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Marco’s Pizza ® Franchise Review: Pamela Billow, Las Vegas

Posted Oct 29th, 2013

Compared to other restaurant franchises, Marco’s Pizza ® franchise really stands out thanks to value, quality and proven systems

pizza-pamPamela Billow and her husband, Tim, were no strangers to the world of franchising. In fact, the two met while working for McDonald’s corporation. But when a couple of different restaurant concepts didn’t pan out in their hometown of Las Vegas, they turned to Marco’s Pizza ®. As the country’s fastest growing pizza franchise, Marco’s has all the systems in place and a product that impresses. Their growing empire of Marco’s restaurants has not only survived the tough economic marketplace in Las Vegas over the past several years, it has thrived. Pamela wants other franchise candidates to know why she loves Marco’s — and why there’s never been a better time to join this flourishing franchise system.

What were you doing before Marco’s?
At the time we got involved with Marco’s, we were involved with Quiznos. Quiznos had this really superior product that was far better than Subway. It was a fabulous product, they were small, and when we got involved, there was a ‘wow’ factor when you bit into the sandwich.

We wanted to open a Quiznos a year for 10 years. We did that three years running, but by then it was in the early 2000s and Quiznos had blown up — everybody and their brother knew about Quiznos and wanted to own one. They had more stores sold on paper than they had open. Unfortunately, the leadership started making a lot of decisions we didn’t agree with, and we didn’t share their vision for growth. They put us on a waiting list behind the other store owners. When we realized we were not going to hit our goal, we thought, let’s diversify. Let’s do something that happens at the height of growth. This would have been 2003, 2004, and at that time Marco’s was not going west of Mississippi.

We looked at pizza and ice cream. We opened an ice cream shop. Again, we picked top quality. We wanted to get in on the ground floor of Marco’s; we wanted the right leadership, and we wanted to ride that wave. We were hoping to find that in Ritter’s … but it wasn’t the next ticket. People are too health-conscious out here. We went back to the drawing board. We looked at Chinese food, lot of crazy stuff.

A couple of years later, Marco’s was coming west. They had a top-quality product and all the right people in management positions at corporate. We knew they were going to make the right decisions and put in the right infrastructure for growth. Basically, based on all the experience we had on what didn’t work, we thought this was the right time to get involved. At the time we were getting ready to sign a franchise agreement, they were offering Area Representative agreements, and we really liked that idea.

One of the things that hurt us with Quiznos was that they were building them so close together. I don’t want to use the word ‘greedy,’ but that’s the word that comes to mind. It was cannibalization of our sales if they put a store a mile away from you. Part of the beauty of being involved in Marco’s is that you get protected territory, and as an AR you can control growth for your area. We’re able to plot things out and look at them and say that’s doable, that’s comfortable.

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How did you find out about Marco’s?
My husband is the research guy. He will get all of the trade publications — QSR, Franchise Times, National Restaurant News, all of them — and he pores over them. He reads every single word, looks at every ad. Back in 2003 or 2004, he had read something about Marco’s and did a little research. We are originally from Ohio, and he remembered eating Marco’s there. On one of our trips back to visit family, we decided to try the product and we said, ‘OK, this is really good.’

How long have you been a franchisee?
Since 2006. Prior to that, we owned franchises with Quiznos subs and Ritter’s Frozen Custard. Prior to that, my husband and I both worked for McDonald’s — that’s where we developed a passion for wanting to be involved in food and how we came to understand the importance of a good quality organization. Between the two of us, we worked for 15 years for McDonald’s. McDonald’s wrote the book on all the right things to do in franchising.

Do you own one unit or several?
In order to focus all of our energies on the brand that was working, we felt it was necessary to sell off the other franchises (Quiznos and Ritter’s). As an AR, not only are we store owners, it’s our responsibility to develop the territory. At one point, we had three Marco’s Pizza ® stores as well. It was overwhelming to be a multi-unit owner-operator and an Area Rep, especially when the economy did its hiccup. We had to downsize to get ourselves to the right place. We own one here in Nevada, and we are partners with some other folks on a unit in Ohio.

How important is it to have food or retail experience before owning a Marco’s franchise?
I think the most important quality to have is passion. If you have passion and no experience, you’re good. If you have a lot of experience and no passion, forget about it. That said, experience is helpful. If you’ve got management experience and a reasonable amount of intelligence, you can pick up a new system, especially if you have franchise experience as well. A franchisor gives you their recipe for success. They’ve already done it; it’s proven. It’s your ability to follow that recipe for success and do it passionately that determines how well you’ll do.

What do you like about the job?
It’s fun. The ice cream shop was a fun environment because people came in expecting fun. It seemed like McDonald’s and Quiznos customers were always in a rush, almost angry, all the time. It’s lunch hour, you’re in a rush, you gotta go, it’s a whole vibe you get.

But with pizza, most of the time you’re delivering to a person’s home. Maybe it’s a party, maybe they’re celebrating, or maybe it’s just dinnertime. Although we make it fast and get it there quick, it is still quick service. But the customers aren’t angry all the time. People order pizza when they’re having a party or a big gathering of people, or an enjoyable event. It’s a whole different dynamic. The processes are streamlined. It’s not hard to stretch a dough ball, put on some sauce and cheese and put it in the oven. It’s different from ordering customized sandwiches for every person.

What sets Marco’s apart?
I think it’s the quality of our product. It’s partially in Pat Giammarco’s recipes — he developed these fabulous recipes, and he’s been so wonderful to franchise it out. We have the fresh dough, the fresh cheese … we make everything fresh every day. I think there’s no replacement for quality.

Back when we got involved in Quiznos, they used top-grade meats, real cheeses, special bread. As they got greedier and greedier and needed to make more money, they started skimping on quality. We used to get breasts of turkey and sliced it for sandwiches. When we sold, we were getting processed turkey roll. You can imagine what the sandwich tasted like.

These other pizza chains are catching on to the fact that, “Hey, this is better quality.” At Marco’s, we’ve just always been there. [CEO] Jack Butorac believes so firmly in the quality of this product, he’s not going to do anything to compromise that. The other guys can now say they’ve got their dough made fresh and they have fresh cheese — we’ve just perfected it.

How large is the opportunity to grow with Marco’s?
Having seen the growth blow up with Quiznos, it takes getting it to a tipping point. When Quiznos got to 1,000 and hit this tipping point and blew up, it was crazy and phenomenal. I believe the hardest part is getting to that tipping point. Having the right leadership, the right recipe for success and the right infrastructure in place, once you get there it’s just a downhill roller coaster ride.

The thing is, how long is it taking our roller coaster to get to the top of the hill, and how much momentum will we need to go downhill? Jack always said he didn’t need to be the third-biggest, he just wanted a big enough piece of the pie that everyone could be successful. I think the potential is enormous, and we’re getting closer and closer to that tipping point every day, and we have all the right people in the right places to get us to that tipping point. We took some good executives from other companies who saw the opportunity to come to Marco’s … for that reason I’ve got a lot of faith. Marco’s is doing all the right things.

Who are your main customers? Who are your best customers?
Families with children, adults 25 to 32, the stores that are in more affluent areas. We don’t have the really, really affluent, but we don’t do well in economically depressed areas either. It’s the middle and upper middle class we do well with. We do have some really good value propositions, so we do have some working class customers we do well with, too.

What attracts customers to Marco’s rather than its competitors?
Really good advertising. In Las Vegas, we don’t have the ad budgets that they have in Cincinnati or Cleveland to be on TV, where they’re on during the commercials for any sporting event. In Las Vegas, we rely on shared mail, direct mail, some radio and word-of-mouth and door hanging and business-to-business marketing.

For instance, we team up with Child’s Play, a children’s birthday party and play place in Las Vegas. We’re their sole provider of pizza. A lot of people who’ve never heard of us take their kids to their birthday party there, and I’ll get a call from them the following week saying, “Oh my God, it was so good. We’ve never heard of you and we didn’t expect anything this good at a kid’s party.”

We also do school nights out, where we donate a portion of proceeds back to schools. It’s encouragement for students, and everybody needs to eat, and we get some new folks that way. We do other grassroots marketing efforts as well. We rely on these more because we don’t have the store concentration that other Marco’s territories do. You’d get a different answer in Florida or Ohio.

How many customers do you typically serve in a day?
100-200 on weekends.

What does your typical day look like?
As a multi-unit operator, I was far busier. Now, I’ll check in with other stores as an AR, find out if there are any snafus or hiccups I need to know of. I might visit stores in the morning, do some local store marketing, go out and meet local business people in the area like going to visit car dealerships talking about ideas on cross-promotion.

I might stop in at schools or at apartment complexes to get involved in their welcome kit for new residents. I might spend some time visiting small businesses where they have two employees who can’t get out for lunch and let them know that hey, we deliver. It’s also a good way to meet people who could be potential franchisees down the road. The guy who owns a dry cleaners might not want to own a Marco’s Pizza ®, but he might know someone who does.

In the early afternoon, I might talk to leads or enjoy a little time off; I usually spend the afternoons doing administrative stuff. I get to the store by 3 or 4 and make sure we’re on track and ready to go, and I help work the dinner rush. I sit down exhausted at 8 or 9 and feel a sense of accomplishment.

What is a secret to your success?
I’m passionate about what I do; I love what I do. I just think it speaks volumes if you don’t think what you’re doing is work. If it doesn’t seem like a job, that makes it a more fulfilling experience. You’re able to pour your heart into the work and really put yourself into it. You can’t help but be successful.

What kind of person do you think would enjoy owning a Marco’s franchise?
Anybody could enjoy it. It’s great. I think people that are driven, people that want to taste success, would be perfect — anybody who’s got passion and drive. How could you not want it?

What are some of the personal benefits of franchise ownership?
You control your own schedule, obviously. When I worked in corporate America for a short time (between McDonald’s and Quiznos), I worked for a company where I was responsible for $17 million in accounts receivable. I had a team of 10 people. Yeah, we got a bonus. But if we worked hard and did a great job it felt like, “Wow, I did all this wonderful stuff.” Maybe my bonus was a couple of hundred more that month. It always felt like, you know, I’d rather work for myself and feel that sense of accomplishment. Here, if we hit it on all cylinders and we’re doing everything right and we satisfy all these customers and they come back – I know I did it. There’s an immediate impact, and I get all the financial rewards of my success. Of course, I share that with my team, whereas before I was just getting to enjoy a little of my success with bonuses. The other thing is it benefits all the stores around me.

Would you recommend a Marco’s franchise to someone else?
Yes, I would. Anybody that wants to find a concept with a proven track record that is on track and moving in the right direction, and if they’re looking for a good franchise experience, I think Marco’s has all the right pieces in place. This is a great time to get on board. If you wait until after the tipping point, the train’s already left the station. Right now is the time. It’s a great concept, with a fabulous product, with great infrastructure, with a great future direction, and now is the time. It’s like the planets are perfectly aligned. It’s just the perfect time.

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