When Dave Melton graduated from college in 1982, he considered a career in finance. A few months of working at a bank, though, made him realize that the environment wasn't for him.
The bank eventually "freed up his future," as Melton puts it, and he spent a few more months looking for the perfect opportunity. One day his girlfriend Angie woke him up with the words "Get a jobâ€¦or get out."
Suddenly, Melton became a little less particular about his employment and took a job as a manager-in-training at a Domino's restaurant in Quantico, Va.
"I figured I would work at Domino's until I found something better to do," Melton said.
That was nearly 30 years ago.
Today, Melton owns four Domino's locations in Manhattan and two in Connecticut. He and Angie, now his wife and business partner, recently celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary.
What's more, his restaurants operate with nearly zero turnover. Five of his managers have gone on to become franchisees, and four of them have become millionaires. The managers of his New York stores have been on the job for at least six years.
After Melton was featured in a New York Times story, he was contacted by an editor from business book publisher John Wiley & Sons. The result was the book "Hire the American Dream: How to Build Your Minimum Wage Workforce Into A High-Performance, Customer-Focused Team," co-written with Domino's spokesman Tim McIntyre.
Along with getting a glimpse into the inner workings of his operation, purchasers of the book can also access downloadable forms and other management tools via Melton's Web site.
Melton recently talked with Pizza Marketplace about his management philosophy.
Was your approach to management something you developed over time or did you have an "a-ha" moment?
"Part of the experience was, as an owner, you just can't help but look at things differently than you do as an operations director or something like that. The first couple of years we certainly turned over quite a few people. We certainly had people who didn't take care of the business the way I wanted them to. The 'a-ha moment' was really just hiring a couple of good people who were honest, hardworking loyal people. They saw that I was going to support them and this was an 'us' and not a 'them and me' situation. From those guys, we ended up with some more and we began to attract a core of good people.
"A lot of those people I helped become franchisees. That creates room at the top, when your top is going out and becoming successful. It encourages people to get in at the bottom because they see that there really is opportunity here."
Describe your approach to hiring.
"I can teach anybody how to deliver a pizza. It's not that difficult. The part I don't think you can easily teach is how to be naturally friendly, polite and have a sense of hospitality. You look for someone who has a good personality and has the ability to engage the customer. The reality is we knock on the door, we have a two-minute transaction, and it's over.
"We have people coming in almost every day, and in this economic environment it is a good time to be hiring. The reality is we need a core group of people, but we also need people who are passing through. I need people who only want to work 15 or 20 hours a week."
How can an operator develop that core group of people?
"The people who make you the most miserable are the ones you don't fire. You've got to go through a little pain sometimes to have the right people. One of my philosophies is what is more important? Spending $1,000 on a direct mail campaign or a piece of equipment, or spending a little bit of time and money on getting the right person? Having the right person is so much more valuable than marketing or a piece of machinery."
Do you find it difficult to make people understand that it may cost a bit more in the short term?
"No, not really. I think people realize how much energy is wasted on dealing with that bad apple as opposed to having a team that is cohesive. One of the things I try to convey to my guys is to ask them why they are here. They didn't show up at a Domino's because they thought we had cool uniforms. Although the uniforms are pretty cool, we are here to make money, and that comes from making great pizzas and giving great service. If someone is doing anything to impact the customer's experience in a negative way, then they are taking money out of everyone else's pocket. It creates a peer pressure situation."
How is the book doing?
"We've sold around 6,000 copies. I'm getting feedback on a regular basis from people who tell me it's changed how they operate their business. That kind of stuff is incredible.
"Part of it is I didn't know what we did was special; it's just how we did it. The kind of feedback we are getting from people is great and it gives my people a great reputation to live up to. They are proud of that."