Denise Lee Yohn: QSR's Marketing Guru | October 2014 | By Bryan Reesman

Driving the Market

Toppers franchisee Jon S. Crowe discusses how a father-son business dynamic contributes to growth.
Father son quick service restaurant franchisees build on family relationship.
Toppers franchisee Jon S. Crowe (right) works closely with his son Jon P. Crowe (left) to develop a dynamic internal culture. Toppers Pizza

The father-son team of 57-year-old Jon S. Crowe and 28-year-old Jon P. Crowe shines at their two Toppers Pizza units in Nebraska. The pair opened a store in Lincoln in February 2012 and one in Omaha this past June. By next summer, they plan to add another new location in each city. The duo’s business savvy garnered them the Franchisee of the Year award from Toppers for 2014, as well as another six-unit franchise agreement.

The elder Crowe worked previously in the corporate IT world for 27 years, the last 11 served at hunting and fishing outfitter Cabela’s. His son was general manager of a Verizon partner store before teaming up with his father. Crowe’s wife, Monica, is an owner in the franchise’s holding company, handling promotions with hotels and businesses to offer good deals to entice their clients to try Toppers.

The enterprising father shares his strategy, his plans for the future, and the lessons he’s learned working closely with his son.

1. Pace yourself

We intentionally wanted to wait at least a year before we even thought about adding a second store, just to make sure that we were doing things the right way. As you start adding additional locations, the numbers start working in your favor a little bit, but when you go from one store to two, you’re basically cutting your talent pool in half and separating them, and the amount of time you can spend in a store is cut in half.

I actually fired myself as area supervisor and promoted one of my general managers because I wasn’t doing a very good job at it. I truly believe that role of area supervisor is really critical, and what I was finding with everything else I’m doing is I just didn’t have the time to spend a day or a day and a half at each store.

2. Form close ties to yield strong benefits

Obviously I can trust my son. I know his work ethic, and I know him. There is a big advantage to having someone like that. For instance, with my other two general managers, I’ve known one since he was in the ninth grade and the other one for eight or nine years now. There’s a real benefit to having those relationships and the knowledge of the people. Trust is a great thing, but obviously they have to be able to perform and to do the job.

You’re looking for people who pay attention to detail, who are customer-centric, have a strong work ethic, are enthusiastic, well mannered, and understand the business. You need someone who is willing to have those tough conversations when necessary. So far, the people that we have in leadership positions at the stores fit that description almost to a tee.

3. Build your business one mouth at a time

We practice the Toppers’ core values daily. It’s just a lot of hard work and attention to detail. One of the things we like to talk about is taking over the market one pizza and one mouth at a time. That’s really the way we look at it. We work extremely hard to build our residential business and work really hard to build our business with local hotels and businesses for catering. It’s just one detail, one pizza, one person; you get ’em, keep ’em, and keep going. I think it’s just a culmination of focusing on the details and focusing on the customer. We’re not perfect, but when we make a mistake, we make it right and go a little beyond doing that.

4. Drive productivity by ensuring the crew feels happy and respected

It’s just really treating people the way you’d like to be treated, with respect and dignity and understanding. We care about our employees. A lot of people talk lip service about that, but we do. They’re part of the family. It is rare that I ever give an edict that we are absolutely going to do this, this, and this. I sit down with the leadership of the stores, and we talk about what we want to do from a marketing perspective. My general managers and assistant managers have a tremendous amount of latitude as far as marketing programs and taking advantage of things that pop up.

We just did a deal in Omaha with this bar in our delivery area that’s doing a big promotion. No one asked me; they saw it, they went, they did it. They have that latitude. We take that down all the way to all the employees, so they know exactly how the store is performing. They know exactly what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. If they have an idea, they bring it up.

5. Respect the system and pay attention to details

You become a franchisee and get into that world because somebody has developed a system, and you’re actually buying into that system. I’m constantly amazed at the number of people who do that and then don’t follow the system. They think they’ve got a better idea or want to do it slightly different. There’s a very fine line between being successful and not being successful in this business.

In the world that I was in before, I had 110 people reporting to me, so obviously I couldn’t be involved in every little detail there is. Here, I’m either involved in every little detail or have people who are involved in every little detail. We make sure that all our drivers are cross-trained, so they’re able to not only be delivery drivers but can also perform as an insider, like an oven tender, customer service rep, all the things along that line.

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