Well-maintained equipment

April 4, 2006

Running a pizzeria is tough enough without having to learn equipment maintenance. And when the business is as large as 84-unit PJ COMM Acquisition Corp., repairing broken ovens is the last thing Larry Devries wants to deal with. When the company scooped up 84 Papa John's units in late 2005, Devries hired a whole-store maintenance company to manage maintenance for him.

"They're in the restaurant looking for things to go wrong before they go wrong; it's a proactive strategy," said Devries, whose company is in Minneapolis. "It's something we implemented from the start as a cost-savings measure. By the time something breaks, you've got down time and you've got all the expense of calling a vendor out on an emergency basis. We don't have that problem anymore."

Daniel Needham is a district manager for Camelback Pizza, a 38-unit Papa John's franchisee in Phoenix. As a 16-year industry veteran, he's confident enough in his own maintenance skills to handle many pizzeria repairs, but he has his limits, too.

"To tell you the truth, even I don't like ovens or AC," said Needham. When Camelback's owners realized they could save money on having an outside company manage maintenance on a flat-rate basis, they made the change, and Needham isn't a bit sorry. "The company cleans our ovens twice a year, too, and that's a lot better than having general managers and shift runners doing it. They like to break them or they don't put them back together right, and then the bake is off on them."

He does do ovens

When Randy Boswell ran stores for Domino's Pizza years ago, he knew how badly operators hated cleaning and maintenance. The tasks actually interested him, he said, and several years ago he started an oven cleaning service for pizzerias in nearly ever corner of the U.S. In 2005 he launched Specialty Services, which focuses on whole-store maintenance, as well as cleaning.

"For a flat fee, we do preventive maintenance for pretty much the whole store," Boswell said. "But our niche is to cap the expenses related to service times and parts. We don't assess trip charges, overtime or holiday time, and we don't markup our parts. If somebody calls us 20 times to one store, they're not out any more money than if they hadn't called us at all."

Specialty Services focuses on 54 areas in each pizzeria that most commonly experience failures or cost operators big repair dollars. "If it has electricity or water going through it, we cover that in the inspection process," Boswell said.

Needham said Specialty Services' flat rate not only saved the franchise group money, it gives store operators some peace of mind to know their equipment is in top order when heading into a busy night.

"The convenience factor of knowing they're on it 24 hours a day, seven days a week, no matter what time of day you call, is great," he said. Calling service companies after something's broken is significantly more expensive, he added.

Boswell said his service eliminates those concerns.

"Since our fee covers all labor, we take an attitude of ownership with the equipment," he said. "If we don't fix it right, we've got to fix it later. So it's like we ask ourselves, 'If this were my machine, what part would I want to put in there?'"

Topics: Operations Management

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