• Frank Meeks' death marks the passing of a pizza industry legend

Jim Moran is a pizza and restaurant industry veteran, and an industry consultant and speaker with Restaurant Trainers, Inc. and a contributing editor to PizzaMarketplace.

On Nov. 13, I attended the funeral of Frank Meeks, who died last week from complications of pneumonia at the age of 48. Frank owned and operated a 60-unit Domino's Pizza franchise organization based in Washington, D.C.

Even if you do not know the name Frank Meeks, if you are in the pizza delivery business, he has influenced your life. At a charitable event last year, Tom Monaghan, the founder of Domino's Pizza, told me he considers Frank to be the most influential person in the history of the residential pizza delivery business. He told me, "Pizza Hut and Papa John's are in the delivery business today because of the success of Frank Meeks."

In 1998 Monaghan told The Washington Post, which was doing a profile on Frank, that he was "the greatest franchisee in the history of Domino's."

Why Frank had such a large impact on residential pizza delivery is simple: He was the one who proved that it could be profitable. Prior to Frank's the success, all of Domino's top pizza delivery

Jim Moran

units were located on college campuses or military bases; Monaghan had closed all of his residential units.

Because of the fact that residential delivery hadn't succeeded, Frank could not initially secure a loan to open his first store on Duke Street in Alexandria, Va. It was only when Mississippi Senator Trent Lott (from Frank's home state and for whom he had worked previously) stepped in to secure financing for Frank's store, that he got started. The rest, as they say, is history.

How successful has Frank Meeks been? Well, that Duke Street store, which no bank considered viable, is so successful now that its manager consistently earns more than $100,000 a year — and he is not even Frank's highest-paid manager. Frank eventually owned 60 stores and there are more than 30 franchisees in the Domino's system who were former managers of his company, Team Washington.

I fell in love with the pizza business working as a driver for Team Washington. Several years ago, Frank stopped me on a Friday night when I was running back in to the store from a delivery and told me that I was going to do great things. There was absolutely no justification or evidence to believe that he was right. Even so, it was a pivotal moment in my life because all of a sudden there was somebody who believed in me. All of a sudden I cared about living up to someone's expectations of me.

When I won Team Washington Driver of the Year in 1987, I felt like I had won the Super Bowl. I went on to win Manager of the Year in 1995 and eventually became a Regional Director before leaving to become a consultant for Restaurant Trainers, Inc.

At Frank's funeral it became clear that he had a similar impact on many people's lives. Frank was a wealthy man, but not because he was a multi-millionaire. In the end, the only thing you get to take with you is the impact you have on other people's lives. Judging by the overflow crowd at his funeral — a gathering that spilled into the lower floor of the church to watch the service on a closed-circuit monitor — Frank went to heaven much richer than he was on Earth.

A couple months ago I was asked to return and give a speech at Team Washington's monthly rally. These rallies have gained notoriety over the years for their 10K race warm-ups and loud cheering. What really made an impression on me at this meeting is that after 20 years in the business, they are still building sales and profits. That long-term success is why Team Washington sets the standards for the pizza industry. Other companies have gotten bigger, but no one has gotten better.

At that meeting a weekly stat sheet listing a dozen statistics for each Team Washington store was passed out. The sheet showed that for 60 stores, the organization had averaged $18,300 in weekly sales, while running 17.3 percent labor (that includes managers salary), with a 23-minute average delivery time. What was the reaction of David Carraway and John Barber, the president and vice president of Meek's organization? They wanted everyone to work on the delivery times because election week was coming up, they planned on average sales of more than $20,000 and they needed to make sure all the customers enjoyed great service.

When I congratulated Frank by e-mail after the meeting, I wasn't surprised that he credited Carraway, Barber and his marketing director, Susan Fulton, for the success. He also blamed himself for not listening to them more.

Frank always insisted his key to success was to surround himself with great people. He invested in those people at a higher level then any franchisee I have ever seen, and after 20 years the results were obvious.

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