Editor’s note: This article is part of an ongoing franchise series, which highlights brands that are new to or aggressively expanding via franchising. Is your restaurant starting to franchise? Email us at [email protected].
Not long after Jimmy McFeeters joined 70-unit Toppers Pizza as vice president of development last year, it became clear that the company’s strong management and support system for franchising growth was a driver of its success.
The company, which is over 30 years old, is still led by its founder Scott Gittrich. Teams ranging from operations to marketing and franchise sales are also extremely tenured with employees who have decades of experience, McFeeters said. Toppers’ director of real estate is tenacious in finding ideal sites and signs leases within a few months, as opposed to the upwards of 12 months this process can take, McFeeters said.
The expertise of Toppers’ management team has led to long-term franchisees, many of which are actively growing their units, he said. This excitement about growth opportunities, as well as average unit volumes of over $1.1 million, lends itself to other franchise opportunities. The company signed more deals during the last quarter than it had in the past four years, McFeeters said.
Toppers Pizza supports its franchisees through the entire process, from budgeting a project to helping secure sites and assisting with leases. The company’s director of construction will walk franchisees through the building process and the development team will help implement technology, training and operations, and ensure all teams are on schedule leading up to the opening date, McFeeters said.
For example, one of Toppers’ franchisees had some issues during the development process last year. The operator had hired an inexpensive architect and experienced several change orders and other challenges that delayed construction. Toppers helped fix many of these issues and streamlined the development process, McFeeters said. This store, which opened late last year, ended up generating higher sales than the average franchised Toppers unit during its opening, he said. That operator plans to open a handful of additional stores in the Midwest.
Toppers also owns over two dozen of its own stores and acts as a franchisee via its Pizza People LLC Group, which has its own president of operations, and management platform that helps it scale operations. Toppers is creating systems to train franchisees how to scale, and will use the Pizza People model to help operators consider growth opportunities, McFeeters said.
The company uses an in-house technology suite called Pizmet, which handles all e-commerce — including online ordering and mobile application — point-of-sales and other technology. The system provides what Toppers calls “pizza intelligence” to franchisees, so they can better manage labor, cost of goods and other facets of information operators need, he said.
Development plans: Toppers expects to open nine stores in 2023, which is three times the number of units it opened in 2022. Of those nine, two will be corporate stores and seven will be franchised locations in Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska. The pizza chain expects to have over 100 units within the next three years, McFeeters said. Toppers believes it can reach 500 locations within the next five to 10 years, he said.
Ideal franchisees: Outside of net wealth and liquidity capabilities, Toppers prefers operators with experience working with dough, such as pizza or pretzel, and people who are comfortable following set systems, McFeeters said. The company prefers franchisees who have experience with late-night or 24-hour operations since Toppers locations are often open until 3 a.m., McFeeters said.
Franchise quick facts
- Initial investment: $323,000 to $579,000
- Liquidity requirement: $150,000
- Franchise fee: $30,000
- Royalty fee: 5.5%
- Marketing fee: 3.3%