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Is your HQ mindset so old it’s mossy?


Nicholas Upton

Isn’t it great when juicy rumors turn out to be true? While walking around Detroit and conducting interviews along the way this spring, there was no denying change was afoot in the gritty Motor City.

I saw streets torn up for new train tracks, cranes assembling a new commercial high-rise, snazzy boutique stores replacing cobwebs and, from what I heard, a large, multinational company had secret plans to build a new headquarters/R&D center in the city’s resurgent center.  

Ever faithful to my readers, I pushed, poked and prodded my sources, but never found out what company had its eyes on Detroit—but I was delighted months later when I learned Little Caesars was the mysterious company expanding its home on the edge of downtown.

Franchising is big business, but few people outside our bubble know it. Many of the industry’s biggest brands and largest franchisees are based out in the burbs, hidden away in labyrinthine office parks where no outsiders go. This should change.

The quintessential example, of course, is McDonald’s, which recently announced plans to load up the family and move into downtown Chicago from the western suburbs. Could the definition of corporate America finally score some cool points?

Moving into the hot West Loop neighborhood with a view of Willis Tower and a short walk to a multi-story Whole Foods, CEO Steve Easterbrook said the new office would ensure “great talent is excited about where they work.”

Little Caesars

Anytime Fitness

Above, the Little Caesars Global Resource Center will open in Detroit in 2018. Below, the glassy atrium at Anytime Fitness’ new home in Woodbury, Minnesota.

Some see the fast-food giant’s move as a means of booting its older employees into early retirement, but whatever the truth, it highlights the rationale of catering to younger and future employees. Plenty of companies are headquartered near the boss’ house with little thought given to employee attraction and retention, but that mindset has grown so old it’s mossy.

By supporting city centers and boosting their own visibility, Little Caesars’ and McDonald’s new headquarters are models for the rest of the franchise industry to get out of the shadows, be a visible part of the community and relocate to where the energy and millennials are—the city!

Rebuilding Detroit

Little Caesars’ has been based in the floors above Detroit’s Fox Theater, an art-deco masterpiece, since 1989. Early this year, the company announced plans to build a new nine-story headquarters in an adjacent parking lot on Woodward Avenue. Little Caesars Global Resource Center will be Detroit’s first new corporate headquarters in more than 10 years.

Four minutes south of Sweet Lorraine’s Mac n’ Brewz, our cover story for the May 2016 issue, this new HQ is another victory for The District Detroit neighborhood that’s booming with an influx of restaurants and boutiques, warehouse conversions, the upcoming QLINE train line that will connect Wayne State University with downtown, and Little Caesars Arena that will house Red Wings when it opens in 2017.

Little Caesars CEO Dave Scrivano is jazzed for the new 234,000-square-foot structure and its triangular formed glass exterior that he calls “pizza glass.”

“We’re literally right in the middle of all the pro sports action in Detroit,” he said. “The opera house is down the street, the Detroit Masonic Temple theater is right up the street and, of course, the resurgence of restaurants and retail that’s coming to The District Detroit—it’s a wonderful, vibrant atmosphere to be a part of.”

Scrivano said staying in its current neighborhood rather than moving to the suburbs was an easy decision given the company owners’ massive investments in Detroit’s downtown area over the last few decades.

“The hard decision came in the 1980s when [company owners] Mike and Marian Ilitch decided to move downtown when everybody else was leaving Detroit,” he said.

“Many have said if it wasn’t for the Ilitches, we’re not sure what would be left of downtown, but because they made that hard decision it made my decision very easy to expand our world headquarters campus in Detroit.”

As Little Caesars keeps growing its headcount, the new HQ has room for 700 employees, a test kitchen and 425-seat training space for incoming franchisees.

Scrivano said abundant natural light and outdoor spaces, beyond the built-in benefits of proximity, will help the company recruit the best graduates from the many nearby universities and beyond.

“Where else but in the city can you walk outside and be in the midst of 3 million fans that go to Comerica Park or hundreds of thousands of people attending theater shows?” he asked. “As you’re leaving work, you’re a part of the hustle-bustle of the theater districts and restaurants that you don’t find anywhere else but in the city.”

The company requested and received no public financing for the new building. After breaking ground in July, the Little Caesars Global Resource Center will open in 2018.

Best of both worlds

As winter melted down into spring this year, Anytime Fitness moved into a new 100,000 square foot headquarters on the edge of a wetland on the east side of the Twin Cities. Equal parts new and old thinking, its new campus is a juxtaposition of cutting-edge office design and quintessential Minnesotan wilderness.

Suiting the company’s healthy mantra, its three floors are named Soul, Mind and Heart. Inside, there are coffee and juice bars, a huge gym with a massage chair, vintage arcade games and an in-house tattoo parlor. Walking and bike paths lead to a woodsy amphitheater, and large windows literally tempt its 190 employees to get outside for a walk, ride or run, or to hold meetings outside on the deck with a railing designed to accommodate frosty pint glasses.

Anytime’s previous home, 20 minutes south, was a brutal drive for employees living on the far side of the Twin Cities, which hurt recruitment. Its new headquarters is at the end of a wooded, dead-end road, but inside a key freeway intersection linking this fast-growing company to workers in any part the metro area.

CEO Chuck Runyon said the new office has already boosted recruitment efforts, and allowed the fast-growing company to close its downtown St. Paul IT office opened solely to recruit high-demand tech workers. He loves the natural-but-accessible surroundings that also make it easy to bring in training franchisees while giving them a taste of the local environment.

“They’re coming from all over the world, so we want them to get a sense of what Minnesota is all about,” he added. “We’re an indoor and outdoor type of state, and it’s also what our brand stands for.”

Walking Anytime’s new hallways on my tour, I peered around corners, found workers enjoying solitary time in various collaboration zones and periodically stopped to check out the amazing, natural views. This sort of stuff works on me.

I previously spent 10 years commuting to a far-flung office park and know the financial, emotional and physical toll of a life spent in traffic. Even with a good job, I searched long and hard for one with a shorter commute and a positive culture. Lucky for me, I found an even better job 10 minutes away from my house, and now Franchise Times has me right where it wants me.

Tom Kaiser, pictured on opposite page, is associate editor of Franchise Times, and writes this column about urban trends in franchising in each issue. Reach him at tkaiser@franchisetimes.com.

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