Veteran finds life after the Army satisfying as owner of Marco’s Pizza franchises
Sean Fortenbaugh was looking for a business opportunity after retiring from a 21-year career in the military. But working with food was about the last thing on the mind of this 46-year-old Army veteran. That all changed when he stopped at a Marco’s in Georgia one day for a business lunch. Fortenbaugh liked the pizza so much, he was convinced he needed to open up a store of his own in Lawton, where he lives with his wife, Jennifer, and their 13-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son. Now, he owns one Marco’s franchise in this town of 100,000 people near a military base and another in nearby Wichita Falls — and he’s getting ready to open up his third.
What were you doing before Marco’s? I was in the Army for 21 years, and I’m retired. I worked a little bit in the private sector and I didn’t necessarily like that, so then I got into Marco’s. The main thing was, when I was in the Army, I was overseen a lot. Then I got a job in the private sector and I had to travel a lot, and it was almost like I was gone more from home outside the Army. So by getting a Marco’s, I was a local business guy, and I don’t have to travel hardly at all right now.
How did you find out about Marco’s? Well, when I was working in the private sector, I met another gentleman in Georgia for a business meeting. We went out to lunch and we just happened upon a Marco’s and we ate there. And we both started talking and saying, “Yeah, this is really good. People would probably like this.” And we talked for about six months, and both of us are franchisees now. At the time, I was looking for some kind of franchise opportunity or business I could get into, and I had no intention of going into the food business. But I felt like this was a winner, so I went after it.
How long have you been a franchisee? Three years.
Do you own one unit or several? Why? I’ve got two that are open right now and one under construction. The one here (in Lawton) I’ve had for three years. The other two are in Wichita Falls, Texas, which is about 45 miles south of here. I think they’re doing very well. I want to make lots of money. They’re all doing well and making a little bit of money, and it just makes me happy to do that.
Did you have food or retail experience before owning the franchise? Just delivering pizzas when I was in college.
What do you like about the job? The best thing about it is, either in the restaurant or if it’s just me walking around with my Marco’s shirt on, people are constantly coming up to me and telling me, “You’re the best pizza in town.” And I like being the boss. It comes with a lot of challenges and heartaches, but at the same time I don’t have to report to somebody.
What sets Marco’s apart? The way they do things — they’re not like the other pizza places. They make everything from scratch. They make their dough from scratch every day. They make their sauce every day. We do, in the store. We don’t use frozen cheese, we use good cheese. All the foods are of a much higher quality, so it just tastes better. And once people come in and try it, they usually stay with us and don’t go to the other chains.
How large is the opportunity to grow with Marco’s? I think right now you can grow as fast as you want to. They’ve got plenty of cities and territories available.
Who are your main customers? Our main customers probably are within a one-mile circle of the store, just because we’re very convenient to them. But we have all kinds of customers. There’s people who are very coupon-centric, and they want a discount on everything — which is fine. It’s just a big variety of people. About half the people order delivery from us.
How many customers do you typically serve in a day? Over 100. Each store.
What does your typical day look like? We’re open from 11 in the morning until 11 at night, so typically our rush time is at dinner time from 5 till 8 in the evening. So we’ll come in at 9 o’clock, and the very first thing we do is we start making the fresh dough and mixing the sauce and prepping everything, cutting vegetables and everything that needs to be prepped, for the whole day and for the next day, really. We’ll get all that done, and then we’ll open at 11. It depends on the day and how close it is to payday, but we’ll have a lunch crowd. We may have some catering orders or some deliveries during the day, and then at night, that’s when we’ll have our heavy rush time.
What is a secret to your success? I really think the secret to success is I’m actually there in the restaurant, and we just focus on the important things like customer service and the food being good. And that’s what it takes. If the food’s good and the service is good, then people are going to come back. And then Marco’s helps because they have a good product.
What kind of person do you think would enjoy owning a Marco’s franchise? I think retired military people would be good for that because they know how to follow procedure, follow the rules — whatever the manual says to do. The thing I see a lot of is people will buy a franchise — not just a Marco’s franchise — they’ll buy it, it will be great, and they’ll lose interest in it after a period of time, and then they stop going there, and that hurts their business. It’s hard work and it’s a lot of hours, and three years later you still have to be there with them.
What are some of the personal benefits of franchise ownership? It’s not corporate America. I have a lot of flexibility. If I need to take a day off, I can take a day off.
Would you recommend a Marco’s franchise to someone else? Why? I would recommend it just because Marco’s has a great product, and that’s consistent across the chain. But the other thing is they have a lot of support for people. They have all kinds of training available. They have a really thorough training program for new franchisees. They just help you through everything — what equipment you need, where to buy it. They have a timeline for opening a new store, and they help you design the stores. It’s just a really good process.