Passionate and community minded. Those are two of the main attributes that Marco’s Pizza looks for in their franchisees. Our first Face of Franchising interview of 2015 is with Cameron Cummins, Vice President of Marketing and Recruiting for Marco’s. Cameron told us about his background and the steps Marco’s takes to keep the founder’s vision at the forefront of this fast-growing pizza chain.
Tell us a little about your career. How long have you been with Marco’s Pizza?
I joined Marco’s in 2005 when we had about 140 stores nationwide. We set ambitious growth goals, and we’ve been meeting them. Marco’s hit the 500-store mark in mid-2014, and we’re already over 600 at this point. Before Marco’s I was the owner of PowerPact Marketing, a Richmond, Virginia, firm that assisted in franchise development efforts for a number of major brands, including Yum! Brands, Dunkin' Donuts, Baskin-Robbins and Big Boy. I helped launch the Lexus brand. I also headed the consumer marketing arm at Clear Channel, taking revenue from zero to $60 million in five years.
Tell us about the background of Marco’s Pizza.
Marco’s was founded by Pat Giammarco, a native Italian. Pat was fed up with the lack of high-quality delivery pizza in this country. His goal was to create a truly authentic Italian pizza pie with the freshest dough possible and the highest-quality ingredients. He didn’t like the options being offered on the market, and he knew he could do better. If you think about the artisan pizza movement of today, you can see that Pat was way ahead of his time. Delivery pizza is a highly competitive industry, and Pat believed if people could get a better-tasting pizza for the same price they usually pay, they would keep coming back. Thirty years and several hundred franchises later, we’ve become one of the top five delivery pizza franchises, and we’re giving the bigger delivery pizza brands a serious run for their money. We’ve stayed very true to Pat’s original vision of offering the best — and most authentic — pizza possible and allowing the buzz around the brand to grow from that essential point.
What makes Marco’s Pizza stand out among its competitors?
We are the only major pizza franchise that started out with the goal of focusing on quality first and growth second. It’s all about quality ingredients — the very best. Our pizza dough isn’t just frozen in some factory and shipped to hundreds of stores for efficiency. It’s made fresh in the store from spring wheat flour, specialty filtered water and high-quality yeast. Marco’s sauce was developed by our founder and his father, and it’s made from specially grown hybrid tomatoes and proprietary spices. We use a blend of fresh cheeses from Wisconsin, and we only use premium meats. We chop our vegetables in-house. It all comes back to one thing — quality. That’s our biggest concern. Because of our focus on being a best-in-class franchise, and the fact that we’re the fastest-growing pizza franchise in the nation, I think it’s safe to say Marco’s is the hottest brand in the franchise pizza industry right now.
Another very obvious way to stand out is that we aren’t tapped out like our competitors. There’s so much room left for Marco’s to grow. We have many prime territories available, and we have many regions available for multi-unit development. Competing chains, such as Pizza Hut, Domino’s and Little Caesars, have saturated their markets with tens of thousands of units. Marco’s only recently opened our 600th store. This is a really exciting time at Marco’s. We’re exceeding our growth goals. There’s really no stopping us at this point.
How would you describe the pizza franchise industry right now?
Pizza has become such an important part of our culture that we don’t ever foresee a time when it will go away. The statistics are pretty mind-blowing. Ninety-one percent of Americans eat pizza at least once a month, and Forbes magazine reported that in less than 20 years per capita consumption has gone up 41%. Pizza is popular with such a wide range of people — kids, adults, families, singles, teenagers, college students. And pizza isn’t just a dinner item anymore. On any given day one in four males between 6 and 19 will eat pizza for breakfast, lunch or dinner. More specifically for Marco’s, there’s a lot of room in the pizza segment for a best-in-class product like ours. We’re in the sweet spot between the value chains that focus on distribution over taste and quality and the expensive, trendy artisan pizza shops. With our growth and momentum picking up, we are becoming a well-known brand that is beginning to own the “better pizza” category, like Five Guys did with hamburgers.
Describe a person who would fit in well with the Marco’s Pizza franchise system.
Our franchisees come from a remarkably wide variety of backgrounds. Some come from corporate America. Others have been in sales, retail or service industry careers, and some have owned their own small businesses. We’ve had great success with veterans. We have family-owned franchises where the owners are building a legacy. But there’s a common thread among our franchisees — passion for the Marco’s product. Almost half of them were Marco’s consumers first. They fell in love with our product, with what Marco’s is bringing to the market. Some franchisees owned other restaurant industry franchises but came to Marco’s because of the quality of our product.
So, this all goes to say that passion comes first! It’s also important to have the mindset of a team player and to be community-oriented. Marco’s franchisees are really involved in their towns, cities and neighborhoods — whether it’s working with the Little League or partnering with local schools, churches and charities. Marco’s owners support their communities, and in turn their communities support them. Finally, it helps to be business-minded. You don’t need an MBA from Harvard. We can teach you the specifics of running a pizza business, but being comfortable — and interested in — the numbers and management side is important.
How long does the start-up process typically take?
It varies because of several factors — ease of finding location, contractors, personal circumstances, etc. But I’d say the average is about six months once the franchisee has made the commitment. Some franchisees go a little slower, but most start within six months to one year.
What kind of support should an incoming franchisee expect from Marco’s Pizza during the start-up period?
A lot! Marco’s will train you in every aspect of making high-quality pizza and running a successful franchise. New franchisees spend about six weeks in a Marco’s University pizza store, learning how to make the dough from scratch, how much sauce to put on each pizza, how much cheese and toppings, etc. If the franchisee isn’t quite ready at the end of six weeks to run his own operation, he or she may spend another two weeks in the training store to build skills and confidence.
What’s the biggest mistake you see first-time franchisees make?
Probably the two most important things for a new franchisee to remember are (1) it’s very important to follow our system and (2) there’s often a ramp-up time in the beginning months of a franchise before a store begins to hit its stride. Sometimes a first-time franchisee thinks that customers will flock to them immediately. Of course, when a Marco’s opens in a town it’s going to attract customers, but the franchisee still has to get out there in the community. They’ll need to keep a laser-focus on customer service and be actively and passionately involved in this business. We have a proven system that works very, very well. Hundreds of Marco’s franchisees will tell you that operating their stores by that system has created a very profitable — and highly satisfying — life for them.
What’s next for Marco’s Pizza in terms of expansion?
We are on track to become the fourth-largest pizza franchise in America. We expect to hit the 1,000-store mark by the end of 2016. Our international expansion is also taking off, with deals pending in Saudi Arabia, Africa and Asia. We’re really beefing up our infrastructure and support systems to keep stride with all the growth. We hired an Executive Chef, and we’re unveiling a brand new test-kitchen at headquarters.
Thank you to Cameron for his time! To learn more about Marco's Pizza, please view its profile here.