DQ boss likes the word ‘accountable’
Your company Fourteen Foods went from seven locations in 2006 to 180 in 2016. How did you gain momentum for that massive growth?
I saw that there were not many multi-unit operators in the Dairy Queen system. So there was an opportunity to do that in the Upper Midwest here. I started buying and acquiring individual units and built a couple along the way.
• First worked as a GM at the family’s first Dairy Queen franchise in Minnesota, then took over seven locations in 2006.
• Grew mostly through acquisitions to 180 locations, including a purchase of Dairy Queen’s corporate locations.
• Has stores in AL, FL, IN, IA, KY, MN, NE, SD, TN and WI.
How do you absorb that incredible growth in the corporate office?
We’ve doubled in size every year from 2006 to 2012. And we grew a lot of people from within. Most of my core executive team came from a purchase in 2008.
We look for people who want to be with us not just because we have a job open but be a part of our culture in that we’re faith-based and family-owned—they want to be part of the team for the values and the culture or because we’re openly Christian and we’re proud of that.
How do you grow people along with the company?
We’re big on accountability and empowerment at all levels. We set real clear expectations for folks so they know what they have to do to be successful. I think that’s a key element for helping people grow—really providing for them what defines success, then holding them accountable. Some people think it’s a negative word. We see it as a positive thing, you’re accountable for your actions and your performance.
You’re pretty unique among franchisees of your size in that you’re all in on one brand. Why is that?
We have looked at other brands, and we always do. But really we see great opportunities at Dairy Queen and want to keep working on that. We have the rights to a lot of new markets in the Southeast. For us, it’s been a focus piece. We want to focus on what we’re doing instead of putting that energy into a new brand—we’ve got enough on our plate.
What’s been the best period in the business?
The most notable turning point has been $5 lunch. We used to just be a treat player. Because of that it was a lot harder to maintain financial viability 12 months of the year because you do 75 percent of your revenue in four months. So that’s really smoothed out some of the seasonality ... to become a 12-month QSR player, not a seasonal ice cream player.
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 special skill do you think is necessary to grow to your level?
The ability to handle a large amount of information, I think that’s the big thing as a multi-unit operator. There are so many disseminating units and they all have so much information, so understanding how to make that information make sense and work can be powerful. Knowing what’s important and what’s not, that’s just instinctual for me.
What advice do you have for young franchisees?
Just look at that cash flow. I think a lot of operators say I want to open another restaurant because they want more restaurants. But they should be saying, ‘Is this profitable to be opening more restaurants or can I make the same amount of money and just work twice as hard?’ We often buy franchisees out, and it’s interesting, a lot of them are going to two or three units and making the same amount of money as they would if they just worked harder at the first one.