Three brands to one for Moe’s operator
You weren’t a corporate refugee and didn’t tap wealthy family and friends. How did you get those first locations off the ground?
We started back in 2008. I ran into the first Moe’s in Connecticut and could see myself in there. We started with an SBA loan; the first seven to eight stores were all SBA loans. We kind of had no other choice. The SBA is a blessing and a curse—it’s a blessing because guys like us could get a loan. The curse was what you go through when you’re getting them. We kept asking banks if we could get traditional financing and everyone said no. The turning point was 2013 ... We got a call around the six-location mark saying that we could get a credit line. That was when we kind of arrived. But with us opening 23 stores in the first nine years, we did whatever we needed to do.
You had both Mooyah and Wingstop, but you sold those two brands. Why?
We jumped into Mooyah when the better-burger craze was coming. But where we were going to develop was kind of up in the air. We learned fast that when you get into a brand you want to grow, you want to get the rights to the area, and we hadn’t. And when we opened Wingstop, the first question was, “Do you deliver?” When we opened Moe’s, they never asked that. If it gets to a point where the need for delivery outweighs the need for customization, you need to rework the model.
What was your biggest lesson in labor management?
When trying to get the most out of employees, rewarding versus threatening always seems to be better. Everyone wants to win and be recognized.
How did you come to that realization?
We wanted to get these customer surveys. We went out and said, “Guys, we want to lead the charge here for Moe’s.” So it started out as whoever gets the highest mean score, you get an extra $100. Whoever gets the highest score gets $500. If you don’t hit the mean, then you have the potential to lose the entire bonus. Everyone freaked out, everyone. So we got rid of the losing potential part of the plan. When we got rid of that, everyone took a breath and everyone hit the marks hard.
Staff writer Nicholas Upton asks what makes multi-unit operators tick—and presents their slightly edited answers in this column in each issue. To suggest a subject, email email@example.com.
What makes a good restaurant franchisee?
I definitely think overall nothing comes easy. It’s all about attention to detail. It’s a collaboration of working with the brand and consistency. It’s understanding cash flow management, and understanding relationships. Above all you’ve got to have a passion for this industry.
And you suggest starting small. Why is that?
You get a lot of on-the-job learning and training. I think it was very important coming up from nothing and coming in and having to make that work so that your family could eat and learning every position in the operation along the way. That forces you to understand the metrics, what is realistic, what isn’t, and also have the empathy of what everyone is going through every day.
What’s your advice to others?
We consider our best partner to be the community in which we serve—we never forget that. At some point the brand gets well known, but in the beginning, you’ve got to work with the community. That’s a huge, huge part of kicking off any brand in any area when you’re new. At some point the brand takes on its own name. But name doesn’t mean anything in the beginning.