Wings and a Prayer: Hard Work And Faith Pay Off For Johnny Collins

Johnny Collins is a man of faith and endurance. He knows what kind of hard work and dedication it takes to run a marathon, serve as a firefighter, and work as a officer. He also knows how to be a successful franchisee. He loves to overcome challenges.

Even after he opened his first Wingstop in McAllen, Texas, making the store work seemed like a test of his faith. "Several times, I said, 'Oh my goodness, what did I go do?'" Collins says. "I'd get on my knees and pray."

One problem was that Wingstop was an unknown quantity in his market. In that area, he says, small, mom-and-pop restaurants open up regularly--and shut down just as regularly. Potential customers didn't seem to be giving Wingstop a chance. So Collins hung flyers on every door within a three-mile radius. Sometimes he'd take free samples into the neighborhood.

His persistence paid off. Collins was recently honored as the Multi-Unit Operator of the Year by Wingstop for his three-store, $5 million operation. And now he's opening Mooyah Burgers & Fries locations in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. They're still new, but Collins is confident they'll pay off. "Our first store doesn't have big numbers yet, but I know it will do huge," he says. "Even our second location is already pretty busy."

With the new Mooyah Burgers stores, Collins divides his time between Dallas-Fort Worth and the Rio Grande Valley. He spends up to 10 days a month with the Wingstop locations, relying on his general manager, his sister-in-law Esthela Vallejo, for day-to-day operations.

He'll do annual revenue of around $5 million from his Wingstop, and more with his brand-new burger stores.

Next up? Real estate. While Collins is always looking to grow his sales, he's also into the property side of the business, away from leased space and toward building his own locations. "That way the rent I pay is to myself," Collins says. "That's how I'm looking to grow now."

How has the most recent economic cycle affected you, your employees, your customers?
In the Valley, the economy has still been good. It hasn't affected us down there as it has across the U.S. We still get customers in from Mexico with a lot of disposable income.

Are you experiencing economic growth/recovery in your market?
Yes.

What did you change or do differently in this economy that you plan to continue doing?
It's just been business as usual, and we'll keep doing the same thing. Stay involved with schools and churches, continue treating everybody fairly.

How do you forecast for your business in this economy?
We look for consistent growth from year to year. If I'm doing anywhere from 3 percent to 8 percent growth I'm happy with it.

Where do you find capital for expansion?
A lot of it I have saved. I use my own money. Other than that, I just go to a bank and ask for an SBA

Is capital getting easier to access? Why/why not?
I've noticed it's a bit more difficult. Banks are asking more and more questions. They want more collateral.

Have you used private equity, local/national banks, other institutions? Why/why not?
Local banks where I keep my accounts.

What kind of exit strategy do you have in place?
I want to stick with it for now, and get my son more and more involved. If he's doing a good job, taking care of the business well, keeping the numbers positive, I'll start exiting slowly.

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