Successful multi-unit pizza franchise owner isn’t afraid to get his hands in the dough.
The story of Eric Bueter’s beginnings as a Marco’s franchisee reads like a classic story of the American dream. He was a 23-year-old newlywed when bought his first Marco’s Pizza franchise in 1986. “The day we walked into my first store, I had $100 in my pocket, $100 in my company checking account and $220 for rent,” Eric says. “I didn’t even have enough money to start the bank. Marco’s left the money in the drawer for the day so I could have a starting bank.” Today, he is a multi-franchise owner with highly successful Marco’s Pizza restaurants in several towns and cities in Northwest Ohio. Eric and his wife, Scotty, have four children, three of whom have worked at Marco’s. Buoyed by his long-term success as a multiple franchise owner, Eric recently started a second career in property ownership and management. He’s purchased five shopping centers in the past 18 months and is in the process of launching new Marco’s Pizza franchisees in some of them. Two of Eric’s sons are standout baseball players. One is expected to be drafted by the pros in 2014, and another has a baseball scholarship to at Bowling Green State. Even with the demands of managing his Marco’s stores and his new property business, Eric is able to make it to his sons’ numerous games. “If I were working in corporate America, I wouldn’t be able to have a flexible schedule,” he says. “It’s taken a lot of hard work, but Marco’s has absolutely been very profitable for me. It’s created a great standard of living for my family.” Eric shared his experiences with us recently.
How did you find out about Marco’s? I was a customer. When I decided I was interested in buying a Marco’s Pizza franchise, it was before people were using the Internet a lot. I just called the local store, found out where the corporate office was and called them. I had just gotten married. I had some money from a fitness center I’d sold. A friend of mine suggested that I get into the pizza business. I looked at all of the major competitors, but I was eating Marco’s Pizza at the time and loved the product. My friend got cold feet, so I asked Marco’s if they thought I could get financing on my own. They thought I could get an SBA loan. In addition to that, I took all the money that I had from the fitness center — $36,000 – and bought my store in Wauseon, Ohio.
How long have you been a franchisee? 27 years
Do you own one unit or several? Why? Right now I have seven stores, all in the southwest corner of northern Ohio. I’m opening another one [in December] and two more after that. I have owned as many as 11 stores at one time.
Did you have food or retail experience before owning the franchise? How important is that? I had no experience except washing dishes in a restaurant at the age of 15. Attitude is much more important than experience. You need an attitude that says, “I’m going to roll up my sleeves. I’m going to go into my store. I’m going to learn what’s successful and do it.” I don’t mean doing just what you believe is going to be successful, but what actually is successful. People set up their own boundaries about what is and isn’t successful. I have friends who say things like, “You don’t really go in and make pizzas do you?” Well, yes, I do. If we’re busy, I’m going to make pizza or I’m running the register. I’m going to do whatever it takes. Work hard and follow the Marco’s plan, and you will succeed.
What do you like best about the job? I like interacting with the customers. I like instilling our high standards in the people who work for us.
What sets Marco’s apart? It starts with the product. Everything is really fresh. We aren’t using frozen dough or commissary ingredients that are three days old by the time you get them. We cut the onions and green peppers ourselves. Our cheese is 100% dairy cheese. There are a lot of great people in the Marco’s organization. You can pick up the phone and talk to with the owner of the highest volume store in the chain if you want to. You can talk to franchisees who own multiple stores. I encourage new franchisees to pick up the phone and call the Marco’s veterans. They’ll stop you from making tons of mistakes. How many companies can you pick up the phone and be able to talk to just about anybody you need to?
How large is the opportunity to grow with Marco’s? There are a lot of opportunities right now, but I feel like they are really going fast. In two years I feel like the whole country will be sold out. I can almost guarantee it.
Who are your main customers? Who are your best customers? Younger families are our core, but we have a lot of older customers, too. Now that we’re expanding into salad, wings and sauce, we’re getting a range of customers rather than the hardcore pizza lover. We get a lot of orders now that have no pizza.
What attracts customers to Marco’s rather than its competitors? It’s a combination of quality, variety, the atmosphere, the value. Consumers want all of this. People who buy pizza usually want fast and friendly service, and they want a quality product for their family without it breaking the bank. It makes a lot of difference to them when you make your own dough. Pizza making is different than fast-food. The burger makers take a pre-made burger; put it on a pre-made bun. Everything is pre-done, right down to the pickles. When we make a Marco’s pizza we take that single ball full of fresh dough and turn it into a custom pizza.
How many customers do you typically serve in a day? It’s hard to say but it’s absolutely in the hundreds.
What does your typical day look like? Because I also have my property businesses, I don’t start Marco’s until the afternoon. I personally don’t use much of an office or a desk. My office people have their spaces, but I have an envelope. They’ve put the questions they have for me into the envelope, and when I get to the store I address all the questions. My daily job is to go from store to store to store. I usually visit three stores a day to check on operations. I have a director of operations and two area supervisors. I have about 130 employees.
What is a secret to your success? You have to manage your debt. It’s important not to get too leveraged out. Get the store and make that store successful. Get your debt paid off and go to No. 2. Do it again and when that one is right, go to No. 3. Don’t buy another store until it’s right. You need a year or two years to get a store right, especially in the beginning. Once you get a few years under your belt, you can go faster. I think people would be far happier to own one or two stores that are debt-free and running well than to own four stores that are marginally profitable, have problems and have incurred a mountain of debt. You’ll find that the most successful stores are ones where the community knows they can lean on them for support. It takes a while to work into that position, and it can be a very slow return on your money. For the store that’s doing very well, it’s not a big deal, but for the store that’s marginally profitable, contributing to something like a $500 ad on a sports calendar can be tough. Still, it’s important to show that community support. I realized over the years that giving pizzas away works really well as a marketing technique. When you see the kids giving a car wash, go ahead and send them four extra large pizzas. Getting people to eat your pizza is the most important marketing tool you have.
What kind of person do you think would enjoy owning a Marco’s franchise? You are going to need to be a self-starter and a hard worker, but you don’t have to be a book learning type. I wasn’t a great student in school because I was dyslexic. I was a 2.0 GPA and graduated 150th out of 300. I really think if you are a straightforward, hands-on people person, this is your kind of business. It’s not a lot of meetings. It’s not writing memos. I have two meetings a month – one with my supervisors and one with my managers. We don’t need to go to a meeting to get stuff done.
You have to want all of your customers to experience the very best. Everybody expects their pizza to be perfect. We may have to make 70 orders in an hour. The customer will expect that pizza perfect every time they order, whether it’s the busiest time or the slowest.
What are some of the personal benefits of franchise ownership? I’m in control of my own time. My kids are very big into baseball and sports. I wasn’t able to coach their games, but I coached them individually. I went to their games. I’d show up in my uniform and watch the game and go back to work. One year we had 180 baseball games between three sons! I just don’t know what other work would have provided me with such a good standard of living for my family.
Would you recommend a Marco’s franchise to someone else? Why? Start with the base. The product is great. The organization, from the president on down, has great people. They are straight shooters. They will help you any way they possible can. I absolutely feel that they care about our success.