Cathy Brown graduated from college as a mechanical engineer and spent time working with a government contractor to create guidance systems for cruise missiles. At one point she was also a high-school math teacher.
She eventually landed in the quick-service industry, and in 2009, Brown was tasked with building out the San Diego region for Jersey Mike’s Subs. Even though the brand was new to the area, Brown quickly transformed the market and now oversees 17 stores, including five of her own units and another seven set to open by the end of August.
Recently, Jersey Mike’s elected her to its National Advisory Council, and she was awarded new territory in Northern California. One store in her region holds the title as the top-selling Jersey Mike’s unit in the nation.
Brown discusses her position as a top franchisee and how she got there through consistency and selectivity.
1. Don’t be lukewarm
A big part of my job description and responsibilities is to sell franchises. I need to build a certain number of stores in a certain area. Because of that, I have to select the right franchisees. I have spoken and met with more than 100 people who have wanted to be a franchisee for Jersey Mike’s, and I’ve only chosen 12. I am very particular and choosy when it comes to picking franchisees. I need someone who is as passionate about the brand as I am.
I like to see franchisees who know that the unit can be an ATM, but don’t keep that as their primary focus. Folks like that become too fixated on watching the pennies and miss the potential dollars that are right in front of them—or worse, the dollars that could be walking out the door. I also like franchisees who have an interest in owning multiple units. For me, it shows they want to continually grow as a business owner.
2. Capitalize on your influence
Our No. 1–performing unit is run by four brothers, who grew up in Jersey eating the very same sandwiches we sell every day. We looked for a piece of real estate for them for more than a year, and finally found a spot. These guys needed to be running a store—fast—and the location was suitable enough for a starter store.
From the day the unit opened, these brothers transformed it and have been going nonstop ever since. If you look at the market demographics on paper, it doesn’t seem like it should be such a dynamic store. You could look at some other areas close by with consumers with higher income that you think would do better, but it just shows you how much influence a franchisee can have on the business. These four are fast, friendly, and build relationships on a daily basis. Franchisees should really re-evaluate how much influence they have at their store, because it changes a lot.
3. Never abandon communication
Being an area director and franchisee, I’m learning from both ends of the spectrum and have the luxury of being able to combine my positive experiences. The biggest benefit—or problem, sometimes—that a franchisee can have is communication within the store.
I also need to exhibit communication across the units I oversee. If the communication lacks on my end for just a little bit, it could lead to serious problems for that particular unit and for my region. With communication comes the ability to build strong teams, and every store needs a strong team.
Since quick service is predominantly made up of a younger workforce, franchisees need to constantly and consistently reinforce positive behavior with their young team. This younger workforce thrives on reinforcement of things they are doing right.
4. Surround yourself with the right people
Every franchisee knows that operations are perhaps the most important facet of the job. My problem is that I’m not great when it comes to operations. Additionally, I don’t know everything about marketing. My success came not from me learning everything about the industry, but from relying on people who know more than I do to help me through the process.
On the other side, make your crew feel as if the right people surround them. I take really good care of my managers and crewmembers. Treating them well and doing the extra things go a long way. These are the individuals you’ve chosen to run your business; they’ll take better care of your customers if you take care of them.
Furthermore, as an area director, I communicate a lot with my franchisees on what’s going well at one store and what could be improved. If someone is having problems, I like to discuss what solutions other franchisees have found that could solve the problem. This way, everyone doesn’t feel the need to reinvent the wheel.
The best part about Jersey Mike’s is that we are a mom and pop shop that just happens to be a franchise. With that mindset, everybody from the top down is tasked with running his or her store, managers, and crew as if it were a family-operated store. It’s this mentality that has brought Jersey Mike’s continual growth.