Ask the experts: Finding the ideal franchisee – and the right franchisor

Nov. 2, 2015 | by Travis Wagoner
Ask the experts: Finding the ideal franchisee – and the right franchisor

Pizzerias can be single-location, independently-owned restaurants. They can also be company-owned chains or franchises. Which operation scenario is best for you? Should you franchise once you’ve established a certain number of stores? What makes for an ideal franchisee and franchisor?

To get answers to such questions asked two experts about their franchising experience: Dan Locke, president and CFO of Persona Wood Fired Pizzeria, and Marla Topliff, president of Rosati’s Pizza.

Founded in 2013 in Santa Barbara, California, Persona Wood Fired Pizzeria has an Italian-trained master pizza chef, or “pizzaiolo.” The concept combines authentic Neapolitan (thin crust) pizza with more than 30 toppings. Each Persona pizza is designed by the customer and wood-fired at 800 degrees in an Italian Marra Forni oven for 90 seconds. From its first location in Santa Barbara, California, Persona Wood Fired Pizzeria is quickly expanding across the United States as a fast casual franchise opportunity. The headquarter location/company store is located in Santa Barbara with three franchise locations in development: Santa Rosa and Columbia, California, which are both open for business, and a Dallas location that recently signed for their building spot.

The first Rosati’s Authentic Chicago Pizzeria opened in a Chicago suburb in 1964, serving pizza based on a family recipe that dates back to the turn of the century. Today, Rosati's Pizza is the second-largest local restaurant chain in the Chicago area and comprises 150 carryout/delivery, sit-down and full service sports pubs in 13 states. Rosati’s Pizza provides pizzas, pastas, sandwiches, salads, entrees and desserts. Rosati's is 95 percent franchised and has three different footprints: Delivery/carryout, Rosati's Pizza Pubs and Rosati's with fast casual limited seating, all under the Rosati's Pizza banner.

Here’s what the experts had to say about franchising:

Q: What qualities does an ideal franchisee have?

Locke: An "ideal franchisee" is someone who is extremely passionate about owning their business. They must be systems oriented, able to take and follow directions, and value structure. An ideal franchisee trusts the systems that have been created by the franchisor will result in their own success. 

Topliff: Our ideal franchisee is someone who not only understands, but will follow, the basic principles of business. Someone who can take direction and can combine their strong business acumen with passion, dedication and common sense to create the perfect recipe for success. 


Q: Can quality franchisees be taught or are they "inborn"?

Locke: If a franchisee is a creative type and outside-the-box thinker who does not like to follow direction, it is more difficult to be taught to be a franchisee. These types will always want to do things their way. Some people are born to excel in systemized operations. For the more entrepreneurial types, they can be taught to be franchisees as long as they commit to following our proven methods for success.  

Topliff:We actually prefer franchisees who come to us with no pre-conceived ideas about the pizza business — a blank slate, if you will. Teaching someone to create our recipes and learn our culture is the easy part. Dispelling old habits is much more difficult. 


Q: What are some not-so-good qualities of a franchisee?

Locke: A person who is incapable of following direction, constantly questions our proven methods, and wants to run their restaurant their way are no-so-good qualities. A person who is dishonest will try to cheat the franchisor in a number of ways: not paying royalties, not using approved methods, not contributing to the marketing fund. Those franchisees can be very disruptive to the franchise process. Also, franchisees that question every step of the process can waste time and resources.     

Topliff: The franchisee who does not take direction well is the franchisee who is most likely to fail. Having an unwillingness to follow the brand footprint is invariably the most difficult quality to deal with. I have always wondered why a franchisee would invest so much time and money to be part of our brand when the first thing they want to do as a franchisee is to change it.  


Q: What makes for a good franchisor?

Locke:A good franchisor makes its biggest investments in supporting its franchisees. A franchisor is only as successful as its franchisees. We have invested in people, process, and technology to ensure we provide a world-class experience for our franchisees. We have one of the top pizza chefs in the world to ensure our product is the best. We have also hired some of the best people in the business at their respective positions. Persona has hired experts in the field of franchise development and arguably the best franchise design build teams that can execute Persona store openings all over the world.

Persona has also aligned itself with top vendors and provides exceptional support to all of our franchisees. Systems include revshop, an online store only accessible to our franchisees where they can order everything they need for their restaurant, including back-of-the-house and front-of-the-house items, branding merchandise, and really anything they need to operate their store. Revshop’s buying power ensures we get the best prices for our franchisees.

We have also invested in a customer resource management software called FranConnect that allows us to track all of our interactions with our franchisees, including site audits that allow us to analyze the performance of each franchisee so we can proactively make recommendations that will make them more successful. All of that combined with holding their hands through our extensive operations manual during the store opening and through ongoing operations help ensure success.  

Topliff:A healthy franchisee/franchisor relationship is the key ingredient in the franchising business. Trust and respect for each other helps in strengthening the relationship. Although the business is defined by a contract, the good franchisor maintains transparency and proper communication so there is no confusion between the parties and believes in settling disputes amicably so that the business alliance is not hampered in any way. In other words, we work to develop a give-and-take relationship built on trust. 


Q: How does a franchisor select good prospective franchisees?

Locke: Persona looks for people who will be passionate about our product, brand and providing outstanding customer service. We want our franchisees to be enthusiastic about going to work every day to make our brand the gold standard in the industry. We look for people who have experience working in a systems-oriented business. People who have excelled in corporations, the military, and in customer service make excellent franchisees.     

Topliff:The most important aspect of being a successful franchisor is the careful selection of franchisees. They are the ones who run the business and are responsible for our success. We do not believe on quantity but quality. Therefore, we believe in selecting a few financially, emotionally and professionally sound franchisees for the business. 

With that in mind, we, as a rule, don't select prospective franchisees — we let them select us. We carefully review franchise requests from franchise shows, portals and referrals from current franchisees. We reach out to those who appear to have all of the qualities discussed above and arm them with the all of the pertinent facts they need to make an informed decision regarding what will become a major lifestyle change for them. If at that point they decide that our culture matches their plan for the future, we will start the process to bring them into the family. 



Topics: Business Strategy and Profitability, Food & Beverage, Franchising & Growth

Travis Wagoner

Travis Wagoner spent nearly 18 years in education as an alumni relations and communications director, coordinating numerous annual events and writing, editing and producing a quarterly, 72-plus-page magazine. Travis also was a ghostwriter for an insurance firm, writing about the Affordable Care Act. He holds a BA degree in communications/public relations from Xavier University.

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