“We like to say that having been in business for 40 years, there’s an entire generation we’ve introduced to Mexican food,” says Taco John’s president Barry Sims.
The company, 97 percent franchised, is happy with its heavily franchised model. “We’ve always felt very comfortable growing this way,” says Sims. “The franchisees have a true voice in our strategic direction.
“It would be difficult to test new menu items or new equipment without enlisting the help of the franchisees.” A franchisee is responsible, in fact, for one of the company’s most successful items, the Meat and Potato Burrito, on the menu for more than ten years.
Taco John’s makes the collaboration work through its key franchisee committees, which address everything from business operations to menu development to marketing. Posts are held by franchisees, either voted in by peers or appointed by corporate.
“We have a lot of hands-on owner/operators,” says Sims. “We have a tremendous amount of community awareness because of that. There’s a real hometown connection.”
Once franchisees are on board, they consult as needed with the company’s franchise business consultants. “Franchisee success is our success,” says Sims. “We have one franchise business consultant for every 40 restaurants. They serve as an independent set of eyes to help the franchisee improve the business and stay true to the brand.
“Our support is without question on par with larger chains. We have operators who also have franchises with larger chains, and they tell us our support and our materials are as good as anything they get from larger national players.”
Prospective franchisees spend a day at the Franchise Support Center where they interact with department heads and get a person-to-person feel for how the franchisee will be supported across all areas (the menu, training, operations, marketing, purchasing, etc.). Then the franchisee attends a training program for five weeks.
“They are indoctrinated to our brand, then receive ongoing support throughout the design and construction phase of development. Then they are provided hands-on, pre-opening and post-opening training support to help them get their feet on the ground,” says Sims.
Taco John’s differentiates itself with its West-Mex concept. “It’s our way of trying to say what our brand stands for: spirited attitude, engaging, fun. It’s brand icons like Taco Tuesday®. On our menu, it’s our savory sauces, our slow-cooked beef, and our Potato Olés®. Potatoes aren’t common in Mexican restaurants, but our Potato Olés are extremely popular. We are meat and potatoes Mexican,” says Sims.
Another feature: the fresh salsa bar, giving customers the chance to customize and add flavors and textures to meals as they like.
In light of the recent state of the economy, Taco John’s took a closer look at cost controls. “It is a great opportunity to make sure cost controls and operating margins are as strong as they can be. In 2009 we put on profit seminars for the franchisees. In 2010 we’re going to every restaurant and do a reorientation to make sure that the available training tools are being used effectively,” says Sims.
“We are also providing incentives to increase our franchisees’ participation in local store marketing programs. We’ll encourage them to use these to make a difference in their own back yards.”
There are growth plans on the books, too, although Sims cannot disclose those plans just yet. An announcement will be made in March at the franchisee convention and will address “programs we are putting into place to stimulate growth,” according to Sims.
For more information about franchising opportunities with Taco John’s, visit www.tacojohnsfranchise.com