Saturday, 5 January 2008

In a Pizza Franchise the Key is to Hire the Right Staff

Dominos Pizza

SUPER BOWL SUNDAY is weeks away, but Dave Melton, a Domino’s Pizza franchisee in Manhattan, is already gearing up.

It is by far the pizza chain’s largest sales day of the year, and Mr. Melton wants the staff at his five locations to be ready to deliver pizzas to everyone who calls, without a long wait. On game day, Feb. 3, all employees — a total of about 100 — are scheduled to work, as well as a dozen former employees who have agreed to jump in and help.

“For two and a half hours, it will be crazy,” Mr. Melton said. But he said he was confident that his employees would hold up under pressure. That is because most of the team has worked during the Super Bowl several times before. “New people make mistakes,” he said.

In an industry known for its high turnover of employees, Mr. Melton has built a work force with unusual longevity. All of his managers have been on staff for at least six years, some for twice that time. Each started as an hourly worker delivering pizzas on a bicycle — for minimum wage plus tips — and has moved up to be a manager, with compensation as high as $70,000, which includes a percentage of the location’s profits.

Mr. Melton says he has had zero turnover in management for the last several years. That is in contrast to the industry average of 51 percent management turnover for limited-service restaurants, according to the National Restaurant Association. When openings arise, Mr. Melton promotes from within. “I’ve got a very deep bench,” he said.

To achieve such a stable staff, he focuses on training, setting goals, sharing sales information and providing bonuses for jobs well done. “My role is being a resource, providing motivation, inspiration and compensation,” he said on a recent afternoon at his store at First Avenue and East 74th Street, just after meeting with the staff to introduce a January product promotion. According to several employees there, he also wins loyalty by treating them with dignity and respect. One longtime worker, Sam Sawadogo, an immigrant from Burkina Faso, likes Mr. Melton so much that he named his son Melton.

Stacy Bradford, 24, of Brooklyn, started working for Domino’s at age 18 as an order taker and pizza maker. Two years ago, Mr. Melton and his wife, Angie, who helps run the franchise, encouraged her to take a city food safety certification course to enhance her credentials. “I was a little skeptical. I don’t like tests,” Ms. Bradford said. “But I took it and I passed. I did well. I got a raise and I got a bonus for passing the test.” She was also promoted to assistant manager.

“Dave and Angie keep me here. At a lot of jobs, they don’t care about the feelings of the workers,” Ms. Bradford said.

Zia Shah, 35, a native of Pakistan with a degree in business, came to New York nine years ago “looking for opportunity” and landed at Domino’s delivering pizza. Mr. Shah, a Manhattan resident, became manager of the First Avenue store and hopes to open his own Domino’s franchise.

“My No. 1 career goal is to be in my own business and bring my family here,” he said.

Mr. Melton, the son of a chemist and a homemaker, grew up in Richmond, Va. He studied management at James Madison University, where he met his wife. He took a job at a bank and disliked it. Within months, at age 21, he left the bank to work at a Domino’s in Quantico, Va., and he never looked back. With enough financing and with dreams of owning his own business, he opened his first Manhattan store in 1990, choosing the city over franchise opportunities in Hickory, N.C., and Plymouth, Mass.

The franchise brings in close to $1 million in annual sales per restaurant. Hiring good people is crucial to achieving that, Mr. Melton said.

“You are on your feet. It is long hours. It takes a certain kind of person to love it,” he said. He looks for people who can work quickly and who have nice personalities.

When he opened his first location, on Third Avenue and East 89th Street, Mr. Melton churned through hundreds of workers. He needed bodies to run the restaurant, and made decisions he regretted just to fill slots, he said.

Mr. Melton was at first reluctant to discuss his early hiring mistakes. When pressed, he said that some employees “thought it was easier to steal and be disruptive than be part of a team and make an honest living.”

Bad behavior included arguing with customers, refusing to wear uniforms in the correct way, visiting friends en route to delivering pizza, and failing to show up for work, he said. “That first year was rough,” he said. But by the end of the year, he said, he was making consistently good hires and was set.

Most entry-level workers come via referrals from current employees, and the staff represents many countries.

NOW, Mr. Melton is trying to create growth opportunities. In 2004, he expanded to five shops from three, in part because of the talent he had groomed.

“This is one of the places where so many people get their first experience in America,” he said. “It is fun exposing them to the way capitalism and business in America works.”
This article originally appeared in the New York Times on Jan 05 2008. Reproduced with thanks

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1 comment:

Stacy said...

Interesting post. I'll have to keep it in mind, because I'd love to run my own business soon. It'll obviously be challenging, so I can use all the help I can get. I want to buy a business rather than start one from scratch. I've thought about a franchise or something home-based, but I don't know. Do you have any suggestions? Advice? Thanks.