Marco’s Pizza Franchise Insights: A Look Inside Our Unique Company Culture

Posted Sep 1st, 2015

President and COO Bryon Stephens has spearheaded a work culture focused on results and accountability

Marco’s Pizza® franchise began consciously transforming the company’s work culture in 2013, placing a strong emphasis on creating greater accountability, transparency and results.  The initiative has touched everyone at the company — from C-suite executives to franchisees to frontline workers. President and Chief Operating Officer Bryon Stephens has been a key figure in the effort from the get-go. The franchising industry veteran says results are starting to show in big ways.

Marco's Pizza franchise grew 33% in 2013 and is on pace for an even more successful 2014.
New franchisees at Marco’s Pizza® franchise 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.

The company’s growth is clipping along at a vigorous pace, with a five-year compound annual growth rate of more than 30%. “We were a couple-hundred-store chain just a few years ago,” Bryon says. “We’re over 600 stores now, and we’ve more than doubled in size in the last 36 months. We expect to than double again in the next 36 months.”

Bryon joined Marco’s Pizza in 2004 as Vice President of New Business Development after leading key franchise development efforts at Long John Silver’s and A&W. The focus on transforming the company’s culture began with his promotion to Chief Operating Officer in 2013. He became President and CEO in 2014.

Bryon says a big part of job at Marco’s is to be a “culture champion.”

“My role is about bringing the culture of accountability to Marco’s Pizza and driving the results of the organization,” he says. “Right now we have a great view of where we are and where we’re going. We’ve got an eye on the future and an understanding of where we need to go to continue to be relevant with consumers’ evolving tastes.”

We talked with Bryon about the details of the company’s efforts to fine-tune its corporate culture.

What is the Marco’s Pizza company culture like?

Bryon Stephens, President and COO of Marco’s Pizza® franchise.

We have adopted a culture of accountability based on the premises that were laid out in the book “The Oz Principle.” This method defines accountability as a personal choice to rise above your circumstances and demonstrate the personal ownership necessary to achieve your key results. That’s the simplified definition. What that breaks down to is a company culture where every single person in the organization owns everything there is to own. We don’t blame others. We don’t cover our own tracks when things aren’t going right. It’s about making sure that anytime there’s something that is not going right, that it doesn’t keep us from achieving the results we want to achieve. We are committed to taking action to resolve whatever issues come up.

Everybody in the Marco’s Pizza organization has the power to be a part of this commitment. We are unified in our quest, and we’re all focused spending our time and efforts driving activities that will achieve our key results.

It’s hard to stay focused in today’s world. We are all so busy, have many priorities, and are constantly bombarded with messages competing for our attention. Getting everybody focused on what’s really important and then having a cascade of accountability going through our organization is really a big accomplishment. We use scorecards that measure performance, and we monitor those scorecards on a weekly and sometimes daily basis. This rolls into our Individual Performance Objectives, which are measured on a quarterly basis. It all flows together to ensure that our efforts are aligned and we are all pulling in the same direction. It’s an effective and inspiring way to harness the power of our collective group.

How long have you been applying this detailed approach to individual and company performance?

We began the initiative almost three years ago. During the first year we were just beginning to understand the nomenclature and starting to shift. The second year was fine-tuning those processes. Now we are seeing significant improvements over the last two years because we are past the learning curve. We are actually using the tools of the culture to drive our results.

How do these operational practices benefit the franchisee?

Everything is about the results, right? We have built accountability into our key results, and the key results are all related to our franchisees’ success. Our No. 1 key result, our wildly important goal, which we call our WIG, is improving franchisees’ profit by 20%. How do you get the franchisees involved? They’re involved because it’s that profitability that let’s them live their dreams.

The second WIG is raising Marco’s Pizza same-store sales by 6%. We know that focusing on same-store sales translates to higher profits for the franchisees. Laser focus on the things that are a benefit to the franchisees, earns their engagement. We make sure every store has pep rallies and focuses on recognizing employees for doing the little things. It might be as simple as having a contest to see who can sell the most CheezyBread on a Friday night and then recognizing the employee who actually hits the highest achievement. You reward them specifically for what they’ve done, how they did it and how it helped achieve a key result. Incentives that engage people are effective. Franchisees have adapted to this approach very quickly because everybody wins — employees are engaged and happy employees make happy customers.

Is this focus on company culture at Marco’s Pizza tied to your growth?

Absolutely. We have an area representative model, and we have 57 area reps. Area reps, for a lack of a better term, are like master franchises. They own a particular geography, and they have a contractual obligation to develop stores in their territories within certain time frames.

A couple of things have happened. First, our area rep community is now highly accountable. They are making sure they achieve their obligations. That certainly helps drive sales and growth. We know that profitable, happy franchisees are growth-minded. But the byproduct of doing the right things for your franchise community results in more growth for everyone. Our growth is internal growth and external. Growth is everybody’s job at Marco’s.

To be successful, you have to have people making renewed investments in the brand. For example, one of our longest-term franchisees in Ohio had gone dormant for the past 25 years. He had nine stores, but he had built nothing new for a long time. He’s now built two more stores, and he’s building two more this year. Things like this are happening because of everything we’ve put into place. We’re reawakening franchisees by focusing on what is important to them.

Do you have a management style?

I don’t have a unique or singular style. I believe that the most effective managers are the people who get out front and lead. They find the right people and then challenge those people and give them the tools and resources they need. You try to stay out of their way once you’ve given them the tools.

I adjust my style depending on the situation and people. Some people respond differently to different stimulus. It’s part of my job to understand that everybody is different. My role is to make sure everybody gets what they need from me and from the organization. Some people need a swift kick to get going. Others won’t respond to that approach, while others need to have a carrot or reward held out. I have to understand what the situation calls for, and I have to be flexible and human enough to create an environment where we can all do our best.

What’s your biggest challenge?

Not taking on too many projects too soon and making sure that we understand our capabilities. We don’t want to get too project-oriented because that increases the chances we’ll overlook the necessity of delivering a 5-star consumer experience. At the end of the day we are still in the pizza business. Our customers don’t care about all the internal things we’re working on; they care about the product and the service. Lofty goals are great, but we also need to make sure we stay grounded in the day-to-day basics of serving our customers. We have big plans for the future, but we don’t want to get so focused on the future that we forget to take care of today.

Learn more about Marco’s Pizza

For in-depth details about the Marco’s Pizza franchise opportunity, download our free franchise report. You can also learn more by visiting our research pages.

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