDonald’s is a force for good in the community.
“I feel like the brand is always trying to leave a positive imprint in our society,” Jameson Johnson said. “Maybe that’s corny, but I feel like McDonald’s is a brand that’s trying to do good, actively trying to do good, and I don’t know how you can’t support a company like that. I like that we’re able to take care of our folks, and McDonald’s lets us do that by partnering with the owner-operators and allocating resources for our employees.”
On a corporate level, McDonald’s is “aggressively trying to increase market share,” Jameson Johnson said. “McDonald’s has always been a leader in the industry, but we want to be able to build the gap between us and our competitors.”
He continued, “Digital innovation is setting us apart. I think the investment in our facilities to make them more modern is setting us apart. I like our social media presence. I think some of the Facebook posts, Instagram ads and tweets are engaging. They’re funny. I think we’re doing everything we need to do right now to capture market share and that’s how we’re going to continue to grow. I don’t see us slowing down at all.”
The company is also trying to make sure people on all budgets can eat at the restaurant, which has menu items for $1 and $3 in addition to the higher-priced items.
The McCafe brand — another way in which McDonald’s is trying to get new people in its doors — is also growing rapidly.
“The coffee options are phenomenal,” Jameson Johnson said. “We’ve got something for everyone. We’ve also got smoothies. We’ve expanded our coffee line to include Americanos, macchiatos, cappuccinos. We’re just trying to provide an option for people. And it’s an affordable option.”
As for the individual stores, the store on Yellowstone Avenue in Pocatello just recently had a facelift; the restaurant on South Fifth Avenue was completely demolished and is being rebuilt; and the Chubbuck store will be getting a remodel in January.
The Yellowstone Avenue McDonald’s also now has kiosks where customers can order food by picking out what they want on the screen, and with mobile ordering, you can order exactly what you want and someone will either bring your order out to your car or you can pick it up in the drive-thru.
When it comes down to it, though, despite the fancy upgrades that you see today, McDonald’s is “a people company that serves hamburgers,” Jameson Johnson said.
PART OF THE COMMUNITY
In addition to helping out its employees and giving customers the latest and greatest, Jameson Johnson said his family is accessible to people in the community.
“We live in Pocatello and Chubbuck and that allows us to connect to the community a lot closer than if we were running this business from Salt Lake or Boise,” he said. “What’s great about the community is they let us know if things are great; they let us know if things are not great about their experience. Mary’s phone number has got to be on a billboard somewhere because her phone is always blowing up with compliments, with questions, with complaints. We take them all.”
Jameson Johnson said they really strive for their restaurants to be a place where people can come and relax.
“This is a family destination,” Jameson Johnson said. “It’s a great place for mom and dad to bring their kids and let them burn off energy. … Parents can take a load off and buy some great, affordable and quality foods and feed their kids and have a relaxing evening.”
Everyone, he said, has a McDonald’s story from when they were kids, and he loves being able to give young kids those memories.
“Back when I was young, (I remember) the ball pits and the tubes and the metal toys that you can’t use anymore because of safety stuff,” Jameson Johnson said. “But everyone’s got a McDonald’s kids story, whether its birthday parties or begging your parents for a milkshake. Some of my best memories are from being a kid at McDonald’s. I love that we get to provide that for people.”