“Restaurants, regardless of the type, are about hospitality and hospitality is a lifestyle. If you’re coming out of a desk job 9-5 with an hour lunch break you’re going to be disappointed,” says Sam Stanovich, Firehouse Subs franchise owner.
The hospitality lifestyle and the work it takes to grow a restaurant business certainly hasn’t disappointed him. A graduate of Johnson & Wales, Stanovich has worked in hotels and restaurants for the past two decades. His wide experience includes tenures at Marriott International and the National Restaurant Association. He now represents the Northern Illinois and Northwest Indiana regions for Firehouse Subs. We spoke to him about what it takes to be successful as a franchisee and in the catering business.
What drew you to the franchising model and Firehouse subs, in particular?
What was attractive to me about franchising was that it let me focus on my core skills of community service, sales and hospitality. I’m not a chef, I’m a restaurateur. The Firehouse Subs organization has a great menu and the executive team is top notch.
We are also involved in local public safety work everyday. We don’t raise big money individually, but collectively we do. We’ve given a million dollars to first responders. We’ve given grants to local fire departments, schools and police. We helped a school get sprinklers for their building.
So, what is the main key to success in franchising a restaurant?
Franchises are successful because they have a playbook. Owning a franchise means buying into a brand and a system. A franchise owner can’t go in and reengineer McDonalds tomorrow. Franchises have a proven system that needs to be embraced. It starts with the ability to follow the playbook and then using the level of service provided as the differentiator. The playbook teaches the fundamentals. But it has to be inherent that the franchise owner also wants to provide service.
We have six weeks of training- we spend a lot of time with our people. We have potential franchisees spend 50 hours in a restaurant to understand what we go through. If an employee is out one day, someone has to pick up the slack. We have more people walk away after 50 hours than stick around. We let people feel it, touch it, taste it and see if it’s for them.
What does it take to grow a franchise in several different markets?
It’s understanding the market and knowing it. No two markets work the same. A franchise owner has to know what customers in their area are going to respond to. I represent a diverse market and tactics that work for my restaurants don’t work in Indiana and what works in Indiana doesn’t work here in Illinois. We have to be thinking about what is going on in our neck of the woods.
How does catering factor into your business at Firehouse Subs?
Catering used to be an add on, but now it’s part of the equation. The opportunities are great. It’s very time sensitive, so it requires preparation and organization. Anyone who thinks they are going to open a restaurant and not offer catering is sorely mistaken. Now it’s become a focus point.
How have you seen online ordering change the catering landscape?
Technology has allowed catering to be faster and more efficient. With technology we have the ability to aggregate and create competition. Restaurants who cater were always there, but it’s easier for businesses to find catering in one place now. Where there are choices, there is competition.
One of the nice parts of working with ezCater is that it’s integrated with Concur, so ordering and expense reporting is streamlined [for customers]. It gets rid of a lot of hassle. It makes it easier for our customers to do their job. We’re about great service, and when the customer can place the order online, and it flows into their expense report—we’ve just given them back their day.