A Conversation with Firehouse Subs Franchisee and Area Representative Randy Judd
Firehouse Subs franchisee and Area Representative Randy Judd recently shared his thoughts with Franchising World on growing business, barriers to entry and their focus on multi-unit franchisees. His territories include Utah and Idaho.
Firehouse area representatives’ responsibilities include developing a market based on the sale of franchises, and providing overall operational and marketing support to franchisees, who oversee their own day-to-day operations, as well as strive to increase market share, maintain revenue and develop management teams. This entrepreneurial model provides a caliber of support and continuity of relationships that best serves the system’s growth strategy.
Q: How did you get your start in the restaurant/franchise industry?
Judd: Like many people in the restaurant industry, my first real job was in a restaurant. I started washing dishes. All through college, I worked full time as a manager. Even while getting my MBA from Brigham Young University, I managed corporate food services. I’ve always been drawn to franchising because of the built-in systems it provides. There is no reason to re-invent things that are already in place. Franchises give the highest chance to succeed. My 25 years in franchising include time consulting for such brands as Papa Murphy’s Pizza, Dairy Queen and IHOP.
Q: What drew you to Firehouse Subs?
Judd: When Firehouse Subs reached out to me in late 2009 to see if I had interest in becoming an area representative in Utah, I only had knowledge of the company through the good things I had seen in industry publications. My wife, Connie, and I spent several months visiting Firehouse Subs in other areas of the country. It was obvious on my first visit that it was a concept I could embrace. I was looking for a system of which I could be proud. The quality was apparent, and the company’s philanthropic side made me want to continue my research. After meeting with the great people at headquarters, I was sold on the brand and knew it was a company on which I wanted to hitch my wagon for the rest of my career.
Q: What has made Firehouse so successful as of late?
It has a lot to do with the consistency of the brand. We continue to have commitment and passion for hearty and flavorful food, heartfelt service and public safety. At a time when other brands may have been cutting back on labor (affecting service) or changing their product (lowering their quality), Firehouse Subs stayed its course, and the consumer has rewarded us for it.
Q: What are the barriers to continued growth and expansion?
Judd: Certainly finding the appropriate sites in certain areas can slow our expansion. Because I won’t be developing a Firehouse Subs on every corner, I want to be very selective in helping my franchisees find the right site. We’ve generally only got one chance in each market; I want it to be the right one. Sometimes, this means waiting.
Q: What is your biggest challenge in finding new franchisees?
Judd: Interestingly, most of my franchisee candidates come to us because they were customers first. They see the great food and atmosphere and know that they could feel good about owning an operation like Firehouse Subs. Because of this, I have had a nice stream of potential franchisees; so many so, that Utah is already sold out in just three years. Half of my development agreement in Idaho is sold after just six months. Also, one of the things that makes us successful is that we are owner-operated. Sometimes people want to own one just as an investment and not be directly involved. That is not the model that has made us successful.
Q: What do you look for in potential franchisees? Are there any particular demographic trends within the system?
Judd: I look for franchisees who enjoy people. This is not a business that is run from an office. They need to be able to work side by side with people from diverse backgrounds and spend time pleasing guests. I am also looking for people who have a high work ethic, that get excited by working and doing whatever it takes. I was raised in the Ozarks of Arkansas, and learned from my father early on the joy that is derived from working. He would work all day in the lumber yards, then come home and work several hours more in the garden. I am looking for people who are willing to work hard to reach their goals.
Q: What are the benefits of being a multi-unit franchisee in the Firehouse system?
Judd: Because a franchisee will start with personally working one restaurant, they will have all the expertise of running subsequent restaurants. They will be the expert in their markets. They have the potential to grow as long as their area representative thinks they are capable of operating highly functioning operations.
Q: What is the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation? How do you work with your local community in this effort?
Judd: The Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation has been one of the pleasant surprises in my association with Firehouse Subs. I learned quickly that Firehouse Sub is not a “themed” restaurant, but we are authentic to supporting first responders throughout the country. Nationally, the foundation has given more than $5.7 million. In Utah alone, we’ve donated lifesaving equipment totaling more than $63,000 in just two years. It is a joy to help these departments who are sometimes hit hard with budget cuts. It is rewarding to see this equipment used to save lives throughout the community. n
Erica Fitzsimmons is senior director of political affairs, grassroots advocacy & multi-unit franchisee engagement for the International Franchise Association. She can be reached at 202-662-0760 or email@example.com.