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QSR Interview | By Sherri Daye Scott

Another View
But why did that particular difference of opinion become so public? Why aren’t we hearing about Pizza Hut’s franchise disagreements?

Pizza Hut has a very good relationship with its franchisees one on one. They don’t have the volume of franchisees that Burger King has to deal with. There are individuals who have been at Pizza Hut for a very long period of time. The relationship is much stronger.

It’s been a revolving door at Burger King. The franchisee community has, ever since I’ve been in the system, promoted the brand. But when the direction of that promotion changes every 18 months it becomes difficult to have a sustainable relationship. At the point that Burger King has a more solidified, long-term relationship with the franchise group you’ll see that some of that will dissipate.

What’s your take on the move toward healthier offerings in quick-serve?

I think there are two extremes to it. There is definitely going to be the health-conscious consumer who is going to look for quick service in a healthy way. And then there are still going to be consumers who love and appreciate their fries.

Our marketing department has had the opportunity to do independent surveys with some of our consumers. A lot the consumers said, “Look, when I come to fast food and I order a shake and I order fries, I know what I’m ordering. I love it, I appreciate it. I might not do it everyday or as much as I did 10–15 years ago, but there is a desire in me to have it, and I am going to go get it.”

You’re going to have two extremes: the health-conscious individual who will look at the fat content and the calorie content, and then you’re going to have individuals who say, “I appreciate good food and might have to work a little harder tonight to shake it off.”

What’s happening in pizza?

The Pizza Hut brand is a great brand. I am extremely proud to be a Pizza Hut franchisee. I’ve been a Burger King franchisee for over 20 years. When people say Valerie Carter, they say Queen of Burger King, that kind of thing. But Pizza Hut has allowed our company to get into a marketplace, Upstate New York, in all kinds of areas—rural areas, suburban areas, inner-market areas, urban areas—and really develop the brand. We are now working with Pizza Hut to build some of their Pizza Hut/Wing Street concepts. I am excited about that opportunity.

Will those co-branded units offer delivery service?

We’re going to do it both ways. We’re kicking it off this year. We’re going to do it both in the dine-in and the delivery units.

How are V&J-owned Pizza Huts competing with independent pizzerias in your markets?

That is the greatest challenge in pizza, especially in Upstate New York, where we located. As you can imagine, that’s pizza heaven up there.

It goes back to the delivery of service. We try to instill within our managers that: “As long as you’re delivering a wow service and the best possible experience that customers can have, they’ll be back.” But I got to tell you, our food is just as good, if not better.

Which new brands have caught your eye?

There are a number. If I said one, the other would say, “Now, why is she looking at that one.” I think I better stay out of that pool with you today.

We get a number of calls on a monthly basis to come look at different brands. We’re very selective. We look very hard and very serious at the potential of any brand that is in the marketplace. But right now we’re just trying to sustain and grow our current book of business. If opportunity avails itself we will certainly look at it.

Is there any one segment you expect to grow rapidly?

I’ll tell you who is going to win the battle: franchisors who have the ability to have a broader diversity of menu styles. Not a lot of stuff on their menu but menu styles.

Any advice to franchisors looking to develop high-performing franchisees?

You would do well if you look for individuals who have a commitment to this industry. You’re going to have a bad year, but if you’re committed to the industry you’re going to bounce back the next year. If you have a bad year and you’re not really committed to the brand, or the execution of the delivery of the brand you’re going to think twice about whether or not you want to continue to do this. This is such a difficult industry to manage.

I have—and I have to always champion them—some of the greatest employees in the world. Not only do I live today for myself, I live today for them and their families. When I wake up in the morning, I know that everything I do affects 3,500 individuals directly. If it’s an average family with three or four people in the family that even multiplies my responsibility. I think about that each and every day.

Last year, we built the first African-American youth center in Wisconsin, a 160,000-square-foot building. It houses a medical clinic, a Boys and Girls Club, and two schools (K-12). It’s designed to empower people. And that’s the goal of V&J—to provide opportunity for people to be empowered.

If franchisors look for somebody like that, they’ll be successful.

And what should would-be franchisees look for in a franchisor?

A franchisor that would attract someone like me would be a franchisor that understands both of its customers—the franchisee and the consumer buying the product; has the ability to develop and grow programming in order to keep the brand strong; and, this is key and critical, someone that has a strategic plan and a diverse conscious. Many people have a diversity statement, but they don’t have the spirit or consciousness of diversity. And of course, [you want] someone with the economic ability to sustain growth and follow trends within the marketplace.

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QSR Editor Sherri Daye Scott wrote May 2006’s cover story on Chick-fil-A.
QSR subscribers: get the answers to these questions and more in your June issue!!
  • Which brand is V&J’s growth focused on right now?
  • Training and retaining hourly staff are top-of-the-mind issues for much of the hospitality industry. How are you addressing them within V&J?
  • Most of your stores are in the Great Lakes and Northeast. Are you seeing a rise in the number of applicants who speak English as a second language in those markets?
  • How are you directing the training and hiring of those workers?
  • How might the IPO have a positive effect on the stores you operate?
  • Does the National Franchisee Association of Burger King (NFABK) have an official position on the IPO?
  • Is V&J Holdings successful in this industry because you are active in your franchisee groups or are you active because you are successful and need to protect your interests?
  • How has the industry changed since you first became involved?
  • What is the pizza consumer saying he/she wants right now?
  • What is your short-term outlook on the quick-service industry as a whole?
  • Value menus have returned. What is your take on them?
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