Before CEO Jack Butorac climbed on stage to give the presentation for Marco's Pizza, his brand had already performed. The previous night, Franchise Finance & Development Conference attendee Jenn Onnen of Hot Dish, who was feeling under the weather, asked a group about her chances of getting a decent meal from the hotel's room service. Like any marketing guy worth his salt, Cameron Cummins, vice president of franchise marketing and recruitment for Marco's, asked, "Do you like pizza?" Within minutes he had his cell out, dialing the closest franchisee who promised to deliver a pizza by the time Onnen left the cocktail reception and made the trek back to her room. Not bad service for a franchise located 20 miles from the Vegas strip.
And the pizza? "Great," she reported the next morning.
When Butorac, a franchise veteran of such concepts as Fuddruckers, Chi-Chi's and Tumbleweed, came to Marco's to assess taking the 30-year-old chain national, he looked at what differentiated the brand from others in the crowded segment.
What he discovered, he says, is that it is the only franchise that can claim to be the authentic pie from Italy. The founder of the chain, Pat Giammarco, moved to the U.S. from Italy when he was 4. As a teen he worked at the local pizza parlor only to discover the pizza they were serving was nothing like grandma used to make.
He opened his first restaurant in 1978 in Toledo, Ohio. His modus operandi is the same today: fresh dough made daily in every store, three types of cheeses that are never frozen and his grandmother's sauce recipe. Or what the new crew is calling "Ah! thentic Italian Pizza."
When Butorac took over, he also looked at the competition. While the top four chains accounted for 50 percent of the pizza industry, he claims consumers weren't totally happy with them. Pizza, he says, is a universal product, so it's no wonder there's a huge following for it. "Kids would rather have pizza than anything else," he says, adding, "The only ones who don't eat pizza are the very, very wealthy and the very, very poor. It's a great value."
Once he decided the mission was a go, he says he put together a great team, including Cummins, who was previously a brand manager for Lexus luxury brand. Convincing franchise veterans to move to Toledo, Ohio, was not easy, he admits, but offering equity to key people did the trick. "Have the right people," he says. "If you don't, you're not going to grow right. Then empower them to do their jobs."
One of the first things they tackled was upgrading the image of the chain. "We wanted the perception of quality because we have a quality product," he says. They held weekly focus meetings to be sure everyone was on the same page. "We have 11 key management (people) who are now on the same page – maybe not the same sentence, because we all have differing views or opinions," he says.
At press time, the chain had 160 stores in operations with 574 more in
development, with deals varying from five to seven years to develop. An additional, 204 stores are pending, Butorac says.