With a trio of stores, Marco’s Pizza ® franchise owner likes calling the shots.
Many young boys growing up have aspirations of being firefighters, policemen or doctors. Brian Anstead wanted to be a businessman. The energetic 30-year-old is already living his dream, running three family-owned Marco’s Pizza ® stores in the Raleigh, N.C., area.
Brian’s first steps out of college as an international business major led him to a corporate job, but by the time he was 25 he decided he preferred the independence of running a small business. Brian’s parents, owners of an iconic 40-year-old cigar emporium in Fayetteville, N.C., supported the idea, and the family purchased their first Marco’s Pizza ® franchise in 2008.
Brian, who serves as the local face of the franchise, plans to keep growing the franchise in the region. He stays super-busy, but still finds time for favorite activities such as deer hunting and going to the North Carolina beach.
“If you would have asked me what I wanted to be at 5 or 6 years old, I would have said the CEO of a company, and if you think about it, that’s pretty much how things have gone,” Anstead says. “I’ve grown up around business my entire life. It’s ingrained in me.”
Please tell me about your family and what city you live in. What were you doing before Marco’s? Why did you want to own a franchise?
I’m 30 years old. I graduated from Appalachian State with a degree in international business. Then I moved to Michigan to work at the La-Z-Boy corporate office as their facilities and purchasing manager. I liked the job, but I missed North Carolina. I found out about Marco’s because my mom had been working for the Marco’s Pizza ® area representative in the Raleigh area. There was a local store that wasn’t performing well, and the owner offered to sell it to us. We talked about it for a couple of months and the decided we were going to buy it.
How long have you been a franchisee? 5½ years
Do you own one unit or several?
We will open our third store in a week. One Marco’s is in downtown Raleigh across the street from North Carolina State University, another is in suburban Raleigh and the third is in Wake Forest, another town near Raleigh. I was able to turn my first Marco’s around with the help of others in the organization. It took a little time. I was young (25), and I thought I knew everything. I learned from my mistakes, and that store was able to hold its own. From the beginning, I wanted the experience to be a growth opportunity. I didn’t want to be 35 years old, have one pizza store and be working all kinds of hours just to make it work. Fortunately, our numbers and sales have grown, and it’s worked out.
Did you have food or retail experience before owning the franchise? How important is that?
I think it can play a significant role. This business is all about operations and customer service. My parents have owned a retail cigar and gift shop for 40 years. I have been working in retail and customer service from the time I was 14. I worked an internship with Belk department store through college.
You have to be focused on the customer, but you have to go in with the mindset that you are going to provide a good experience for your customer. That’s something that’s going to rub off on your employees, and I think it has a lot to do with our success. Even if you don’t have retail or restaurant experience, I think the skills can be taught to many people. There may be certain personalities it might not fit with. Anybody that gets along well with people and enjoys sales can really pull it off. In my case, I really like interacting with people. Honestly, if I could make the money I want to make delivering pizza, I would do it the rest of my life. People are usually in a good mood when they’ve ordered a pizza. You are everybody’s best friend when you show up at the door.
What do you like best about the job?
In a nutshell: You are on your feet, interacting with your employees and customers. It’s never dull. There’s always something going on. It’s a really fun environment if you make it that way.
What sets Marco’s apart?
Our food is delicious. I actually ordered from another store recently since I don’t live in a Marco’s delivery area. I was shocked. It was just terrible. I thought, “Man, this is one of the Top 4 pizza chains? With the right layout and service, I should be able to blow these guys out of the water.”
How large is the opportunity to grow with Marco’s?
I think the growth down the road is huge. In my own area I see a big increase in brand awareness. More and more people are finding out about Marco’s. It often happens by word-of-mouth, and that kind of grassroots appeal can be powerful.
Who are your main customers? Who are your best customers?
It depends on where the stores are. The student population is huge at my college store. At the other two stores, couples age 30-50 with kids are the primary demographic.
What attracts customers to Marco’s rather than its competitors?
Well, our pizza is fantastic, better than the others. Word gets around about it very fast.
How do you get that kind of word-of-mouth buzz?
I get out and interact with the community, with schools, programs, businesses and other local organizations. I don’t spend money on coupon-style advertising, but I do give complementary pizzas away to community groups. It is a great marketing tool. People remember free pizza! If you donate 20 pizzas, you can consider it a good investment in marketing.
How many customers do you typically serve in a day?
It depends on the day of the week. It ranges anywhere from 70 per store on a slow day up to 300 and higher on a busy day.
What does your typical day look like? Walk me through it from the time you get up and into the store and through the end of the day when you’re ready to head home.
Right now, days consist of deer hunting in the morning, getting to the site at 9:30 a.m. and trying to make sure my contractor is finishing my store. But my job never stays the same for long, so every day tends to be a little bit different. I could be repairing an oven or a hood or running around from store to store doing errands. My positions varied over the course of the years. I started as general manager at the Hillsboro Street location for two years. I was the GM of the second store, With the third store, I have my GM picked, a guy who’s been with me for five years, so I only see myself acting as the GM in that store for about 3-4 months.
If you were working in corporate America, do you think you’d be able to deer hunt in the morning?
Not a chance in the world! (laughs). The flexibility of my schedule is amazing. I don’t like to sit on the couch. I’d rather work two or three really long days and then take a couple of days off. Or have the morning off during deer season and then work the evening shift. If a friend comes to me at the last minute and asks if I want to go to the beach, I can typically find someone to cover for me.
What is a secret to your success?
The biggest thing is treating my employees well. Historically, the food industry has a very high turnover rate, but my stores really don’t. Many of my hires are high school students who stay with me until they go off to college. When I open my new store, five of my employees who are now in college are coming back to help me open over their Christmas break. All three of my general managers have been with me for five years or better. I pay my drivers a little bit more than what’s recommended. I treat my employees they way I would want to be treated. I will change my schedule and work for them if they have a special need, and they’ll do the same for me. I recognize them for their achievements. When someone submits an online complement, I’ll be sure to show it to everyone. Generating a teamwork environment is very important and it helps the store stay busy.
What are some of the personal benefits of franchise ownership?
When I worked in a corporate job, some of the things about the way things were structured drove me crazy. I had a fairly important position within the company, but there were always six people up the ladder that needed to approve decision. It made things go slowly. I can make decisions and control things so much quicker as a Marco’s franchisee. I can allow myself to learn by trial and error, which is not necessarily approved of in corporate America. I’m in business with my parents. If something comes up that’s radical or expensive, we’ll obviously talk about it together. But if I want to do something small, I can just do it. I don’t have to have a meeting or a conference call to get permission.
Would you recommend a Marco’s franchise to someone else? Why?
Yes, I do recommend Marco’s. While having multiple stores is nice, you can be successful and profitable immediately with one store. It’s probably best to have that store paid off within five years and then leverage yourself and open a second or third location. You can make a decent living with one store. If you open multiple stores, you can make a lot of money. I know just about everyone at Marco’s on a first-name basis. If you call and need help, they are always really helpful. One of the greatest examples is when we first bought the first store. It was sold because the owners were losing money horribly. We were really struggling at first, and we wondered briefly if we’d made a terrible mistake. Marco’s actually forgave our royalties for a couple of months to help us get upright and on our feet. They helped us with marketing and promotion. Marco’s has great resources for advertising — ad-quality photos, sound bites, menus, website development. You don’t have to worry about any of that stuff. You can focus on running your restaurant.
What are your goals for the next few years?
I’ve always arbitrarily thrown out the number of five stores I would like to continue to grow and open more stores. We’re beginning to research where we want the fourth store to be. With three stores in five years, it seems like I’m awfully close to the number I’ve always thrown out. I think maybe it’s time to open my eyes wider and think a little bigger.