Franchise Players is Entrepreneur’s Q&A interview column that puts the spotlight on franchisees. This week, in honor of Valentine’s Day, we’re honoring power couples in franchising. If you're a franchisee with advice and tips to share, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tim and Marie Brown have a long history in the pizza business. So, when they discovered Marco's Pizza it seemed like a natural fit. Tim opened five restaurants in Alabama and Tennessee and Marie accepted a job in Chicago to help grow Marco's Pizza-Family Video partnership. Regularly commuting back and forth, the couple continues to develop both a successful business and marriage, more than 600 miles apart. Here’s what they’ve learned.
Name: Tim and Marie Brown
Franchise owned: Marie and I own three Marco’s Pizza locations in the Huntsville, Ala. market and one in Murfreesboro, Tenn. As an area representative, I also oversee two franchisees in our territory.
How long have you owned the franchise?
We have been Marco’s Pizza franchise owners for six and half years.
Marie and I were drawn to the franchise business model and the opportunity it presented for growth after working for a franchise operator. We knew we wanted to own and develop a business, but we also wanted the security of national backing and an established format for success. Marco’s Pizza has a management team made up of experts with decades of experience with national brands, who train their franchisees in every aspect of the model.
What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?
Prior to Marco’s Pizza, we owned Domino’s Pizza stores for 16 years in Michigan, building our business to 14 stores until the economy took a hit, prompting us to shift gears. We sold our stores and moved to Huntsville, Ala., where we opened our first Marco’s Pizza franchise in 2008. Soon after acquiring territory rights for northern Alabama and mid-Tennessee, Marie was recruited by Family Video to help grow the Marco’s Pizza-Family Video partnership, a concept introduced in 2012 to give customers the option of ordering pizza with their entertainment. Since launching three years ago, the Marco's Pizza-Family Video partnership has been steadily growing and is, in fact, set to open its 100th Marco's Pizza store on Feb. 15 in Neenah, Wis.
Why did you choose this particular franchise?
With our years of experience in the pizza business, it was easy to recognize that this product really is the best in the industry. Marco’s Pizza is the only chain that was founded by an Italian native, and it shows. The company prides itself on the quality and freshness of its products, specifically its dough made fresh daily in each store, a proprietary sauce recipe and an exclusive, never-frozen blend of three fresh cheeses.
This is also the fastest growing pizza franchise in the nation. While the big players have saturated the market with tens of thousands of units, Marco’s Pizza is on the verge of opening its 600th store and has many regions still available for multi-unit development. The outstanding product combined with the potential for growth was just a perfect fit for us.
How was the process of becoming a franchise owner different for a couple versus an individual?
That’s hard to say because Marie and I have always done everything together. I can say, though, that doing this as a couple has been an advantage for us because of our ‘divide and conquer’ approach. I am the operations expert, and Marie excels in the marketing and administrative aspects. Our skills complement one another’s, which helps ensure we do not step on each other’s toes. It has been working really well for us.
How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?
The average cost to invest in a single franchise store is around $275,000 to $350,000, which includes the $25,000 franchise fee, up to $150,000 for the build out, $125,000 for equipment and $50,000 in marketing, uniforms, training, initial inventory, etc. Every deal is different depending on the location, size of the store and extent of the work needed to complete the project. Our first restaurant cost just over $250,000, but we have opened other locations for around $200,000. Our next restaurant will cost slightly more than $350,000.
Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?
After selling our Domino’s Pizza stores, we were very interested in investing in another food concept. We considered options like Jimmy John’s, Five Guys Burgers, Jersey Mike’s Subs and Dunkin’ Donuts, which are all good brands, but we jumped on the chance to pursue a new pizza concept after discovering Marco’s Pizza. With our extensive background in the pizza industry, we wanted to stay with what we knew best and when we did our research, Marco’s Pizza always came out on top.
What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?
Finding good real estate. There is always available real estate, but good real estate is expensive and not usually available for very long. Marco’s Pizza has an excellent development department that supports franchisees with site analysis and demographic research for the projected trade area. With the help of the development department, we have been able to locate the best real estate for our stores, and are continuing our efforts to stay on top of upcoming properties.
Marie and I have also learned from our own mistakes and successes, as well as the mistakes and successes of others over the years. It has helped us learn how to identify what will be a successful site, and how to make the best decisions for each market.
What have been the biggest challenges and positives of running a business with your spouse?
The biggest positive of running this business together is being able to blend our diverse talents. While my strengths are in operations, Marie excels at marketing and as a CPA; she understands numbers better than most people. We have created specialized roles that play to our strengths, resulting in a pretty seamless venture.
When it comes to solving problems, Marie thinks more in terms of ‘black and white’ and I tend to navigate the ‘gray’ areas a little more. Sometimes this can be challenging, and we have learned we need to just agree to disagree until we find a better solution. By maintaining open and honest lines of communication, we are always in a position to find the best solutions for our business as a team.
What advice do you have for individuals and couples who want to own their own franchise?
The decision to own a franchise, and what type of franchise it will be, needs to be unanimous by both partners. Responsibilities need to be divided up, and each partner needs to know exactly what he or she is responsible for, as well as the other person’s responsibilities. Then you have to trust each other to get those jobs done. With that being said, it is also important to consistently check in. Every night, Marie and I have a ‘how did your day go’ talk to help identify any potential roadblocks we may have coming our way. Making the most of down time by enjoying activities together is also extremely important in making sure the relationship is not always focused around the business.
What’s next for you and your business?
Right now we are looking to grow our territories. We have eight stores in our two territories either open or under construction, and plan to have up to 11 stores open by the end of 2015. Currently we are building a second location in Murfreesboro, TN, and are working to buy a fourth store in the Huntsville, Ala. market. We are part of a great brand with a bright future ahead, and look forward to continued success for years to come.