Don Copus likes to roll up his sleeves and get in the game with his employees, literally. At least a half dozen times a year, he gathers his Hungry Howie's employees for a corporate outing where you may find the Berkley, Mich.-based franchisee batting for one softball team, pitching for the other, or manning the grill. No matter how you slice it, Copus, named 2012 Hungry Howie's Franchisee of the Year, is an employees' employer.
"I want them to know that I am approachable," says Copus. "I want them to realize that I'm no different from them. I started out with less than most of them, but worked hard to get where I am today. I want them to know that I'm willing to mentor them."
A native of Indianapolis, Copus, who operates 25 Hungry Howie's in Michigan, Indiana, and Utah, grew up in a family of eight in a 900-square foot home, made cozier by parents who welcomed any neighborhood child in need of a meal or bed. Copus learned to problem-solve at an early age from his late father, who taught his son not to "cry over spilt milk" and, instead, focus on what you can do.
"His family was his wealth," Copus says of his father, who died 31 years ago. "He always had a positive outlook on everything. We would say that if a strong wind would blow the roof off of our home, he would look up and say, 'It is sunny outside.'"
His "can do" attitude has helped Copus over the years both personally and professionally, whether it was starting his franchising business in the middle of a recession or finding a way to rebuild the family home destroyed by fire--under budget and to twice its original size--when insurance money would cover only half the cost.
An Indiana University graduate (and thus a huge Hoosiers fan) and certified public accountant, Copus has a nose for numbers that has enabled him to strategize and react quickly to economic and industry changes. He has served on Hungry Howie's Ad Council and as a representative of The American Pizza Community, a coalition of franchisors, franchisees, small operators, and suppliers who advocate for policies affecting the industry, including the successful reformation of menu labeling legislation. Over the past 21 years, his stores have earned numerous awards, particularly in sales achievement.
Still, says Copus, his recent Franchisee of the Year honor for best embracing Hungry Howie's brand concept and corporate philosophy of helping people was unexpected and puts him among a special group of franchisees that he has long known and respected.
"All of this group, I believe, if cut, will bleed pizza sauce--I should say Hungry Howie's pizza sauce," says Copus. "It is this group of franchisees that motivates other franchisees to do better. They are Hungry Howie's ambassadors."
Copus also believes the returns for reaching out to his employees and the communities his stores serve are abundant. For instance, when River Rouge, Mich., was slammed by tough economic times, Copus stuck with his restaurant, located near Detroit, and its community. His loyal diners, largely auto and steel workers, returned the favor. In 2011, that store boasted an annual sales increase of more than 70 percent, earning the unit the "Highest Percent of Sales Increase" award in the Hungry Howie's system. "Support your community and they community will support you," he says.
Looking ahead, Copus has committed to adding six Hungry Howie's in Utah. He also operates two DJ's Hotdog Company locations, with plans to add a third Chicago-style hot dog eatery by the end of the first quarter.
"I do want to make it clear that I would not be where I am today if it weren't for the dedication and commitment of my management team and employees," says Copus. "They are doing all the hard work. I'm just leading and delegating with some success."
Name: Donald E. Copus
Title: Chief Financial Officer
Company: Magna Services Group, Ltd.
No. of units by brand: 25 Hungry Howie's Pizza franchises
Family: Wife and four children, ages 20 to 25
Years in franchising: 21
Years in current position: Started Magna Services Group, Ltd. in 1995 with another Hungry Howie's Pizza franchisee to oversee the accounting and administration of our then nine franchises.