3 “Slow and steady,” Jimmy John Liautaud says about growth at his eponymous sandwich company. “It’s been a 32-year overnight success, right? All of a sudden we’re on the map.” Jimmy John’s recent growth rate, however, defies that description—74 percent revenue growth and 38 percent unit growth in the past three years, remarkable for a mature brand reaching $2 billion in systemwide sales.
Jimmy John Liautaud
He insists one key is his lack of schooling. “The blessing was I had no education, so I never knew how to make a business plan. So as a result I couldn’t get loans, so I grew with my own cash. My naivete ended up being a blessing in disguise, because I always lived below my means and did everything with cash.” He also only sells one store to franchisees at first. “I really want to make sure that you want to do what we want you to do, and that you love what it is that we do. Because if you don’t love what we do, this thing will destroy you. It will beat the living crap out of you,” he says. “But if you feed on this lifestyle, it’s the greatest brand that is.”
He insists he’s as engaged as ever and well set for capital, having extended his deal with Weston Presidio, the private equity firm that took a minority stake in Jimmy John’s in 2007, despite perennial speculation that he’ll take the company public and exit. What are his plans for 2014? “To press it up. To do more of what we do. You have to stay relevant,” he says. “As I get older, I would never have dreamed 25 years ago that a man would put an earring in his ear. And now I see men have an earring in each ear. As soon as I start getting lazy or not being relevant I’m going to lose it.”