At Firehouse Subs, it all comes back to the food, says Greg Delks, director of franchise development. “We serve the highest quality meats and cheeses, hearty portions, and hot subs, with ingredients steamed to lock in moisture and melt the cheese, then placed on a toasted sub roll. And we’ve got our signature Hook and Ladder sub,” he says, noting no one else has anything like it.
And with that signature sandwich begins brand differentiation. “Firehouse Subs is not about a theme, it is about a heritage. The company was founded by brothers Chris and Robin Sorensen, who come from 200 years of firefighting heritage in their family,” Delks says, and that heritage infuses every aspect of the Firehouse Subs brand.
When it comes to finding the right Firehouse Subs franchise candidates, the area representative (AR) model works best for the company. “ARs are invested in a market, and they are the people that new franchisees will be dealing with consistently, hopefully for the next 20 years. We know they provide a higher degree of support,” Delks says. “Our ARs are franchisees and CEOs of their own territories and share in the royalties from their markets. They provide training and support for franchisees.”
ARs respond more quickly and are familiar with the territories their franchisees are operating their businesses in.
Franchisees must have a passion for Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation, which puts a local face on the restaurant in the community. “We give back through our Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation. To date we have given more than $3.5 million dollars worth of equipment to communities in 22 states,” Delks says, and the company makes it easy by collecting change in the restaurants and selling its empty five-gallon pickle buckets.
Firehouse Subs continues to grow. “We are pretty simple thinkers when it comes to growth,” Delks says. “We take a disciplined approach to the way we grow. Two things are critically important: the right person and the right location.” The right person does not necessarily need to have restaurant experience, he or she just needs to exude the passion found throughout the Firehouse Subs culture.
Firehouse Subs has a marketing board of directors made up of elected franchisees, area representatives, and a company representative. “We recognize the board of directors as the voice of the franchisee community,” Delks says. For that matter, the parent company is the biggest franchisee, with 30 restaurants in Florida, where menu development and other new programs are tested first. “We walk the walk,” he says. “We are in the trenches just like every franchisee is every day.”
“2011 was a record year. We welcomed 82 new franchisees, 10 ARs, and opened 85 new restaurants. The recession was a challenge, but we stayed the course and did not change anything about our brand. We believe that if we offer hearty and flavorful food and heartfelt service, the customers will come back.” They do.
“Although growth is strong, it remains disciplined,” Delks says. “If 45 area representatives open just three stores each, that is nearly 150 new stores, and we haven’t even broken a sweat from the infrastructure standpoint.” The company target? 2000 locations by 2020.
“As we grow, we are maintaining our culture and our heritage. Any potential franchisees are going to have hundreds of questions before they make a commitment to a brand, and they should,” Delks says. “We pride ourselves on our due diligence and making sure our franchisees know what they are buying. For us it is not about selling one more restaurant. It is about selling one more successful restaurant.”
For more information about franchising opportunities with Firehouse Subs, visit www.firehousesubs.com.