Reconnecting: with Tommy Haddock: Proudly Built from Scratch

In 32 years, Tommy Haddock has never closed a restaurant

Tommy Haddock has added 10 Bojangles' Famous Chicken 'n Biscuits restaurants since we profiled him six years ago. As he approaches 50 this "hands-in" operator says his favorite photo of himself shows him making biscuits--a testament to his made-from-scratch, multi-million-dollar organization and his ongoing love for operations.

Not that he would ever win his company's biscuit-making competition. "I can make a pretty good biscuit, but I'd lose out on speed," says the easygoing North Carolinian who opened his first Bojangles' 32 years ago.

A graduate of North Carolina State University's School of Forestry, Haddock worked for a local power company before entering the restaurant industry. He learned from the best: Bojangles' founder Jack Fulp (now deceased), who also happened to be his father-in-law. "Jack connected me with the Richardson family and we formed a partnership, opening our first restaurant in January 1980," he recalls. "When we opened our first we were the 13th in the chain. The number 13 has been good to us."

Haddock's wife of 40 years, Donna, handles administrative and HR duties for the company, which has become known over the years for its close connection to the North Carolina and Virginia communities where its restaurants are located.

"We challenge our unit managers to know when local high schools have athletic events, who's playing, and whether it's a big game. We reach out to as many of the high school organizations as we can. We feel that, over time, this has helped us build our brand and presence in the market," says Haddock, whose favorite Bojangles' treat is the country ham and egg biscuit.

The company is also using other methods to reach out to the young people who will be its customers over the next 20 years, adds the father of two and grandfather of three. "We want to cultivate these young people as customers so we're doing more with electronic media, such as Facebook. We also want to keep our base customers, so we try to offer something special from one end of the spectrum to the other."

Recipient of the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association's Restaurateur of the Year award in 2006, Haddock says he's proud of what he and his team have built. "We try to remind people that even though we're part of a chain, we are a local restaurant, too--locally owned and operated."


Name: Tommy Haddock
Title: Co-founder and president
Company: Tri-Arc Food Systems
No. of units 2012: 46 Bojangles' Famous Chicken 'n Biscuits
No. of units 2008: 36 Bojangles' Famous Chicken 'n Biscuits


Age: 60
Family: Wife Donna and two sons
Years in franchising: 32
Years in current position: 32

Key accomplishments:
Our primary accomplishment is building, owning, and operating 46 restaurants from scratch. We're also proud that in 32 years we've never closed a restaurant--they're all still open and running. It was also an honor to receive the Restaurateur of the Year Award in 2006 from the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association and to serve as chairman of the board for that organization in 2003.

Biggest mistake:
I try to forget my mistakes--I only look forward.

Smartest mistake:
My smartest mistake was leaving an 8-to-5, Monday-to-Friday job to get into the There were times I asked myself what in the world I had done, but looking back it was the smartest thing I've ever done.

How do you spend a typical day?
I'm up at about 6 a.m., and I try to go by one of our restaurants--either inside or through the drive-through--before going to the office. The first thing I do at the office is read and respond to emails. Then it's on to all the necessary daily chores. I eat lunch at one of our restaurants about three times a week.

Work week:
The majority of my work week is Monday through Friday, but I am available at all times to all of my management team and restaurants. They have my home and cell numbers. I only get few calls off hours any more but I make myself available.

Favorite fun activities:
Playing saltwater fishing.

I usually exercise three times a week. It can vary from walking a couple of miles to actually working out for an hour in my home gym.

Favorite tech toys:
I'm not a techie, but I have all those things and can get the fundamentals done. If I have a favorite tech it's probably my Microsoft Flight Simulator. I always wanted to fly but have never found the time to learn.

What are you reading?
I read a lot of industry magazines and I read the newspaper, starting with and going to the business section.

Do you have a favorite quote/advice?
I'm a graduate of NC State University, and when I need a little pep talk, I remember Jimmy Valvano's (the late men's basketball coach) "Never give up" speech.

Best advice you ever got:
The best advice I ever got was from Bojangles' founder Jack Fulp (whose daughter I married), who often said, "The secret is in the biscuit." Even though it is Bojangles' Famous Chicken 'n Biscuits, the biscuit really is the center of the restaurant.

Formative influences/events:
I have had two mentors: Jack Fulp, founder of Bojangles', and my Jerry Richardson, owner of the Carolina Panthers. They did more to help me learn the business than anyone.

How do you balance life and work?
I guess my work is my life and my life is my work. But as I've gotten older I've gotten better at separating the two and being able to remove myself from work. I know I have good people in place getting the job done and that I can depend on and trust them. That helps me to enjoy life, golfing, fishing, and now my three grandchildren.


Business philosophy:
Take one day at a time.

Are you in the franchising, or customer service business?
We're in the customer service business. Without putting customer service number one on the list, there would be no reason for any other phase of the business.

What gets you out of bed in the morning?
I enjoy each day and the challenges it brings--both the ones I know about and the ones I don't. That's one of the pros and the cons of the business, never knowing what to expect. There's definitely nothing mundane about what we do.

What's your passion in business?
Our employees.

Management method or style:
We give people a lot of latitude in their jobs as well as opportunities to succeed, make mistakes, and learn from their mistakes.

Greatest challenge:
Our greatest challenge is coping with the outside influences and government regulations we are faced with today while continuing to run a profitable business.

How close are you to operations?
I'm operations-oriented, so I'm involved every day. Have you changed your marketing strategy in response to the economy? How?
We are doing more value meal kinds of marketing, looking closely at pricing, and using the Internet and our Facebook page to reach out to more people, especially younger people and teens.

Most of the time, I'm fairly easygoing, and I try to think before I speak. However, like most people, I've had to have my foot surgically removed from my mouth more than once.

How do others describe you?
They would say the same, but most of my team has been around long enough to know when to give me a little space.

How do you hire and fire?
I hire and fire very carefully, and we don't fire very many people. We find that those people who don't fit into the organization usually weed themselves out.

How do you train and retain?
We put a lot of our resources into When we bring people into our organization, we bring them along slowly, working with them to help them learn our system, our business philosophy, and how we want to treat our customers. When people leave, we do exit interviews to learn what we may do better and how to make a better work environment. Over the past 32 years, we've learned something every time we lose an individual from the organization. We feel a sense of obligation to our employees. After all, they make us successful.

How do you deal with problem employees?
I don't deal with any unless they're in upper management. Generally, we counsel people, give them goals to reach and opportunities to improve. If their goals are not in sync with ours, more often than not, they leave on their own.

Bottom Line

Annual revenue:
More than $100 million

2012 goals:
We want to continue to grow by opening new restaurants, evaluating our position in our markets, and making sure we maintain the image we have and the brand awareness we have developed over time. Even though we're a franchisee, we're always evaluating our menu to see if there are things we can do better or ideas we need to consider. We want to maintain profit levels equal to or better than the preceding year.

Growth meter: How do you measure your growth?
We look at numbers for our new units as well as same-store sales. We look at the profits behind same-store sales because we've always believed philosophically that if we grow top-line sales and grow our gross revenues, the bottom line will take care of itself.

Vision meter: Where do you want to be in 5 years? 10 years?
We're the tortoise instead of the hare. Today we have 46 restaurants, and it took us 32 years to get here. If we could continue our growth at the same pace for the next 5 or 10 years, I'd be satisfied. In the next 5 years, I would anticipate I will continue to operate the restaurants and be on the job every day, just like I have for 32 years. In the next 10 years, somewhere along the line, I'll be talking about the transition process so this company will continue doing what we are now.

How has the most recent economic cycle affected you, your employees, your customers?
We're very aware that our customers are carefully managing their dollars and choosing where they spend those dollars. We want to continue to be part of our customers' routines on a daily or weekly basis, and we're trying to accommodate them as much as we can. Our employees are in the same boat, stretching their dollars. Our business is faring better than a lot of people in our industry, but I wouldn't say we've been unaffected.

Are you experiencing economic growth/recovery in your market?
Seems to be negligible, flat.

What did you change or do differently in this economy that you plan to continue doing?
We have become more cost-conscious than we were. We have learned that we can operate more efficiently than we have in the past. We'd gotten a little fat and sassy with all the but we've learned that we can trim some fat and operate just as efficiently. We're not cutting back employees on the restaurant level--we have about 2,500--but we haven't added to upper management and we have a lot of people going beyond the call of duty to help us.

How do you forecast for your business in this economy?
We've been in this economic rut for enough time now that if there's any optimism, it's that we think things won't get worse and that we can at least maintain where we are. So for a number of years, our forecasts and projections have been to remain flat or slightly down. Bojangles' does a good job on the purchasing side, keeping us informed as to what is coming down the pike, and what we can expect as far as commodities prices and how they affect the P&L statement.

Where do you find capital for expansion?
We have been fortunate to have a great relationship with our bank for a long time. They have been good to work with us.

Is capital getting easier to access?
No. Out of necessity, banks are looking more closely than ever at who they lend to. Successful, established companies like ours are able to continue, but it's extremely difficult for young companies and startups.

Have you used private equity, local banks, national banks, other institutions?
Our relationship is with a national bank. We have opportunities to use local banks who have expressed interest in working with us, but our primary bank has taken such good care of us over the years that we've stuck with them.

What kind of exit strategy do you have in place?
I'll let you know in 10 years.

What are you doing to take care of your employees?
We have a 401(k) plan and our management people share in our success through a nice commission system that we put in place many years ago. We have a lot of long-term employees--one has been with us since the first day we opened. She has grown with us and is now one of our area directors supervising seven or eight restaurants.

How are you handling rising employee costs (payroll, healthcare, etc.)?
Unfortunately, with healthcare, we have had to pass some costs on to our employees. We continue to pay the bulk of the cost. The only other place we can offset is through menu board items. Sometimes we get squeezed in the middle and sometimes we have to take less profit


How do you reward/recognize top-performing employees?
About 25 years ago, we started what we called the Biscuit Banquet, where we'd have a biscuit-making competition and recognize the winner. That has grown into an annual banquet where we recognize manager of the year and assistant manager of the year. In addition to the public recognition, we reward them with a monetary gift.

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