In February, Tim Pulido was appointed chief executive of Shakey's Pizza, the 14th CEO/president to hold that seat in 16 years. He inherits the helm of a pizza industry pioneer founded in 1954, and which at one time included nearly 500 units. In the ensuing decades, ownership changeovers and poor management shrank Shakey's to 62 units as frustrated franchisees shuttered units and fled the system.
In 2004, Singapore-based Inno-Pacific Holdings, which owned Shakey's for 15 years, sold the chain to
The Jacmar Co.'s, an Alhambra, Calif.-based Shakey's franchisee and the majority shareholder of BJ's Restaurants. Since the sale, Jacmar has converted its units to corporate stores and established an all-new leadership team. Art Gunther, former Pizza Hut president-turned-consultant, served as interim CEO for the past year and departed shortly before Pulido's appointment.
Tim Pulido, CEO, Shakey's Pizza
Pulido's past experience includes key roles with Pizza Hut as its chief marketing officer, where he guided the launch of Stuffed Crust Pizza in 1995. He later led the brand's Europe and Africa divisions before serving three years in global concept development for McDonald's Corp. Most recently he served as chief operating officer of PickUp Stix, an Asian fast-casual concept.
As could be expected after only three weeks in his new job, Pulido's vision for Shakey's remains a work in progress. The months to come, he said, will include the creation of a well-defined roadmap for the chain's future, a plan he promises will revitalize Shakey's.
Recently, PizzaMarketplace talked with Pulido about his new appointment.
PizzaMarketplace: What's at the center of your very full plate?
Tim Pulido: Job one is to work through a very classic brand positioning exercise. We want to be very clear about who our target consumer is. We must understand what our unique selling proposition is and the emotional end-benefit as to why people come to Shakey's. That becomes our roadmap for facility design, our color palate, our uniforms and our menu. All we do and say should emanate from that core brand positioning statement.
PM: Despite the Shakey's legend, the customer of today is definitely different than it was when it was founded. Who is that and what do they want?
Pulido: The challenge now is consumers are changing. They're demanding more, they want higher-quality products, a better branded experience, more healthy options and much better value for their money—not just a high amount of food for the dollar. Customers are also looking for greater control, so there's a swing toward increasing carryout of the product, or at least a different dine-in experience.
PM: Why not rifle-shoot some of Shakey's current issues, like the need for a new menu and store design?
Pulido: You get into trouble real fast when you start playing with new menu formats, new store designs, etc., if you don't have your brand positioning well defined. You'll get the cart before the horse and that's dangerous.
PM: Many of Shakey's franchisees have been around for decades, and they've seen a lot of rough times. How do you expect to address their concerns about the future?
Pulido: I think the real key is to listen to their perspective on the business and discuss what the problem issues have been in the past. I think once they feel the relationship being built is truly two-way, that there's a real desire to positively engage and move the business in the right direction, and that's when you build the momentum to be successful.
Also, with Jacmar as the owner, we have better communication and bridges built between the franchisor and the franchisees than there was in the past.
PM: How important is Jacmar's ownership of Shakey's to the chain's future?
Pulido: (Jacmar founder and chairman) Bill Tilley has organized a very sound group as a board of directors, who are another source of knowledge to leverage when we start sorting out where we want to take this business. They've found some very sound partners at the corporate level and among the franchisees, too.
The company has a strong balance sheet because of all of Jacmar's work. It's putting its money into the business by contributing 14 corporate stores to the system, and it's positively engaged in the business. ... They have heart and passion for the business, and that's so much better than joining a company in survivor mode, where people want to tuck into their shell and not go anywhere.
PM: Where would you like to see Shakey's grow first?
Pulido: Given that most of our units are concentrated in Southern California, that will be our first area of growth to build the brand. And once we get the wrinkles ironed out, we'll focus on expanding the brand to other markets.
PM: Any idea of where?
Pulido: No, I don't really know that yet. The good news is that the vast majority of our stores are concentrated in one market and that's a great place to be. When you've got roughly 60 stores all concentrated in one DMA, that's a good place to start. We're fortunate to have that degree of concentration.
PM: Do you foresee any near-term closures of underperforming units?
Pulido: I don't anticipate any immediate pruning. It's really not our desire to cut any units right now. We have to come up with a simple, economically viable vision to rejuvenate existing stores and transform the concept for new growth in other markets.
The question I'm trying to answer is: What can we do to set common standards—high standards—and enable our franchisees to make the changes necessary to meet those standards. When we find the answer to that, it will enable us to help those units grow stronger.
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