Franchising | May 2013 | By Robert Thomas

Lessons in Longevity

Veteran Wienerschnitzel franchisee Paul Hironimus knows what it takes to keep the business fresh and profitable over the decades.

Franchisee Paul Hironimus grew Wienerschnitzel business over decades.
Franchisee Paul Hironimus has been with Wienerschnitzel since 1965. Wienerschnitzel
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Paul Hironimus turned 80 years old in January. Like so many other franchisees, Hironimus, a Long Beach City College graduate, began his professional career outside the quick-service industry, serving as a draftsman in Los Angeles.

Nine years after graduating, in the early ’60s, Hironimus took an interest in Wienerschnitzel, which had just opened shop. And since 1965, he has maintained a successful portfolio of franchised units.

With his son, Ken, Hironimus manages four Wienerschnitzel units in Los Angeles and Orange County, California. Even with his impressive tenure and success with the brand, he still makes it into the office every day and continues to run the business as usual.

Here, Hironimus shares his experience and the back-to-basics tips that have helped him achieve lasting success as a franchisee.

1. Roll with the changes

When I first joined the company in 1965, [late founder John Galardi] had a total of nine stores open. I remember opening my first store and selling only three different types of hot dogs, along with drinks that were sold at 10 or 20 cents.

Even with all the changes throughout the years, I think my success has boiled down to Wienerschnitzel being a great brand to be a part of and simply doing the work that needs to be done. It’s been really exciting to see the brand grow and be a part of that.

My relationship with the franchisor has never been negative, which has been a big help. Occasionally, the brand would roll out a product that I might not have liked or didn’t think would actually sell, but I never had the experience or desire to go and bang down the door and expect more or better. Some franchisees today could benefit by just focusing on their part and letting the franchisor take care of the rest.

2. Start smart (and with some extra cash)

I’ve seen a lot of franchisees start out and not have enough cash flow in the beginning. The business will not be where you want it to be on your ideal timeline. Have some money in the bank to hold you over until the business builds up its potential. On the other hand, I’ve seen a lot of franchisees open a store and have success pretty early on in their career. Where they get into trouble is when the business sinks because of an external factor like the economy or new standards. They’ve spent a ton of their money already, whether it is for other business ventures or even just a new house or car, and they don’t have that financial security when the business takes a turn.

Don’t overextend yourself when it comes to your finances. It took me a long time to see the business as a profitable venture, and I was lucky. Some bite off too much at the start, get discouraged, and leave the business. Press on during those times.

3. Establish your own ways

Through the years, it seems like I’ve had every job title or responsibility this industry has to offer. That being said, I still think one of the biggest challenges for a franchisee is staffing. Trying to get the right people in the right positions is always difficult, especially when it comes to managerial positions. You almost have to put on a different hat for each type of manager. In one store, you have a certain personality type to deal with, and a different one in another store down the road. Don’t group all employees, especially managers, together with regard to how they are treated. You have to cater to their personality and tap into their styles and interests when it comes to doing their job.

Given its very nature and the amount of time you need to devote to accomplishing it, the process can be very daunting.

One technique or practice I implemented starting out—and continue to use—is a bonus system that spreads from the counter staff all the way up to the supervisors. It’s nothing complex; it’s mostly a formula based on food, labor, and shortages. It has worked both for me and for my staff ever since I started in franchising.

Remember that these are the people you, or your managers, have chosen to run operations in the day-to-day business. Treat them with that mentality in mind all the time.

4. Know that there is no magical formula

Franchisees should always focus the most time and energy on operations. It’s hard to lose money in this industry if you don’t have high food costs or high costs of labor. If you can keep those under control, you’re going to be OK.

I still focus on operations every day. My son, who is the general manager for my units, spends a lot of time with the staff and hiring, and allows me to do a lot of the office work necessary to see how and where the business is going.

Finally, I’ve been blessed enough to not have a secret or magic formula that has caused me to be where I am today. It’s mostly come down to not sitting back and letting the business get rundown. Whatever needs to be done gets done, and most of the time by my hands specifically. It comes down to hard work and concentration.

Do you have tips you'd like to share with other franchisees? E-mail them to FranForum@qsrmagazine.com.