Marco’s Pizza Franchise Review: Mike Hunter, Charlotte, N.C.
Once he got a taste of this pizza franchise, Hunter never looked back
Mike Hunter and his family are newcomers to Charlotte, N.C., but they’ve been in food franchise territory for a long time. He and his wife, Suzie, owned 12 Subway restaurants during their 26 years with that company. They were reluctant to try Marco’s Pizza at first. But once they got a taste, it was all over but the signing. Now an Area Representative for most of South Carolina and parts of North Carolina, Mike loves developing his new pizza franchise empire with Suzie and their son, Andy, a recent graduate of the College of William & Mary. The couple’s daughter Amanda graduated from the University of Florida back in August and will be going to grad school at the University of Central Florida in January. Daughter Ashley, also a UF graduate, is teaching English in Spain while applying to grad school for acceptance in 2014.
What were you doing before Marco’s?
My wife, Suzie, and I have been Subway franchisees for 26 years. We have one store left that’s actually going under contract today.
How did you find out about Marco’s?
I kept receiving these mailings, these postcards or solicitations in the mail for four or five months. I didn’t want anything to do with them. I’d never heard of them. I kept throwing them away. Then a Marco’s opened near our house in Tallahassee. I got another piece of mail from Marco’s, and I said, “I’m sick of getting these things. We’re going to go to Marco’s, buy everything on the menu, and I’m going to take this card with me and call this Cameron Cummins [Marco’s Vice President of Franchise Marketing & Recruiting] and say, ‘I’ve tried your product, it’s a good product, and I’m not interested.’” What happened was, we went there, we tried everything on the menu, and I called up Cameron and said, “When can we meet?” The product was unbelievable. I was floored. Marco’s was up and coming. My son Andy was at college and my two daughters were at college as well. Suzie is very entrepreneurial to start with, much more so than I am by far, and she was saying, “This is great, let’s really investigate this more.”
How long have you been a franchisee?
We started the bidding process that spring, the spring of 2010. Marco’s had their annual convention in Cincinnati — my wife is from Cincinnati — and we went and sat with the executive team. We met franchisees and ARs from all over the country. At our table was [Marco’s CEO] Jack Butorac, and I mentioned that we’re going to visit stores and he said, “Tell me where; I’ll make sure they know you’re coming.” I said, “Not only am I not telling you where we’re going, I don’t want them to know we’re coming. I don’t want this to be a staged event. It was nice to meet everyone and they’re all enthused about your brand. What’s exciting is, you’re involved not only from an executive standpoint but also all of you own stores. But I want to talk to the phone girls and the general managers and the delivery guys and the pizza makers.” We visited about eight stores in two days, and that’s who we talked to. The overwhelming consensus was that this was a great product, well-received by the public, it’s an up-and-coming brand and we love working here.
Why did you choose to own several units?
We bought our AR territory in September. When all this was going on, I remember sizing up the brand. After leaving the convention, my son Andy was back at William & Mary College and I called him on the phone and I said, “We’re getting involved with Marco’s. Do you want to become a partner?” It took him as long as it takes to say, “I’m in.” We’ve always owned our own business; our kids have never known anything else. He was a finance major and an athlete in college, and I knew he would thrive in this environment. I fully expected him to say yes. It has been great, just terrific. We have three stores ourselves, and store No. 4 is under construction now. In our market, we’ve got seven others that are open, and we’ll have three more open by the end of the year. We opened our first store in Columbia, S.C. It was a huge success. It was a very big opening and a very successful store — it still is today. My entire professional life, I wanted to get more into the AR role, so opening more stores was a catalyst to bringing awareness and interest from other people, to invite them to understand and explore our brand.
How important is it to have food or retail experience before owning a Marco’s franchise? Food experience is nice to have, but having retail experience would be just as important, if not more so. If you have just retail experience but not food experience, it works. More importantly, you have to have passion for what you’re getting into; you have to believe in the product. I’ve seen other brands come and go — they’ve had great systems, well-intentioned people and a good structure in place, but at the end of the day, just not a very good product. It catches up with you. Marco’s reminded me of Subway 25 years ago. They only had 800 stores at the time, and it was a great opportunity. The same is true of Marco’s. You don’t have to have restaurant experience. You do have to have great people skills and know how to build relationships, follow systems and embrace the Marco’s culture.
How would you describe that culture?
It’s an evolving proposition at this moment. The base, the foundation is in place. Marco’s has a great product, really good systems and the infrastructure that is necessary to build a brand. It’s growing, developing; more of the pieces are being added to facilitate the growth. The leadership is in place. Everybody is working on the same page, above the line, holding themselves accountable to their role and to their position and how it affects or relates to other people in the brand. Our culture is one of we all have to push in the same direction, embrace the brand and follow the systems and do the best we can.
What’s your favorite part of the job?
I really love the development part a lot. I like setting out locations and looking at the numbers and the metrics and figuring out that this is where we need to be. I really like the relationships that you establish with the people you meet. There are some terrific people involved in this brand.
What sets Marco’s apart?
It’s absolutely the product. No question. The product and the people. You’ve got to have product, people, processes. We’ve got those. We’re fine-tuning them every day, learning and growing as a brand.
How large is the opportunity to grow with Marco’s?
I fully expect in our marketplace in the next 10 years, we’ll have 80 restaurants.
Who are your main customers? Who are your best customers?
Families. The soccer mom and her kids, the families, they are absolutely our primary customer.
How many customers do you typically serve in a day?
It depends on the day. Fridays are busier than Mondays. You might see 300 orders or so on Friday. Generally, that’s our busiest day.
What does your typical day look like?
I wear a lot of hats. I’m extremely fortunate that my son, Andy, is involved. We split up my duties. Anything to do with technology or marketing, he handles that. I may work on the development side, working with locations, potential franchisees and leads. He’s more on the operations side. My wife wears many, many hats and does many things on both sides. She helps with the marketing — she’s really good at marketing, cold-calling people and introducing herself and setting up lunches. She will work in the store, no questions asked, if we’re really busy. She does all of that.
What is a secret to your success?
It starts with the product. Beyond that, we have a saying: We are not in the restaurant business; we are in the customer service business. We are in the relationship business. By providing a superior product with great service and with a very good image, the probability of us having success is pretty high.
What kind of person do you think would enjoy owning a Marco’s franchise?
Anybody that wants to be in charge of their own destiny. Anybody willing to work hard, anyone who is passionate about what they’re doing and loves being around people and is not afraid to work and has this “whatever it takes” attitude. Losing or not winning is not an option, period. Anybody who has that type of mentality is a good fit for this brand.
What are some of the personal benefits of franchise ownership?
I’m going to go back to my Subway days a little when my kids were growing up. All of them were athletes and all of them were highly competitive; they all had options to compete at the collegiate level, and Andy took advantage of that. Growing up, they would compete not just in the next town or the next state, we got on the plane and traveled to California, New York, Texas. That was frequent. In business for ourselves, creating our own destiny, if you will, we were afforded the opportunity to participate in what our kids were doing. That was the greatest thing about being in business for ourselves. Our youngest daughter, Amanda, was in soccer; our daughter Ashley was a gymnast; and Andy also was a gymnast … Then Mother Nature got in the way, because he’s almost 6 feet tall.
Would you recommend a Marco’s franchise to someone else?
Yeah, especially today. If you have all those attributes and skill sets, absolutely today. The future for Marco’s is unbelievably bright at this moment. Subway had less than 800 stores when we joined them, and it started with a superior product. We hit a certain density, and then the growth was exponential. Not that Marco’s should approach the number of stores Subway has, but growth is right on our doorstep. The opportunity is there. People who realize this and see this, they’re going to reap the benefits of these rewards.
What’s your favorite Marco’s menu item?
Everybody thinks this is disgusting, but it’s really great: pineapple and anchovies.
Any final thoughts?
For people who have a little foresight and a little vision, Marco’s is a great opportunity.