In its PizzaRev case study series, CSA offers an insider’s look at the conception, initial rollout and growth of the southern Calif.-based fast-casual concept PizzaRev. Likened to “the Chipotle of pizza,” this innovative chain lets customers choose from an artisanal array of toppings to craft their own pizzas very quickly in a high-end stone hearth oven. A test kitchen in Northridge, Calif., was launched in April 2012 and two additional locations quickly followed.
In part five of our series, PizzaRev’s senior management team, Irv Zuckerman and Rodney Eckerman, and exclusive broker and X Team International Partner Bob Haas, discuss their experience and share best practices on the process of building a national franchise operation.
Quick Facts about PizzaRev:
What: Fast-casual, “craft your own” artisanal pizza restaurant
Who: Partners and Co-CEOs Rodney Eckerman and Irv Zuckerman, Partner and COO Nicholas Eckerman, Partner and CMO Jeff Zuckerman, Exclusive Broker Bob Haas, X Team International Partner and Co-Founder of L.A.-based Cypress Retail Group
Current number of stores: 5
Average size: 2,000 sq. ft. - 3,000 sq. ft.
Any restaurant owner that has a franchise component in their business plan knows it adds an entirely new dimension to the business. When PizzaRev officially registered for franchising across the country in early September of this year, its growth trajectory took on a whole new outlook. A look into PizzaRev’s partners and co-CEOs’ decision to franchise provides insight into the success and main differentiators of this fast growing fast-casual pizza chain and offers new approaches to the franchising model.
The decision to franchise for Zuckerman and Eckerman was never one of if, but when. They always planned to operate for at least a full year with company-owned stores before signing with outside franchisees. This would provide the necessary time to refine the PizzaRev model as well as vet its chances for success in a variety of locales to maximize the learning curve. According to Zuckerman, having the very best of breed in this space takes time and tweaking each and every day.
This approach greatly differs from many others in the space who begin the franchising process right away. "Some of the competitors in the artisan pizza category open one corporate store and move directly into franchising, but that doesn’t demonstrate true commitment that will provide a long-term recipe for success,” said Haas. “PizzaRev is doing it right by finding experienced area-wide franchisee's, while continuing to add to the number of corporate stores that are already open.” A simple “race for space” was just never in the plans. As Zuckerman notes, there have been many restaurants that have overreached and over-signed franchisees, which resulted in a lot of broken brands that started on the right track but ultimately got ahead of themselves.
In the franchise process, the importance of quality partners at each and every level can’t be overstated. PizzaRev has found that the way to build a lasting brand starts with great franchise partners who know the lay of their own land. The connectivity continues by working with quality landlords and vendors, and the list goes on. “We are interviewing and being interviewed at the same time,” said Zuckerman. “We like that. We will continue to build corporate stores to show all potential franchise partners that we have skin in the game as well as a learned partner like BWW.”
The partnership with Buffalo Wild Wings (BWW) in early 2013, discussed in part four of our series, was also a very positive step in starting a successful franchise operation. By becoming PizzaRev’s first franchisee, BWW has served as not only a great partner, but solid franchise owner. “We understood that our mutual skill sets would result in a great and unique relationship,” said Eckerman. “We thought there was no better way to start the franchising process than to have BWW be our first franchisee.” By adding a partner who had successfully navigated the restaurant space across the country and operated multiple successful company stores, as well as franchise partners, it was obvious that this gave PizzaRev an advantage in learning how to run a quality franchising operation. In the first quarter of 2014, BWW plans to open PizzaRev’s first franchise location, as well as its first location outside of Southern California, in BWW’s hometown of Minneapolis. They have plans to open additional locations across the Minneapolis metropolitan area in the near future.
For any restaurant owner, when adding the dynamic dimension of franchisees, there has to be a clear intent within the company. PizzaRev’s intent has always been to add franchisees to its roster with multi-unit restaurant operation history who not only appreciate their model, but also have the passion and excitement to help build the PizzaRev brand as their own. Moving forward, Zuckerman plans to maintain a blend of company-owned and franchise stores. “There is no doubt that a paradigm shift is beginning in pizza consumption,” Zuckerman said. “The competition in the fast casual pizza space has been growing and that continues to be a driver for us to sharpen our skill set and points of difference.”
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