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Why This Franchisee Does His Research in Las Vegas The best place to learn how to host a grand opening? Vegas, baby.

By Kate Taylor

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Larry Wilson

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.

The grand opening of a Larry Wilson restaurant is something special. The Moe's Southwest Grill franchisee employees magicians, jugglers, flame throwers and anyone else who might help set his locations apart from the competition. Where does he get his inspiration? Las Vegas, of course. Here's how Wilson learned his unique approach to marketing his franchise locations.

Name: Larry Wilson

Franchise owned: I own 13 Moe's Southwest Grill restaurants in the following markets: Syracuse, N.Y.; Utica, N.Y.; Broome County, N.Y.; Tompkins County, N.Y.; Luzerne County, Pa. and Watsontown, Pa.

How long have you owned a franchise?

I opened my first Moe's Southwest Grill nine years ago.

Why franchising?

I love being a business owner because I enjoy having control of my own destiny and making a difference in people's lives by running an outstanding operation.

Related: Joining the Family Business and Becoming a Franchisee at Age 25

What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?

At the age of 15, I was working as a server in a restaurant and saved about $3,000. I invested that money in the video rental industry and received a large return on my investment. At 19, I bought my parents out of their video rental business and ran 33 locations. Because of my responsibilities running the video rental businesses, I started to establish a very strong relationship with a bank, with which I still do business.

Alongside being a franchise owner with Moe's, I also own additional businesses including my own construction company. Owning my own construction company is advantageous in that I am able to build my own restaurants. I can build about 10 restaurants each year.

Why did you choose this particular franchise?

I chose Moe's Southwest Grill because I greatly enjoy the flavorful food, overall culture and growing brand. Also, their corporate team is world class – they go above and beyond to help the franchisees successfully build, open, operate and market their restaurants. Moe's has a great community of dedicated franchise partners who encourage one another, share best practices and push each other to always stay ahead of the curve.

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

From the day I sign until the day I open, it costs about $550,000 to $575,000 per location. On grand openings alone, I spend about $60,000 to $70,000. I believe that investing in the grand opening is essential to creating the best possible guest experience. Before a customer has even walked through our doors, I want them to be excited about trying our fresh, made-to-order Southwestern fare. I also like to use the opening as an opportunity to immerse myself in the community and give back by hosting a fundraiser where 100 percent of all profits are given to a local high school or athletic program. For me, it's not only about opening a new restaurant; it's also about making people feel welcome every time they visit us, thus creating a loyal customer for life.

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

I do most of my research in Las Vegas. I know it sounds a little unorthodox, but it is a place with a lot of energy and excitement. Las Vegas promoters do an outstanding job of marketing and creating a fantastic guest experience. Not to mention, things typically trend from the West Coast to the East Coast, so I find that Sin City is a great place to get my creative juices flowing.

Related: How This Immigrant Franchisee Tapped Into Walmart's Power to Grow His Beauty Franchise

What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?

Entering new markets that have never heard of Moe's can be a challenge. It's not easy going into a new town with already established restaurants, but I've learned the importance of integrating the Moe's brand into the community early and often. I focus on building anticipation and excitement and try to form great relationships with locals by hosting fundraisers and community events from the moment I open my doors.

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

The greatest piece of advice I can give is to work hard. In my experience, I've always gotten out of something what I've put into it. I learned early on that success in business is achieved by delivering an over-the-top consumer experience.

I've opened the top two Moe's locations in the country just by doing things bigger and grander. I elevated the way we market, over-serviced and over-delivered. Each Moe's grand opening is a little different because I customize it based on the community and time of the year. The goal is to create a long-lasting and impressive event that will stay in people's minds and keep them coming back for more.

I do whatever it takes to capture attention – magicians, jugglers, flame throwers, etc. When I open a new Moe's location, the first couple days are a great opportunity for me to get to know and support the community by hosting a fundraiser for the local high school or sports team. If the restaurant is located in a college town, I like to feed the first 400 or so students for free. I also regularly offer the first 100 customers a chance to receive free burritos for the year for those eagerly awaiting our doors to open.

I am always happy to share best practices to help make all restaurant owners more successful and contribute to the growth of the national Moe's brand. I do two simple things and recommend that others do the same – ask questions and utilize your network. These are basic, but when you are able to leverage them to suit your needs, you can pull off far more than you would have been able to by flying solo.

What's next for you and your business?

I am set to open six more Moe's Southwest Grill locations by the end of this year.

Related: The Story Behind the Debut of This Potato-Centric Franchise

Kate Taylor


Kate Taylor is a reporter at Business Insider. She was previously a reporter at Entrepreneur. Get in touch with tips and feedback on Twitter at @Kate_H_Taylor. 

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