Simple Simon’s Pizza Has a Simple Recipe for Growth
In addition to pizza and “calizones,” the owners of Simple Simon’s Pizza serve up their hard-earned experience to help franchisees.
Here’s a couple of best practices they might not teach in business school.
It was opening day in 1987 for the DuMond family’s first Simple Simon’s Pizza franchise in Prattville, Okla. BJ and Becky DuMond had left behind their previous careers and scraped together their resources to launch their very first business.
The DuMonds were pumped, customers were lining up and pizzas were baking in the oven. And baking. And baking.
“The oven was backed up, and my dad was out talking to customers because he’s a personable guy,” says Matt DuMond, director of franchise development. Unfortunately, the budding entrepreneur lost track of what was happening back in the kitchen, and the pizzas burned.
Disaster was averted, however, thanks to the elder DuMond’s people skills and candor. “He was honest with the customers,” Matt DuMond says. “He said, ‘This is my first day on the job, and I have burned all your pizzas.’”
Luckily for the DuMonds and their fledgling business, Matt DuMond says, all of the customers waited around that day while new pizzas were prepared for them.
DuMond says Simple Simon’s Pizza still applies the two best practices of hands-on doing and being forthright with others to everything it does — even as the chain, which the family bought in 1990, has grown to more than 200 mostly franchised stores in nine states.
“We learned through trial and error on what products to base our core menu items off of and basically what not to do as a franchise owner in the pizza business,” DuMond relates. “My parents started out as actual franchisees, so they came into their ownership role with a view from the ground level, which allowed them to really apply their experiences to the role of the franchisor.”
BJ and Becky DuMond remain involved in the company as, respectively, CEO and CFO. In addition to Matt, his sister and brother-in-law, Ashley and Dustin Jones, are also part of the management team serving as vice president of finance and director of operations, respectively.
Boots on the Ground
The DuMond family continues to apply its experiences to supporting all franchisees in its extended franchise family. Matt DuMond says the chain has several advantages that help to attract prospective franchisees, including what the company says are entry and operational costs that compare favorably with other franchises, and the buying power of a multi-unit organization.
“Most recently, due to our volume levels and new location expansion, we were able to secure an overall price reduction on all items purchased through our food distributor,” he says. “That is huge for us because that is money that goes directly back into our franchisees’ pockets each week, month, year — it adds up. And there are no co-op fees.”
But what really helps franchisees, DuMond explains, is the company’s willingness to share the know-how it has gained since that fateful opening day. “Our hands-on training program really gives franchisees the tools they will need to succeed, whether they have been in the food and beverage industry or not,” he says. “We spend a week performing hands-on training in our stores and in the classroom teaching new franchisees how to run their business efficiently and properly. Our goal is to communicate how they can maximize the impact on their local community and make a great profit in the process.”
The company’s new website designed by Tulsa, Okla.-based Gitwit boasts about the “boots on the ground” support it gives its franchisees. As an example, DuMond cites a new Simple Simon’s Pizza that opened in Bovina, Texas.
“Our new franchisee will have two dedicated support reps with them for the entire first week of opening,” he says. “In total, we will have seven members of the executive team there for the several days of the opening to ensure that employees are trained properly.”
The company also helps franchisees mark milestones. “We are promoting and assisting in a one-year anniversary celebration for one of our high-volume franchises down in Tishomingo, Okla., in a few weeks,” DuMond relates. “We treat this as a big deal and we really try to help, promote and assist during one of these events.”
But it’s not just opening days and anniversaries that get the parent company’s attention. “In general, we will visit each franchise once a quarter at least,” DuMond says. “When our support reps go out to these stores, the goal is to be impactful, to make a difference. Whether it is performing an annual business review, coaching on technique or assisting in marketing planning, our support reps are truly there to help franchisees.”
DuMond notes that Simple Simon’s Pizza’s representatives are trained to respond “immediately” when a franchisee has a question. “We want to do everything we can to ensure that we are advising our franchisees appropriately and timely,” he says.
Investing in People
Simple Simon’s sweet spot is heartland America, but that doesn’t mean the company’s vision is small time. DuMond says one of its biggest challenges involves “changing the culture of our existing franchisees, getting away from the mom-and-pop feel of small-town America and transitioning into a strong brand that is consistent in all areas.”
That’s another area that requires ongoing training and support, he adds. The organization also puts its weight behind marketing, social media, facility upgrades and a new POS system by Xoikos Interactive Business Systems.
Such efforts can help a company like Simple Simon’s Pizza grow even as higher-profile competitors pull out of some rural markets. “We have a huge growth push for small-town America,” DuMond reports. “Where Pizza Hut is closing its doors, we see a great opportunity because those towns are really the heartbeat of our company.”
And what of the heartbeat of its heart, so to speak? That would be its franchisees and employees, tasked with keeping an eye on those ovens while keeping customers coming back for more.
“We know that the average employee is not going to work at a store forever,” DuMond says. “Some may go on to be management, but we like to invest in our training for of all of them. There are a lot of life lessons through hard work that someone can learn through working in the pizza business.”