Franchise leader is instrumental in fast-growing pizza chain’s solid success
As the Marco’s Pizza® franchise enters its 37th year of operations, the company is laser-focused on growth. In recent years that growth has been significant — we have doubled our number of franchises in the past 36 months. There are about 630 Marco’s Pizza® restaurants today, but that number is expected to double again in the next 36 months, says Bryon Stephens, the company’s President and Chief Operating Officer.
Bryon is a key leader in the company’s growth and overall success. Longtime Chief Executive Officer Jack Butorac has tapped him to eventually step into the CEO role, although Jack is still active in the leadership of the brand. The first step of that process was set in motion when Bryon was promoted to COO in 2013, and the job and title of President was added in 2014. Jack remains CEO in 2015, with Bryon thoroughly immersed in every aspect of the Marco’s Pizza® brand.
We asked Bryon to share thoughts about the pizza franchisor’s fast growth and asked him what it’s going to take for the company to keep up the pace.
How would you characterize the growth at Marco’s Pizza®?
We are in a very rapid growth phase for our brand. We currently sit at 630 stores. If you look at the past five years, we’ve had a compound and annual growth rate of more than 30 percent. We are on a trajectory to maintain that growth rate for the next three to five years.
What type of franchisees are you attracting at Marco’s Pizza®?
We are attracting a lot of multi-unit franchisees from other brands. We have seen a number of people come out of the sandwich chains like Subway, or from other pizza brands. We also have our own franchisees who are continuing to make renewed investments in the brand by opening additional stores.
We also draw from a general audience of potential franchisees. Many are interested in leaving their job in corporate America and owning their own business.
Are you seeing any younger franchisees?
We have a lot of parents with young adults within that 24- to 30-year-old age range. Their kids want to operate the businesses, and the parents — who have had some financial success — want to make an investment in a business. They like the investment, and they like supporting their kids in these kinds of endeavors.
Is there a common characteristic of a person who becomes a franchisee?
We are looking for people who have very outgoing personalities — people who are capable and who really like motivating other people and being a part of a community — people who can go into a room full of people and shake hands and meet families. A Marco’s Pizza® restaurant is very much community-based. We need to become relevant in the lives of the people in the neighborhoods we serve.
When you own a pizza store, you serve a community of people who live within about a two-mile radius around your store. You have to become knowledgeable about the lives of your customers — in other words, where they live, work, shop, and play. You get engaged with baseball, softball, and soccer teams. You make friends with the PTA. You cater their office events and their neighborhood get-togethers. It’s all about where your lives intersect and how you can support each other.
What are you looking forward to in 2015? Any predictions?
We will continue to maintain very robust growth at Marco’s Pizza. We should add somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 to 200 stores.
There is a lot of movement in the fast-casual pizza sector. We believe consumers are going to continue to look for an enhanced culinary experience from the traditional pizza players, so we will continue our culinary research and development that has set Marco’s Pizza® apart from the chain pizza companies.
We are going to continue to invest heavily in technology. Technology is “battleground central” in the quick-service restaurant segment. It’s about how you engage socially and digitally with your consumers, but also about how they order and interface with the brand. Technology is going to be a huge focus, and there will be major advancements in our technology platforms as we continue to evolve to keep pace with the changes in the marketplace.
How will Marco’s Pizza continue to grow its loyal base of customers?
We are positioning the brand to be a quality pizza player in a sea of sameness in the pizza category. Marco’s Pizza wants to stand out as “Simply the Best” pizza, as did our founder Pat Giammarco when he started the company. Consumers tell us day-in and day-out they are not wowed by most of the pizza choices, but they do love Marco’s Pizza.
I liken it to what happened with hamburger chains. There was this sea of sameness in the fast-food scene — McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s. They all had their niche, but no one was doing anything dramatically different. Enter brands such as In-N-Out Burger and Five Guys, and there’s now a new niche called the “better burger” category. It didn’t exist a few years ago, and now there are a lot of players in that segment. We feel that’s the niche that Marco’s Pizza fills in the pizza world. We don’t want to be just known for pizza, we want to be known as a player at the top of the “better pizza” category.