Franchise Players is Entrepreneur’s Q&A interview column that puts the spotlight on franchisees. If you're a franchisee with advice and tips to share, email ktaylor@entrepreneur.com.

It's a common belief that veterans make great franchisees. In Joe Walker's case, franchising just made sense after four years of active duty in the U.S. Army. Franchising appealed to Walker due to the similarities between the military and franchising: the use of proven systems, teamwork and high standards of quality. As a Marco's Pizza franchisee, Walker has focused on building an all-star team of his own. Here's what he's learned

Name: Joseph Walker III

Franchise owned: Marco’s Pizza multi-unit franchisee in South and North Carolina with 11 open locations, three currently active in development, and plans to develop 17 more over the next four years.

How long have you owned a franchise?

I have been a franchise owner of Marco’s Pizza for almost three years.

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Why franchising?

I appreciate the structured operating systems that franchising brings. Having proven techniques and systems in place mitigates the “start-up” risk. Based on these reasons, I decided an organized entrepreneurial venture was the right option for me because there is a formula that has worked for others.

What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?

I spent four years on active duty, serving tours in Iraq in the U.S. Army. After leaving the military in 2008, I spent two years as a commercial real estate development associate before finding Marco’s Pizza and becoming a franchise owner.

Why did you choose this particular franchise?

My choice to invest in Marco's Pizza was based on the brands stringent, almost militaristic standards as they pertained to the product integrity across the brand, the service rendered while providing that product, and the overall image of the brand as observed by the customer in every interaction. To me, having the superior product within your respective industry sector is the fundamental keystone of any concept. One must then drill down to the standards, or lack thereof, associated with the presentation of both that product and the brand with every customer interface.  Marcos resonated with me at first experience because of the absolute adherence to all operational standards expected of all of its franchisees. This brand uniformity creates the platform to launch the aggressive growth that any investor seeks in an investment vessel. I have not been disappointed.

This, coupled with the corporate approach of focusing on franchisee profitability as the ultimate sales mechanism for the brand have proven to be very powerful, to the point of propelling Marco's Pizza to the fastest growing pizza company in the country. The Marco's culture continues to excite existing franchisees, as well as serve as an incredible recruitment tool for new ones. I am one of those who is very excited as to where this brand is going and am even more excited to continue to develop this brand across my home town of Columbia and across my home state of South Carolina. 

How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?

My initial outlay was more burdensome than most given the multi-unit nature of my agreement. I had to build partnership agreements, incurred lending costs, as well as carry myself for a 4-6 month period, all of which totaled approximately $135,000 before getting to the store level costs. As for the first store, I probably spent $250,000 before opening the doors with another $100,000 costs/expenses associated with the opening trailing by 30-45 days. The hard work paid off – now my stores have over $11 million in combined total sales.

Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?

I was blessed to have relationships with a lot of very successful people that I trusted inherently. I used a great friend’s business modeling and advisory services, which in turn linked me up with an existing U.S. Army veteran – a Marco’s franchisee, Kevin Wilkerson. Wilkerson owns seven Marco’s stores of his own, oversees 14 total locations as an area representative in Oklahoma City, and has 14 more in development in his territory. After learning about Wilkerson’s success and the growth trajectory of Marco’s Pizza, I was determined to pursue Marco’s Pizza in my hometown of Columbia, South Carolina. It was uncanny the amount of people I came into contact with who had either QSR experience or Marco’s specific insight the deeper I dug.

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What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?

Truthfully, it was recruiting the right people to join the team with no real operational track record. I was new to Marco’s Pizza, which at the time was a relatively new brand, so incenting the caliber industry veteran I was seeking to join my team was a tall task. As it turns out, he found me.

Ryan Spring is a highly motivated individual who was, at the time, pursuing an ownership opportunity within Marco’s but ended up joining me as my director of operations. It’s that kind of drive and vested approach that I was seeking, coupled with his positive outlook on the upstart nature of this opportunity. We haven’t looked back since! We have been focused on recruiting the right people to join our team.

What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?

Find the best product in your space, led by the best people and dive in! Once you have committed to a brand, build the team. The key to maintaining your growth trajectory begins and ends with your team. Your success as a multi-unit franchisee with the intent to further develop within your respective brand will be driven by your ability to build a robust and capable team with experience in the arenas in which you are asking them to perform. It is imperative that you, as the leader of this team, have the freedom to be out in the marketplace, sourcing not only real estate opportunities, but also developing your capital sources as well as constantly recruiting the next team member. The opportunity to get outside the four walls and drive growth is the catalyst for all of the successes available to multi-unit franchisees.

What’s next for you and Marco’s Pizza?

The sky is the limit! Marco’s Pizza’s recipe for growth has been a combination of a robust authentic product, a strong community image, and a mission to delight customers. With over 500 locations strong and more than 1,200 new franchise deals under commitments as of now, the company is on track to quadruple its store count in the coming 5-7 years, with goals of reaching 1,000 locations by 2017. I am all in with Marco’s and am constantly looking for opportunities to grow my relationship with the brand. I was very grateful to be part of the 500 store milestone, opening my Wilmington store this past June as the 500th Marco’s Pizza location. The Marco’s culture is amazing and is something I very much believe in. We believe at Marco’s that unity wins – and with this team oriented outlook, I know the future is ours to make.

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