People often say it isn’t easy to run a business with your spouse. How do you all make it work?
Todd: We both clearly have our defined roles. I handle leases, for example, and Deb works closely with field consultants. We trust each other to handle our individual roles but are on the same page about our ultimate goals, which is key. And, she knows how to put up with me!
This work demands tremendous dedication, and long days and hours on the road given we are in such a large, rural territory—for example, I recently traveled 900 miles to finalize a lease deal.
Deb: It’s 24/7, so you need to find time step back and breathe. We have personal passions, too – for example, Todd likes running marathons. I’ve coached soccer. We go on walks with our four dogs. Ultimately, we have the same values and goals. We’re both high achievers, always looking to do things smarter and better. So, because we have the same mindset, the same passion, it works well. And when we encounter challenges, we have each other to get through them.
I’m a military brat, so I’m used to moving around and not really putting down roots and building close relationships. Todd really is great at that, and we treat our employees and operating partners as family. Our success is their success and vice versa. We brought some of them in as franchisee partners to buy into the business, so they have a part of it and are truly invested.
What are some consumer shifts and trends you’re seeing today, from the perch of overseeing 30 restaurants?
Todd: In the neighborhoods that we do business, the biggest shift is the customers’ categorization of “value” from the price point to the experience. Looking back, when we first built our shops in these small towns in rural Nebraska and South Dakota, we were the only [quick-serve] that had a presence in the community. There are now many options for customers in the area; competition has led the customer to expect more. And our sandwich shops must deliver a full ‘experience’ to keep us top- of-mind for consumers.
We must find and develop teams to staff our shops who can serve our sandwiches with simple manners and great customer service, providing the elevated experience that our higher-average-check fast casual competition can offer.
Deb: The smallest community in which we personally own a shop has a population of just 900. These guests are using the Subway ordering app just like our guests in the towns with a population of 40,000. That guest has the same expectation for an accurate order that is ready at their desired time. We’ve learned that customers are digitally sophisticated, regardless of the population of the county.
What do you think of all the digital changes in particular?
Todd: In 1990 as I began developing Subway restaurants, we didn’t have the option to use cell phones in a single county I did business in—I used a Trunk Phone/Radio to make calls from the car. I’m only 50 years old, yet I have lived this entire evolution. The restaurant industry has completely transformed with digital ordering/loyalty/payment—it’s wonderful.
It’s crucial for me to stay abreast of the changes and master how it will be integrated into our businesses. Entrepreneurial business owners who stay on the cutting edge of all available technology will not only survive but will thrive! It’s not optional, it’s a must.
How is Subway positioned to meet this changing guest? What is the brand doing to evolve?
Todd: Subway has evolved tremendously to meet the digital needs of today’s consumer, such as rolling out a robust third-party delivery program with four different partners. That’s been really critical as delivery is booming and guests want to get what they want, when they want it, where they are.
Concerning the sandwich category specifically, where would you say the biggest market-share battle is taking place right now?
Todd: Submarine sandwiches in the 1980s might have been “Pete’s Submarines” or a similar corner deli—some white bread delivered by a route driver at 7am, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, with just a couple types of meat and cheese (which I actually cut on a slicer in my first little 1,000 square foot shop in 1989).
Now, we are testing artisan breads and a multitude of bread ovens. Multiple types of sandwich “carriers” are being used, which are far removed from simple submarine sandwich loaves. We have some strong competitors in this segment who are also technologically sophisticated brands with cutting edge menu innovations. And in our market, convenience is king.
Creatively using any and all successful industry themes and integrating those ideas into our operation will be absolutely paramount to have our shops thrive into the next phase of our business lives. Subway not only has integrated best practices; they have been on the cutting edge with their digital platforms. That is a fact, not a biased opinion.
For prospective franchisees, what do you think is the most important thing they should consider before getting in the business?
Deb: You truly have to love what you do. This is a 24/7 business. One important lesson we’ve learned that we suggest to others who are getting into franchising is to not get into the mode of just running the business, but also taking the time to stop and assess the business. That’s been really critical to our success—to look at what can we be doing better, more efficiently, and more strategically.