Manager incentive programs of yesterday

By Jason Rummer

At a coffee shop in Seattle a couple of weeks ago, I shared coffee with Cheryl J., a 15-year veteran store manager and “Dominoid” from Tacoma, Wash. She began her career in 1984, the same year Domino's eclipsed the 1,000 store level for new locations opened in one year. I was also involved with the brand at the corporate level in that era.

Back then, young people like us strived to achieve the goals that were set, and were richly rewarded for their efforts through great programs that I feel aren't currently duplicated in spirit.  The awards were not just monetary, they were symbols of success that at that time only the wealthy could afford. Back then these “symbols” brought instant recognition, respect and some envy by co-workers, colleagues, friends and associates. They also provided a relatively inexpensive and very effective way for the company to increase its own performance without using harsh tactics with its management teams. These programs were awesome; let me tell you just a little about them.

As Cheryl J. became more successful with her own store, she remembered the “blue suits” visiting her with an award for what her team had accomplished. The first time the “suits” came to her store, they brought an award for her breaking the $10,000 weekly sales level. (That was a big deal then, because it was 30 percent higher than the national weekly sales average, which has long since been surpassed, of course.) 

The award for that sales level was an Hermes scarf. Maybe not really something that an 18-year-old kid from Seattle might wear, but it was special just the same and, better yet, she knew it. Cheryl J. said when she would attend company sponsored meetings, her scarf would adorn her outfit and she would be looked upon by other managers attending with respect, admiration, and inspiration. The other managers knew they could be as good as her, could reach the $10,000 level too, and left the meeting motivated to do just that: increase their sales and earn a reward! You can almost see the smiles of the executives from back then, because for a $125 dollar investment, they had created personal motivation in someone that would deliver, in short order, increased revenue and profit.

I had gone to the same type of managers meetings back then and saw other young men and women wearing their awards while dressed in suits or skirts expensive enough to mirror the clothes of those they worked for. There were those young 18-, 19- and 20-year-old store and area managers wearing Hermes ties, or had a 24-carat gold and black ivory DuPont pen from France for achieving a $15,000 week in sales tucked into a crisp white shirt. And on more than a few you would see a proud smile and a Rolex watch with a Domino’s logo for breaking the $20,000 sales level (Tim McIntyre, company spokesperson, says the company still gifts Rolexes for four consecutive weeks of sales above $20,000). If you set a national sales record back then, the owner of the company, Tom Monaghan himself, would give the watch off his arm for doing so and it was always a Piaget.

With a twinkle in her eye, Cheryl J. told me about her Domino’s experiences as well as how and why she earned those rewards. She said that she truly believed that all it took to increase sales was to make a better, faster pizza; door hang; and take good care of her crew each and every day. That was her recipe for success. We all shared that same passion for achievement because we were told over and over by the founder of the company and his regional leadership that there were no bad areas or bad stores; that every store could do $1 million a year, that we could franchise, and become millionaires ourselves. There were many, many young believers in those words who did exactly that. They became millionaires. 

That’s not to say the new incentive programs don’t exist, or create new millionaires. But most of them are simply monetary.

“We have awards at levels of $25,000 a week, $30,000 a week and so on. [And] franchisees create incentive programs within their stores all the time (as outlined by Domino's franchisee Dave Melton in chapter 6 of his book "Hire the American Dream").”

The recognition factor now comes primarily via the IFA Gold Franny. The International Franchise Association makes them, but franchising companies determine their own criteria for awarding. For Domino’s, it’s the top 2 percent of their franchise operator team. The Gold Franny is like the Oscar of the franchisee world.

In times like these, however, the Hermes scarf or illustrious pen may not only be more inexpensive gifts, but also would add a personal touch that may have been lost in translation to current times.

Overall, as long as reward program goals are realistic and obtainable, they can be a strong motivating force for a restaurant’s franchisee and middle management team. A few suggested categories to use to gauge award performance are listed in the sidebar.

I am sure you too can come up with programs of your own that will bring recognition, respect and creation of future leaders, as well. Maybe you can even incentivize creatively, like Domino’s did in the old days.

Jason Rummer is a 30-year restaurant chain executive with experience in development, operations, and marketing with two national and three regional pizza chains, and has also provided consultation to a number of small companies. To find out which ones, visit him on LinkedIn.

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