Master franchisee has big plans for expanding Marco’s presence in the Caribbean, with 50+ locations on the way
Before Terry Tsavoussis and his brother partnered in six Marco’s Pizza franchises in the Bahamas — five in Nassau, one in Freeport — he already had a long history in the restaurant business, including a stint as a Domino’s franchisee. “I’ve been in the QSR segment for 30-plus years,” Tsavoussis says. “Today, my brother and I own Wendy’s, Marco’s, and Popeye’s, and they’re all in the Bahamas.” He invested in Marco’s in 2009, and he loves where the brand is headed. In this Marco’s Franchise Review, he talks about his journey and what’s next.
How many units do you own?
My brother and I own six units in The Bahamas, five are in Nassau, one is in Freeport. We are the master franchisee for the Caribbean, which encompasses 26 Caribbean countries. We have 54 signed franchisees, with over 35 of those already open and operating. We plan to fully develop the remaining stores by the end of 2021.
What were you doing before you became a Marco’s Pizza franchisee?
I’ve been in the QSR segment for 30-plus years. Domino’s was my first foray into the quick service restaurant business; I sold my Domino’s in 2000. In 2005, my brother and I acquired Wendy’s and built that from six stores to 12. Then we started looking at doing pizza again. We wanted to bring other brands so that we could get more out of our investment in our operations. We own our own distribution center, our own administrative offices. The way to bring those costs down is to bring other brands in to bring in revenue. We brought in Marco’s at the time, and then the third brand we brought in was Popeye’s.
How did you learn about Marco’s?
Around 2008, we were looking for a pizza brand. I had sold Domino’s many, many years prior, and Pizza Hut and Papa John’s had been in this market but had not done well. I was at my home in Tampa — I spend about 95% of my time in The Bahamas but I have a home in Florida — reading through Nation’s Restaurant News and at the very back there was a tiny little ad. It said “Marco’s Pizza, fastest growing pizza company in the U.S.” I was intrigued. There happened to be four of them in Tampa. I went and I visited the store. I mean, I’m a pizza guy. The first thing I did was I went on my own, I tried the cheese pizza, and I was blown away. The product was just so good. Then, I got my wife and my kids to try it, and I forced them to try only cheese, and they loved it. Then, I got my brother to try it. That’s how that all started.
We opened our first store in the Bahamas in 2009. Four weeks into it our sales rose dramatically. We still hold the Marco’s world record for most sales in one week.
The brand has obviously changed tremendously since you first joined. How do you feel today about the direction of the brand?
I feel great about the direction today. Keep in mind, I’ve been in this game for 10-plus years. I knew this chain had legs. I knew that based on the quality of the products, and the simplicity of the menu, that it was going to go to thousands of locations. I said that in 2008. Marco’s corporate wanted to grow it very quickly. When Tony (Libardi) came on, Tony had a different view of, “Look, we need to focus on building quality relationships with franchisees.” That’s what they’ve done, I think, in the last five years, and I think it’s made a big difference. I think we’re on the right path now, and they’re doing it the right way.
Why Marco’s, as opposed to another brand? What makes this a good investment?
Again, it’s the simplicity of it. I think it’s basically the quality of the product, the dough made fresh every day. I’m an ex-Domino’s guy. That was never the case. We had to build our own commissary, so you were making dough offsite. At the time, when we sold Domino’s, we had eight locations. We were producing dough in these 250-quart mixers. You made a couple bad batches, and it hit five different stores. The quality control wasn’t as good, I think, as if you do it every day, in the store, small batches, that’s number one. Number two, the sauce is very, very, very good. The blend of three cheeses is fresh, never frozen. Those are basics that go a long way, in my opinion. That’s what drove me to the brand.
What was key to building the brand in the Caribbean?
There weren’t many Marco’s in 2009. We were taking a risk, because they didn’t know the brand in The Bahamas, but we knew our customers. We knew that if the quality was there, they’d keep coming.
We’ve really focused on customer service and PSI (production-sales-inventory). To this day we still do. Obviously, we’ve got a lot of opportunities. We do a much better job than our competitors, and that’s key.
The pizza industry is highly competitive here now. Papa John’s is back in the market. Little Caesars has joined the market here. Pizza Hut came back. But we still lead the pack. The six stores we have are in the top 10 every week.
We can always improve on our service, but we pay attention to that. We pay attention to the basics: load times, out-the-door times, trying to minimize very late deliveries. It’s difficult in this market, because the other problem we have in Nassau is, it’s a very small island. It’s 21 miles by 7 miles, and we’ve got 200,000 cars on the road. You’re always in a traffic jam somewhere. We don’t have the big third-party aggregates here either like Uber Eats or Postmates or DoorDash. We have to do it ourselves. I mean, I’ve got about 120 drivers between six stores.
When you look back over your years with Marco’s, do you recall a moment where you just said to yourself, “Yes, I am so glad that I invested in this franchise.” Did you have an ah-ha moment?
Since the first week, our sales have exceeded our own goals, and by the fourth week we hit a sales record that still stands. That was the ah-ha moment for me. That was February of 2010. Ever since then, it’s just been trying to improve, trying to get better at everything we do, and trying to increase sales and profitability.
Is there anything that you would want a prospective buyer to know about the Marco’s investment?
What I would say to any prospective franchisee is, you’re still getting it on the ground floor. This brand has a ton of legs. You’re getting in before 1,000 stores have opened. This brand, in my opinion, is going to grow to 3,000, 4,000, 5,000 stores in the next 10 years. I knew that it would snowball at some point. The goal is to open 150 stores a year, and before you know it, that’s going to keep increasing and increasing.
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