What Coaching Little League Taught Me About Running a Franchise
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mike Weyer first realized the appeal of Buffalo Wings & Rings when, at a Little League tournament, players and parents couldn't stop raving about the restaurant. After looking further into the concept, he decided to open a location of his own. However, Weyer says that baseball has informed his abilities as a franchisee beyond introducing him to the Buffalo Wings & Rings franchise. Here's how coaching Little League has made Weyer a better entrepreneur.
Name: Mike Weyer
Franchise owned: Buffalo Wings & Rings locations in Jasper and Bedford, Ind. (I have also signed for a third location to open down the road.)
How long have you owned a franchise?
I had an investment and insurance firm that I still have, so I had a background in risk taking, but Buffalo Wings & Rings was my first franchise. I signed the agreement in 2008 and we opened doors by the end of the year in Jasper, Indiana.
My main partner and I knew what kind of restaurant we thought would work in Jasper. The reason we ended up going with Buffalo Wings & Rings is that we came across the Richmond, Ind. location while we were attending a baseball tournament there. While were there, all the players and all of their families just kept raving about the experience and food, and saying they wanted to go back every night. So, we were thinking, “Hmm, they’ve really got something there.”
Not having experience in the restaurant industry, the fact that it was a franchise model made it easier to get up to speed and succeed. If it wasn’t a franchise, it could have gone the wrong way, but with the support of the Buffalo Wings & Rings corporate team we’ve been extremely successful with our locations in Indiana.
What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?
I actually met my wife on a blind date, and she ended up being a secretary at Prudential Insurance. I would always come in and take her to lunch and one day her boss stopped us when I came in said, “No, I’m taking him to lunch today.” At the time I had a successful paint company while working my way through college. We had a great conversation and I ended up getting recruited by Prudential and started to work there. After several years with Prudential, I decided to open my own investment and insurance firm, which I run to this day. That led me to commercial real estate development and investment in about 2000. That background in office buildings made it a less scary risk to buy a piece of ground and build out a stand-alone restaurant. The coaching Little League baseball led me to Buffalo Wings & Rings, and things have just lined up nicely.
Why did you choose this particular franchise?
The cost structure looked good to me. It was a small franchise, so I felt like we were important and would get the right amount of attention. We wouldn’t be just a tiny piece in a huge enterprise.
How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?
The costs are different today, but back in 2008, we invested $1.5 million: $400,000 in land, $500,000 towards all the equipment, seating, signage, painting, etc., and then about $600,000 toward the construction of the actual building. The second one took $1.7 or $1.75 million.
Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?
When I first talked to friends and family about it, I heard a lot of, “Are you nuts?” or “Have you lost your mind?” I didn’t have one person tell me that it was a good idea. The restaurant industry is such a risky business. The corporate team at Buffalo Wings & Rings brought me in and we did a Discovery Day and we went around and checked out several locations. We probably visited four or five locations by the time we signed. We looked at the stores and markets that they’re in, and we just knew that it would work in Jasper. They were just building a brand new baseball complex near where we wanted to locate the restaurant, so we knew that would be a great draw during tournaments and games. It was really a gut feeling that this type of an establishment in Jasper would work.
What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?
We ran into a few obstacles, such as issues with construction and impacts of weather. But really, there was nothing major. The biggest obstacle we ran into was that we invested right near the recession hitting. We got in right before that happened or else we may not have gotten the finances to move forward, and the economy tanked a few months afterward, so I started to question the investment. We opened up and just had gobs of business that didn’t really slow down. We’ve seen steady growth every year since, and keep breaking our records for sales.
What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?
Right now, since economics aren’t the issue, the biggest advice is to be able to find good people. We had access to a lot of good people when we opened in 2008 because so many people were looking for jobs during the recession. Today, the economy is better so that pool of really good employees has dried up, so it’s more important than ever to find the right team.
What did you learn from playing baseball that you’ve applied to your business?
I played Little League and stopped playing once I got to high school since I was working during the summers. My two young boys loved baseball since they were very young, so any time it was baseball season I was coaching a bunch and involved in the board. I was lucky enough to be the coach of the All-Star team that made it to the finals and to the tournament where I discovered Buffalo Wings & Rings. If it wasn’t for baseball, I would not be involved in Buffalo Wings & Rings.
We bend over backwards to create the same atmosphere from the Buffalo Wings & Rings we visited on that tournament trip. You have to work hard every day and continue to improve at what you do. There are a lot of people that are looking for the “magic bullet” but I don’t think it exists in business or in baseball. You have to excel at all of the small things. Every time that someone walks into your restaurant, you have to make sure that every element is done well.
What’s next for you and your business?
I’m really happy with how we’ve done with Buffalo Wings & Rings, especially over the course of the last year. Everything that the corporate team is doing is clicking, and I feel like we’ve figured out the path that we should be following. So, I’d like to grow along with the franchise.