How man went from earning £25 a week to owning more McDonald’s restaurants than anyone else in UK


An entrepreneur has told how he went from earning just £25 a week to becoming the biggest McDonald’s franchisee holder in the UK.

Paul Crocker employs more than 1,700 people in Kent – owning nearly every McDonald’s branch there.

He now operates 16 branches in the county, with the latest being those he acquired from other franchisees in Dover and Ashford back in 2014.

But it wasn’t always this way for Paul, who started his career at 14 in Leicester, working in his parents’ riding school for free.

It was only when a young he finished his A-Levels – of course one was economics – that he decided he needed a little bit of cash to tide him over, teaching kids, looking after horses and show-jumping for £25 a week.

When the family upped sticks and moved from the Midlands to the west country, Paul took over from his mum and stepdad to run the family business, which was a seven-day-a-week venture.

“While riding other peoples’ horses was always great fun, it wasn’t a very viable business,” Paul told Kent Live.

“We had far too many horses, when we were in Leicester there were hundreds riding every week, but when we were in the west country it was just dozens.”

Paul Crocker - How man went from earning £25 a week to owning more McDonald's restaurants than anyone else in UK
Store Manager Matt Hogben, Paul Crocker and Supervisor Paul Knell at the Sittingbourne store

Clearly, entrepreneurial blood runs true in the veins of the Crocker family, as soon Paul decided to join forces with his father.

Together the father and son duo ran multiple petrol stations across Kent, until Paul saw the tide was beginning to turn.

The car enthusiast, who switches between his Land Rover and Porsche, said: “My father and I spent around 13 years running petrol station forecourts across the county.

“But when my dad retired and I sold up, I decided to become a McDonald’s franchisee in Margate in 1995.

“I felt that the times were a changing, I saw that the kind of petrol stations we were running were not necessarily going to be able to continue during the massive rise of supermarket petrol stations.”

Paul Crocker - How man went from earning £25 a week to owning more McDonald's restaurants than anyone else in UK
The revamped McDonald’s reopens at The Orbital Park Ashford

Reflecting on this, he added: “Initially, it was, like any new business, a backwards step for me.

“I had to restart completely, in terms of a management team. I had to work a lot more hours, there was a lot more work and a lot more risk.

“What I liked in the petrol business was that you were trading behind a fairly reputable petrol brand.

“People trust the brand names, so in a way, by going into a franchise what I was looking for was a brand name that people could relate to and that could give autonomy to make my own choices and employ my own people.”

McDonald’s ticked all of those boxes – although it, of course, wasn’t the only option open to Mr Crocker as he ventured into the world of business solo for the first time.

“I didn’t have my family to support me as I have done in the past,” he said.

“But I did have McDonald’s, you work as a partner with them.”

Paul Crocker - How man went from earning £25 a week to owning more McDonald's restaurants than anyone else in UK
Paul Crocker at his first McDonald’s franchise, Margate

His first restaurant in Margate, the father-of-four remembers, came accompanied by some seasonal stress – with winter being particularly quiet.

But the 58-year-old quickly developed a taste for Big Macs and went on to purchase over fifteen more restaurants in the county in just under 20 years.

Initially McDonald’s offered him the franchise for the Ramsgate McDonald’s, Westwood then Chestfield.

He now operates 16 branches in the county, with the latest being those he acquired from other franchisees in Dover and Ashford back in 2014.

The tycoon subtly hints – with a rather competitive glint in his eye – that he was very persuasive in getting his hands on those outlets.

“In every single one of the restaurants I took on the sales stepped up significantly,” he added proudly.

Paul Crocker - How man went from earning £25 a week to owning more McDonald's restaurants than anyone else in UK
McDonald’s boss Paul Crocker and staff at the Margate restaurant

Paul has seen much change during his two decades with McDonald’s, including a move to push fresh food over fast food.

And, as part of a modernisation programme which has seen Mr Crocker invest millions in his restaurants, the arrival of kiosks, tablets, home delivery and of course, table service.

He said: “I probably owe more money than any other franchisee in the company.

“But then I own more restaurant’s than any other franchisee in the company.”

Back in the day, Paul recalls, McDonald’s were only serving a limited variety of cheeseburgers and hamburgers.

Now, with speciality eats like the Signature burger range, the “made for you” kitchen production line is more important than ever.

He said: “Overall, our cost of production and serving has gone up over the years, but it’s clearly at a benefit to the customer.

“We need more staff – not just in the kitchen preparing food but in the dining room for new things like table service.

“Customers now get fresh food and a greater variety than ever before.”

Paul Crocker - How man went from earning £25 a week to owning more McDonald's restaurants than anyone else in UK
Paul now operates 16 branches in the county

Although, the fast food expert admits, the classics still remain at the top of his restaurants’ “most sold” leader boards.

The Big Mac, double cheeseburger and the 20 box of McChicken nuggets reign supreme, however he suspects the nuggets are popular due to their competitively cheap pricing.

Paul, who lives with his wife, Kim, in Whitstable, says a typical week in his life includes regular unannounced visits to some of his restaurants.

Once there, he will muck in with the staff.

“I generally try to go on the busier shifts, such as Friday or Saturday night,” he said.

“It’s fun, a bit of banter, just leading from the front, working shoulder to shoulder with them, sometimes even racing them to see who can do things the quickest.

“I have a programme of audits that I do as well, and every quarter we dish out prizes to all the staff.

“The winning restaurant might go out on a treat to Thorpe Park for instance and the management team will go out and have a meal on me.”

Paul Crocker - How man went from earning £25 a week to owning more McDonald's restaurants than anyone else in UK
Paul Crocker owns nearly every McDonald’s in Kent

The keen cyclist also has an office day in Margate, as well as travelling to HQ in London once a month for franchisee meetings.

Continuing the Crocker families business acumen, is Paul’s 25-year-old daughter, Rachel, who he has hired as the manager of his Ashford restaurant.

This is the first step Rachel needs to take to become a McDonald’s franchisee herself, which is a very intense and selective process for both internal and external applicants, says Paul.

And although he does enjoy relaxing long cycles and watching his 17-year-old son play music – as well as field hockey and rugby – Paul says that he isn’t ready to switch off yet, and still has big plans for his McDonald’s empire in Kent.

He said: “I’ve no intentions of winding down.

“And by having the right people around me and having the right energy and enthusiasm to do the job I don’t necessarily need to be the fastest and the fittest person out there – but I am.”



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