Franchisee: Ray Mickens, 36
Franchise: Famous Famiglia, a pizza chain with 103 locations in the U.S., China and Mexico
Mickens' franchises: Two in Philadelphia
Startup capital: $600,000
2009 sales projections: $1.5 million
Before franchising: Mickens had an 11-year career in the NFL, playing for the New York Jets, the Cleveland Browns and the New England Patriots. With a business degree from Texas A&M University, Mickens began testing the entrepreneurial waters in 1997 with a nonbranded concept that sold popcorn, pretzels and beverages. In May 2003, while he was still playing football, he opened his first Famous Famiglia location at Philadelphia International Airport.
During the research phase: Mickens considered other pizza franchises like Sbarro and Villa Pizza.
Why he chose Famous Famiglia: Mickens ultimately went with Famous Famiglia because of the franchise's business outlook and its management style. "They're a fairly young company, but they're very ambitious and they have high goals," he says. "And coming from a sports background, I can appreciate somebody that has team-oriented goals."
What sets Famous Famiglia apart: True to its name, the franchise has a family atmosphere with supportive franchisors who can be reached anytime for advice or questions, and who even call Mickens just to ask how he is doing. "It makes you feel like you're part of a family. I value family a lot, and to have that family feel when you're doing business, only gives you more confidence."
On getting out of the limelight: "It's a breath of fresh air. It's a lot easier for me to make money being in the business realm rather than getting my head knocked off. I kind of enjoy that part more than anything else."
On the importance of franchisor support: From startup questions to operation issues, Famous Famiglia makes a particularly strong effort to guide its franchisees. "I think that type of support is priceless when you're dealing with food and beverage, where you need to make decisions quickly and you can't really wait two days or two weeks."
Loves owning a franchise because: It gives people work. "If it's creating a job for somebody, then that's gratifying to me. I really believe in helping other people out."
Favorite pizza topping: Pepperoni