Changing Sides: Former Franchise Corporate Player Decides to "Walk The Walk"

Rob Parsons knew all about franchising. He had worked on the inside at Popeyes and Denny's assisting franchisees with He had learned the ropes.

In fact at Popeyes, Parsons worked with Jim Lyons, an industry veteran who is now chief development officer for Del Taco and Captain D's. Lyons played a key role in mentoring the young Parsons. During a five-year stretch at Popeyes, Parsons played a key role in pushing the brand's New York market from 58 to 101 locations.

Just turning 40, about to get married, and enjoying a successful corporate career during a savage economic downturn, Parsons decided the time was right to emulate the entrepreneurs he had been working with for years. "I decided that I wanted to walk the walk," says Parsons. And he chose a tough region to take that walk.

Parsons got his start working the market in New Hampshire before becoming directly involved in franchise development in the Northeast. He knows firsthand how tough it is to develop a franchise in New England, where the locals tend to remain steadfastly loyal to their favorite restaurants. It's the polar opposite from the Midwest market, he says, where most are quick to embrace a new franchise location. Also, he says, "Real estate is expensive in New England and good locations are hard to find. I couldn't recruit people to it, but I believed in it because I lived here."

With all the real estate development savvy he needed, Parsons teamed up with investors and an experienced operations chief to form Synergy Dining Group.

"You need three things in this business: capital, operations, and real estate development," he says. "That's what we have in our three-way partnership, and that's why we're called Synergy. We formed in February 2009, and I retained my post at Popeyes until July, my replacement. I resigned and two weeks later opened my first restaurant." That was July 17.

"We did $1 million in sales inside of four months in that unit," he says. Three days after they hit the $1 million mark, the partners opened their second store, in Fall River, Mass. And they're a long way from finished: the deal with Popeyes calls for Synergy to build 18 restaurants in their territory.

As those late-night TV ads say, "But wait, there's more!" Once those 18 units are built, Parsons plans on adding a noncompeting brand to help improve the odds for long-term success. And then he might add more Popeyes locations.

"Who knows how many restaurants the market will hold?" he says. "And there are other markets. I sold franchises for a long time, and every franchisee that ever came to me had a number in mind for how many locations they wanted to have. Usually it was 100."

Parsons chuckles at that. If each location makes money and reports growing sales, then he's doing fine. He says there's no real magic number that adds up to success. "I will open as many stores as I can control and maintain profitable."


Name: Rob Parsons Title: Managing partner Company: Synergy Dining Group No. of units: 2 Popeyes, with a deal to add 16 more


Age: 41 Family: I got married between the openings of my two stores. Years in current position: 1 Years in franchising: 12

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