Culver’s ‘zee diversifies with Blaze, in Multi-Unit Mindset
How did you get your start in franchising?
When my kids were little my husband refused to eat fast food and we’d drive a half hour to get to a Culver’s. And we’d see our neighbors there and we thought there was something to that. So I opened my first one in the small town of Ripon, Wisconsin, and my second in Green Bay.
You’re at nine now and going strong. Why jump into a new brand?
I love the product, but to be honest it’s getting very expensive. Culver’s is still building large buildings with a lot of commercial property so I wanted to diversify and try a different model—it’s a smaller footprint and a lower cost of entry.
I think the two business models complement each other.
It’s a tricky time to build with any brand, how are you making it easier?
If you’re going to grow, you need to have people you can trust; you don’t want to start from scratch on every project. I had a bad builder relationship and that soured me for a while. I have a great relationship with some subcontractors; they take care of me and take a lot off my plate.
How did you cozy up with your vendors?
I spent a lot of time on-site with contractors while the projects were going up, they saw me and saw my face and I showed up at the pre-construction meetings. The first project was pretty hands on and you learn to work together. It’s the same with a bank. Finding a good banker is really key there. I like using smaller local banks; they take care of me.
The other trick today is labor, how do you manage the human capital when growing?
Treat people well. I’m very fortunate that in this high turnover industry to have people who have been with me 10, 15 years. We try to go above and beyond the industry, we have benefits, we have company cars. You take care of them, they’ll take care of you. In 2008 I had a brain tumor and had to miss six months of work, and everyone just stood up and came together.
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.
How does that affect the day-to-day business?
One of the best comments my husband has given me is, ‘I can feel you here. I can feel Dianne here.’ If they like you and respect you and they know you, they want to come to work. It’s high stress and not generous so, you have to do that.
How do they factor into this new growth?
For me, it’s about how many people I have and I need opportunities for them, so as long as I have great people I’ll continue to grow.
I’m fine where I am, I won’t go hungry, but I have all these people and I want to develop them.
There’s a lot of competition in fast-casual pizza; how do you hope to stand out?
It is a crowded field, but when I was looking for another concept, Blaze really stood out. They have the fresh dough, they have a real quality difference and that’s the same thing I saw in Culver’s.
And you can choose all your own toppings for the same price. My mother was the first one to tell me about that. We’re very value conscious in Wisconsin, so I think the guest will appreciate that.