This article is part of a series called “Getting Off-Premises”, which examines how to build an off-premises business.
Follow Jim Rand, through his visit to American fast-casual chain Firehouse Subs. Jim meets with Keith Sullins, who owns and operates multiple franchise businesses including Firehouse Subs. The two discuss ways to win the support of staff when launching a catering operation.
Jim Rand: Today we’re at Firehouse Subs in Houston, Texas, to meet my new friend Keith Sullins. He runs multiple franchise businesses including Papa John’s, First Watch, and Genghis Grill as well. His restaurants grew significantly after he added catering as a revenue channel, and we came here to see how he makes that happen.
So, Keith, what are the things that you think really helped people get committed to a cause? And in this case [it’s] the cause of building your catering business. What do you think it takes?
Keith Sullins: We were running about 3 to 4 percent [in] catering [sales] and I said, Guys, we’ve got to get to 10. Why? I don’t know. Ten sounds good. Let’s get to 10, good number, let’s go. And it took us about six months to get to 10, and we are slapping each other on the back. We’re all happy, look what we’ve done! And I said, Well, now let’s go to 20. Why? And I said, Guys, it’s simple. If we commit to doing something—look what’s going to happen to your paycheck, what’s going to happen to the profits of the company.
And so, I would say that the long answer to your question—”How do you get a commitment?”—is: First, they have to understand how it’s going to help them. Then, number two—you’ve got to pick a number. And go for it.
Jim Rand:What’s your philosophy, then, on investing into that, ahead of the curve, right? So you take it from 10 to 20 and get those extra dollars.
Keith Sullins:You know in some cases—in two cases—we actually hired a catering manager, and this is a person whose sole job is to go out and hunt for catering [leads]. And if I’m to be honest with you, that’s really how you get your catering [sales] up super high.
Jim Rand:That’s clearly an investment, right, because you’re not getting any payback until they start driving the sale. I believe in, you know, the “If you build it, they will come” philosophy. How do you help your team understand that?
Keith Sullins:We’re involved in eight different brands, and I did that because, for some reason, people just don’t quit our company. And what a great problem to have, right? So, I have to keep building other concepts in order to allow managers to grow because some may want to be a supervisor, or may want to do this, and they get to go to other concepts. And the beauty with this catering thing is, it works in every concept we own, not just Firehouse Subs. So, we can take what we learn here and apply it to there. Even our breakfast restaurants are catering now. So, it works for every brand we got.
Jim Rand:Keith, I really appreciate your time today. Thank you for all your insights.
Keith Sullins:I appreciate it. Thank you very much.
Learn how to build great teams around your catering business.