Franchising is a tough business, and succeeding even tougher. But with a keen eye on the bottom line, customer service, and community involvement, there are a handful of multi-unit franchisees who rise to the top. We like to call them superstars and once a year Multi-Unit Franchisee magazine recognizes a select few with our Annual MVP Awards. This year we carefully selected 9 individuals who have demonstrated character, innovation, and sacrifice within their markets and brands. We'd also like to thank our sponsor, Comcast, for their support in making these awards possible. Here's a little more about each of this year's winners. Their full profiles follow.
William Ray Bruce has always had a "do good vibe" philosophy to business. Abundant Brands is comprised of more than 280 Subways, Costa Vidas, Roxberry Juice, and Big Al's BBQ in Utah. So it's perhaps not surprising that in 2012 he teamed up with The Rescue Mission of Salt Lake City to provide meals to the hungry and homeless one day a week. He was inspired to donate the extra food for meals at the shelter after seeing a documentary about hungry people in the U.S. "diving" into trash bins to subsist on what is discarded daily by restaurants. He began the program in February of 2012. He delivers enough for about 450 meals every Thursday. More recently, he has begun "Subway Tuesdays" where he uses leftover bread and meats to feed those in need. His "do good vibe" is the cornerstone of his 280-plus franchise units.
Guillermo Perales thinks big. He's about to pass 400 units and he provides jobs to more than 10,000 employees. The native of Mexico came to America in search of success and he found it. His Sun Holdings, LLC was ranked among top 10 in the Restaurant Finance Monitor in 2012 and he is the largest Latino restaurant franchisee in the U.S. He also co-founded the Latin American/DFW Fund to raise money for Latino-based programs and initiatives. And he supports education by providing incentives for Latino students to stay in school. His Certificate of Achievement Award program provides five million free meal certificates every year to local students through the program. He also recognizes armed services veterans with free meals at his restaurants on Veteran's Day each year.
Danny Sonenshine operates 21 Wingstop restaurants in Southern California. He opened one of the very first locations in Los Angeles (there are now 60 locations in the market) and recently opened the second test concept Wingstop Sports location in the country. He serves as president of the Wingstop Southern California Advertising Co-op and the Wingstop Franchise Advisory Council. Now he's got his sights set on Hawaii and Guam, where he has the rights to develop. He loves being a part of his community and spearheading things like a Wingstop SoCal sponsorship with the LA Lakers, Dodgers, and Angels. He provides a great example for how franchisees can get involved in their communities and be successful business operators.
Steve Baliva brings consistency to operations and focuses on bottom line profitability in all 3 of his brands. He has 13 T.G.I. Friday's; 1 Ruth's Chris Steak House; 1Wolfgang Puck Express; and 1 Lucky's Sporthouse. His team and communication skills have helped to build a strong, healthy business, that is characterized by growth. He believes it's important not just to operate a successful business but to be involved in the community, and he demonstrated that during the recent Hurricane Sandy that struck the east coast. During the natural disaster, two of his stores lost power but that didn't stop him. He was in the middle of things helping his employees move the food to other locations, working shifts to help fill in, donating and delivering endless amounts of food from their TGIF to shelters of those affected - including his employees.
It's taken 25-year-old Samantha Goldsmith less than three years to open 10 Red Mango locations on her native Long Island. That quick start approach makes her the healthy yogurt system's youngest franchisee and largest multi-unit owner, and has made Long Island the single largest market for the brand. She's loved the brand's healthy products since day one and is a big believer in marketing. She has used Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare accounts to promote her store growth. She's something of a rock star at her store grand openings and the recipient of the Influencer Award. "It's great when young people come to the manager and ask if I'm there because they want to talk to me about being successful in business," she says.
Joe Hertzman opened his first Rally's restaurant 28 years ago. Today he operates 24 Papa John's; 13 Rally's; and 7 Long John Silver's. He's always been a bit of an innovator. Last year he played a critical role in developing the brand's Peak 150 program to improve lunch performance. He also advocated a waffle cone be added to the chain's new Cold Creations menu; a product that has differentiated Checkers/Rally's from its competition, wowed guests, and driven sales.
He's an influential leader on the Franchise Advisory Council, and in 2012, won the Sustained Sales Growth award for achieving 41 percent sales growth on a five-year basis across his entire business. But it's his innovative spirit that has earned him the Franchisee of the Year Award from Rally's/Checkers.
Not all role models are flashy and charismatic. Sometimes the best ones are thoughtful and soft-spoken. Spencer Smith is such a leader. The Colorado multi-unit, multi-brand franchisee has earned his success by "following the program" and the Golden Rule. And it's all paid off. A staunch family man who grew up working at his father's tire store and on the family farm, believes that you can diligently follow the franchise system and have a spirit of innovation or entrepreneurship. Smith, who opened 39 Aaron's stores in eight years and nine months, also owns two Big O Tires. He succeeds by treating his employees and customers the same way he would want to be treated coupled with execution and delivery of service.
Kevin and Laurel Wilkerson served a combined 44 years in the U.S. Army. That, they say, prepared them for life in franchising. They've been in the Marco's Pizza system for 3-and-a-half years now and are getting results. In September 2012, they had the highest opening sales of any Marco's in the country. In April 2013, they had the second highest opening sales of any Marco's in the U.S. In 2011, Kevin was selected as the Area Representative of the Year for Marco's. And in 2012, one of their units was acknowledged for being in the top 10 in sales for the year. The couple rely on tools like gorilla marketing and direct mail to build business at their 7 locations. Kevin served as the inaugural President of the Area Rep Leadership Council (ARLC) and worked with the franchisor to create meaningful and lasting improvements to the system. He has also been instrumental in training many new franchisees for the Marcos system, even attending many of the new franchisees' store openings to lend a helping hand.
Looking for a new brand? Don't miss this year's "Multi-Unit 50" lists, ranking brands by (1) greatest number, and (2) percentage of multi-unit franchisees in their system.
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