He's Number One!: Gulf Coast Operator Blows Adversity Away

When Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans five years ago, Glenn Mueller already was a grizzled veteran of the Gulf Coast hurricane season. Being a franchisee carries some special challenges for anyone who operates in the region, and Katrina put all of his considerable skills as one of the country's top Domino's franchisees to the test.

"That wasn't fun, but it was probably the best experience of my life," says Mueller, one of the first annual MVP Award winners named by Multi-Unit Franchisee magazine. "I wouldn't want to do it again. But I saw the positive. There we were, without any communications system, water, utilities. And not just Domino's Pizza--everybody was at the same level. It didn't matter what title or position you had in the community, everybody was helping everybody. If you needed food, we gave out If we needed fuel, somebody gave it to us."

Mueller counts himself among the "crazy ones" who stayed home to ride out the storm. "I had some damage to my home, where we had a dozen people staying. I was in Mississippi. I'm a mile from shore, but the water came in to within a half mile. My nephew is a co-owner. He left, and his home got flooded."

The deadly hurricane and subsequent flooding left a long trail of devastation in New Orleans. When Mueller returned to the city, he found 16 of his locations either completely wiped out or badly flooded. "We're world-class at being the first to open and the last to close," says the intrepid franchisee. "Katrina was our 13th hurricane. I've been through 16 hurricanes in 29 years. We have hurricane drills every summer."

Over those years, Mueller says he's learned there are three groups of people. "Some will leave the minute a hurricane is named, and some stay no matter what category the storm is. Then there's everybody in the middle, who decide what's the right time for themselves. We train people on how to come back and when to come back. And the first thing we do is give out to people in the community."

Mueller's core business values may have been tested by the catastrophe, but he never wavered. "We have a culture of taking care of our people. We guaranteed them food, and shelter," he says. "That, and a paycheck. Even if we didn't have stores open, they had a job. I believe you take care of your people, give back to the community, and then get the business up and running."

Before Katrina hit, Mueller had 3,000 workers. Two weeks later, 1,700 had returned. "Like many companies, we were short staffed," he recalls. And, like many companies, Mueller's franchise operation had to adjust to some changes.

"Parts of New Orleans never really recovered," he says. "There are 700,000 people that haven't returned to the city and tens of thousands who moved from the Mississippi Coast. We have three less stores and there are less people. It took us several years to rebuild 13 of the 16 stores wiped out or flooded."

But he has rebuilt. And as the 55-year-old franchise veteran prepares to celebrate his 30th anniversary in the Domino's Pizza chain, he knows that anything that doesn't kill a franchise operation can make it stronger.

2010 MVP AWARD WINNER

You were recognized for demonstrating outstanding performance and innovation in growing your organization and the brand(s). Tell us more about what you did.
Within the Domino's Pizza system in the last 29 years we've been growing the fastest, and of course we're the largest. Early on we introduced the insulated hot bag, had the first drive-through and stand-alone stores, and pioneered a carryout-only concept in some smaller towns. We added the 9,000th Domino's store, which has a lot of bells and whistles. We've made dozens of computer enhancements to the Domino's Pizza system, and we've helped 150 people franchise.

As a franchisee, how have you raised the bar within your organization?
We really believe in our and career programs. We treat managers as owners, paying them up to 30 percent of the store profits. And we've added training from outside companies like Dale Carnegie.

Give us an example of innovations you've made to build your company or system.
We've used consultants and learned from others, like Pal's Sudden Service, a 19-store chain that does more business than McDonald's or Taco Bell. It's all carryout. They won the national Malcolm Baldrige award. We try to benchmark against the best. It's about our and the way we pay and reward people.

What core values do you feel led you to win the MVP Award?
We put people first and we demand integrity, with a special focus on customers. We are constantly improving, though sometimes we can make it more complicated than it is.


Name: Glenn Mueller
Title: President/CEO
Company: RPM Pizza, LLC
No. of units: 136 Domino's Pizza

PERSONAL

Age: 55
Family: Married 33 years, 5 children
Years in current position: 8 years as majority franchise owner; celebrating 30 years next year in Domino's Pizza

Key accomplishments: Married 33 years, 5 kids, and working in a family business with my brother, nephew, and now son and daughter. Largest U.S. franchise for 25-plus years. Winner of the Mississippi Governor's Award (Highest Quality Award). The most pizzas sold in one day in one store location (over 8,100). Opening the 9,000th Domino's store in New Orleans East, an area not served for 4 years since Katrina, and returning Domino's as the number-one pizza company in New Orleans to cover all of the city. Reopening 71 of the 86 stores closed by Katrina in record time, some in as little as 72 hours, without any food, water, utilities, or RPM Pizza Team Members. Donating more than 36,000 pizzas to survivors and rescue workers after Katrina (and donations made after each of the 16 hurricanes that have hit RPM Pizza store territories). Earning 7 Gold Franchise Awards from Domino's. Helping Donnie Rush achieve the Guinness World Record for most pizzas made and baked in one hour by an individual (142). Being one of the biggest Domino's innovators (portable car top signs, heated hot bags, stores with drive-thrus, carryout-only stores), with many innovations affecting the pizza industry. Helping more than 150 Team Members franchise. President of the Domino's Pizza Franchise Forum association for more than 18 years. Graduated with honors from Ohio Wesleyan University, majors in economics and math with an minor. Graduating with honors from the University of Michigan MBA program, receiving my CPA shortly after graduate school, and 2 years of public accounting.

Biggest mistake: Not working in stores early on (I came in as CFO and controller).

Smartest mistake: Challenging the CEO of Domino's to a pizza-making contest--loser paying $10,000 to the Domino's Pizza charity, the Partner's Foundation. The contest was graded on quality and speed with three judges and in front of 2,500 Domino's Pizza Team Members. It took 6 months of aggressive training, much stress, and an ultimate win.

How do you spend a typical day?
Run in the morning, work at office or stores, dinner at home, spend time with family and grandchild, walk, emails.

Work week: Review weekly results on Monday, team meetings Tuesday, then conference calls, team meetings, and store the rest of the week. At night do emails, call franchisees, and read up on industry and competitive updates. Travel to other areas/meetings one week per month and distant stores about once per month.

Favorite fun activities: Playing flag football, Ultimate Night Frisbee, waterskiing, snow skiing.

Exercise/workout: Run-walk daily. Currently in a 1 million-step challenge in 6 weeks.

Favorite stuff/tech toys: My iPhone, a John Deere tractor, and a G-scale garden train layout (Castle Farms Garden Railroad, the largest in the state).

What are you reading?
Home Team, by Sean Payton (coach of the 2010 Super Bowl champs), and Hire the American Dream by Dave Melton and Tim McIntyre.

Do you have a favorite quote or advice you give?
Altitude is determined by attitude. And from football: if you get hit hard, get back up fast and don't let the competition know you are hurt. There is no "I" in TEAM, Together Each Accomplishes More. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. You either get better or worse, you never stay the same. Hire tough, manage easy.

Best advice you ever got:
My Mom told me to always think positive and my Dad told me to always be honest. My brother, Richard Mueller, Jr., told me to practice the Golden Rule and treat others as you want to be treated. Always put your agreements in writing.

Formative influences/events:
Joining my brother Richard at his Ohio Domino's Pizza operation as an intern in college and then starting RPM Pizza with him in Mississippi 6 years later.

How do you balance life and work?
Follow Tom Monaghan's (founder of Domino's Pizza) five priorities: 1. Spiritual, 2. Physical, 3. Mental, 4. Social/Family, 5. Financial. My brother Richard taught me to plan your calendar with family items first, then business items after.

MANAGEMENT

Business philosophy:
Be the best, always strive to be number one. Outwork and out-hustle your competitors--never be out-hustled. Manage by fact, be customer-focused, be systems- and process-oriented, and constantly improve. Help others and pay it forward. Expect each store to be run to excellence, leaving no store behind. Benchmark against the best and strive for world-class performance. Be the first to open and the last to close versus Mother Nature, fires, and power outages. Strive to be the best place to work, offering a drug-free, safe workplace with the best training and career opportunities, while paying the best with opportunities to franchise. Refer to each worker as a Team Member and not the "e" word. Value diversity and each member on the team. Promote a Team Member feedback system along with an open-door philosophy. Find ways to have fun and reward people for a great job.

Would you say you are in the franchising, or customer service business? Why?
Great pizzas delivered in 30 minutes is the foundation of our business, our key customer requirement, and our competitive advantage. The customers pay my paycheck and we must stay focused on their needs. Product, service, price, and image are key business drivers and always will be.

What gets you out of bed in the morning?
I can't sleep too long or I'll miss an opportunity to accomplish more.

What's your passion in business?
To be number one, to be known as the best pizza company in our markets, and the best place to work.

Greatest challenge: Hiring the best people and executing at high levels.

How close are you to operations?
We have a manager board of advisors, a driver board of advisors, and a pizza college where all managers receive their training, so I get frequent group contact. However, it is a natural conflict to be in the office versus the stores/operations. A balance is needed with my job. We schedule unannounced store visits and announced visits. For 7 years we have toured every store around year-end to shake everyone's hand, say thank you, and then have a "friendly" competition to see who can make the fastest pizza. Anyone who beats me wins $20, and I have had to go to ATMs quite frequently. Thank goodness for new Team Members.

How do others describe you?
Competitive and persistent, never sleeps, and strives to be number one in every team, committee, group, or business venture. Hence our company purpose at RPM Pizza: to build a 5-star, world-class, great company!

How do you hire and fire?
Look at character, work ethic, integrity, and being a team player. If I can, I like to see how people play or do activities, as you can tell a person's attitude and drive.

How do you train and retain?
At RPM Pizza, you can achieve your dreams and hit your career goals and personal goals over time. Look at the bigger picture and long term. Domino's is a great franchise and the best pizza company in the world! We treat our management like owners, our GMs earn up to 30 percent of the store's profits, and we try to give equity-type compensation. We have the best and most training programs in our industry. Pizza College symbolizes this commitment.

BOTTOM LINE

Annual revenue: $120 million in sales, $25 million in payroll

2010 goals: 5 percent increase in sales, 7 percent increase in customer counts.

How is this economic cycle affecting you, your employees, your customers?
Our customers are more price-sensitive. Some also want the best meal and are not as price-sensitive, but again want the best product. So we have to meet both sets of customer requirements. Our Team Members appreciate their jobs a bit more, making our turnover at record lows. We strive to increase everyone's pay as the company grows. With down economy and the oil spill issues, we have to scrutinize our capital improvement budgets and all expenditures. Our ROI requirements get a bit higher.

How do you forecast for your business during these trying times? Can you even forecast at all?
We must forecast and must increase order counts and sales every year, regardless of the environment. We have done so 14 of the last 18 years. If you are down you must make changes and adapt and overcome.

Where do you find capital for expansion?
Chase Bank has been great to work with. We have had three groups of commercial banks over the past 29 years. Chase has met all our needs for the past 8 years.

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