Food Courting Florida: Area Rep Brings Teriyaki Experience to the Sunshine State
In 1998, a young Canadian attorney named Fiorenzo Bresolin traveled to Florida to work on a large real estate transaction. It wasn't long before he fell in love with the state--and its booming real estate business. The outgoing corporate lawyer went on to develop, along with partners, a 500-acre corporate park in South Florida owned by the late Mel Simon of the Simon Property Group; today he's knocking on doors to place his restaurants in some of those malls.
In the summer of 2008, as the state's real estate industry began an historic swoon, Bresolin was invited to a wedding in Napa. During that trip, he casually arranged a golf outing with another Canadian, Lou Donato. Somewhere around the sixth hole, Donato mentioned that he was the CEO and founder of Teriyaki Experience in their native country and received an enthusiastic response from Bresolin.
"I said, 'Hey, I know your brand really well. I was raised in Ottawa. I've eaten at Teriyaki, and it's nothing but a great brand.' It was in the making for 23 years and they've been very successful. He then tells me that he's bringing the brand into the U.S."
Bresolin who was raised by hard-working parents and landed his first job at an Ottawa pizzeria when he was 13, barely missed a beat. His reply: "I want to buy Florida."
A few months after that chance encounter, Bresolin had his area development deal in hand and last year pitched into developing his first units with full fervor. By the end of 2009 he had opened his first four locations, seizing prime locations at The Shops at Wiregrass in Wesley Chapel, Fla. (north of Tampa); a University of Central Florida location in Orlando; in the Mall at Millenia in Orlando; and The Gardens Mall in Palm Beach Gardens.
"When I got off the plane from Toronto," he says, with the ink still drying on his development deal, "I went from the airport in Orlando directly to the Mall at Millenia. I view it as one of the top 10 in the country. It's an amazing 1.5 million-square foot shopping destination right off the I-4 across from Universal Studios and near Disneyworld. Through persistence and perseverance and knocking on doors and e-mails and phone calls, I finally had an audience and introduced the brand. And they made a space available in the food court almost immediately. It's so difficult to penetrate malls of this caliber. They get phone calls and proposals weekly."
Running at full tilt, he saw his first location ring up high sales almost immediately--and is using that initial success as a showcase for the franchisees he is eagerly courting.
"How can I not be successful in the state of Florida given the fact that we have what we have?" says the enthusiastic Bresolin. "The weather, tourism, and a pro-business environment where the cost of being in business can't compare to Canada. The brand is fresh, healthy. When you go to quick-service food courts in shopping malls, you're not going to see what Teriyaki Experience brings. The rice concepts at the malls always offer deep-fried food sitting in a syrupy sauce all day. Our brand is fresh, cooked to order, and cooked before the customer. How can it not be a hit?"
That's the big picture, and he paints it every day for franchisees at risk of catching a heavy dose of the same infectious enthusiasm… and can afford a franchise fee of $25,000 along with the $199,500 to $360,500 investment needed to open a location.
Name: Fiorenzo Bresolin
Company: Mangiasumo Foods LLC
No. of units: 4 Teriyaki Experience, with an area development deal to create 150
Family: Wife and two daughters
Years in current position: 2
Years in franchising: 2
Key accomplishments: The ability to bring an unfamiliar brand into a very competitive marketplace and to penetrate some of the premium locations, such as the Mall at Millenia in Orlando and The Gardens Mall in Palm Beach Gardens.
Biggest mistake: I think it has to do with a combination of over-optimism and timing. I wasn't able to foresee the economic downturn. As a result, I didn't hit my own goals and I've had to change my strategy to grow the brand. It's really a tough market out there. I speak to a lot of people, potential franchisees, and there's no credit out there. A lot of these people are in upside-down mortgages or their equity is inaccessible. It's the worst time to be in this business from that perspective.
Smartest mistake: Getting involved in this industry at this time was a smart mistake. I'm happy I did it because it's opened up opportunities to get into some of these high-volume venues, such as The Gardens Mall. The space became available on very short notice and I took it with no realistic time to engage a franchisee. I had no plans to find myself building a store under a limited time frame, but we were able to get the drawings done in three days using the same architect I had for Millenia. Palm Beach Gardens (where the mall is located) gave us a permit in six days, we built a store in 21 days, opened November 22nd, and it's been very successful so far.
How do you spend a day, typically? I get up early in the morning. I do a little bit of exercising, spend a little time online catching up on the news. I jump in my car by 8, make my way to the office and I am on the phone. And I troubleshoot. Eighty percent of my day and night are Teriyaki Experience-related.
Work week: I've visited every shopping mall in the state of Florida. I talk to brokers, deal with Chambers of Commerce. I'm always looking for the right charitable contributions to make. I believe in community and I believe in giving back.
Favorite fun activities: I love exotic cars. I play golf when I can. I love to run on a treadmill. And I'm learning how to play poker.
Exercise/workout: I have a full-scale gym at my office where I do cardio, yoga, and weights.
Favorite stuff/tech toys: I really love my BlackBerry. I was warned from the beginning it would be a "CrackBerry," but it allows me to get a lot accomplished. What are you reading? Alan Greenspan's book The Age of Turbulence is the most recent.
Do you have a favorite quote or advice you give? Life is all about living, and if you're in business it's all about taking the initiative. If you fail to accept the fact that there is risk you will rust. You have to be patient and persevere.
Best advice you ever got: Just be true to yourself, understand and appreciate your shortcomings, and accept the fact that failure in life has a purpose.
Formative influences/events: My parents were hardworking immigrants: no language, no money, no technology. Honest to a fault; believed that it's all about integrity. It's all about your word, being a stand-up human being. I learned a lot from my father, who worked in construction, and my mother, who was a housecleaner. My spouse of 28 years and her unwavering love and support.
How do you balance life and work? I love to travel, love Europe. I love friends. I love people. When you meet me it's as if you know me. God, family, and work (and golf) are what's important; and God to me means doing the right thing.
Business philosophy: I take tremendous pride in doing what I say, and I take even greater pride in a handshake, to seal what it is I've agreed to do. That's my business philosophy.
Would you say you are in the franchising, real estate, or customer service business? Why? We're in all three. You have to be able to select the right real estate in order to have the right franchise. And if you have an excellent brand and an excellent operator you're successful with customer service. When you come to one of my stores, you have an expectation. And that's why you keep coming back.
What gets you out of bed in the morning? Life. We're very blessed to be alive, to be in this country, and to have the opportunities that we have.
What's your passion in business? I want to make the corporate franchisor proud as they took a major gamble entrusting someone with no prior franchising experience to represent a successful global brand. I see myself as having 100 to 120 units in 10 years. Management method or style: I believe in teamwork. I don't care how much education or money or experience you have, you are nothing and going nowhere without a solid team that shares your vision. My management style is to take the initiative, share the dream, and have people feel as if they are part and parcel of not only the effort, but the rewards.
Greatest challenge: The biggest one today is the ability to access credit. I have had excellent relations with lenders in this state for over a decade. However, lenders are not lending as they should to grow this economy, but I am optimistic they will free up their restrictions by the last quarter of 2010.
How close are you to operations? Every week someone is getting a visit. Every store has a camera. I have two computers on my desk and I'm always looking at different stores.
How do others describe you? I'm loyal. I take pride in my work. I'm a handshake guy. I'm fair. I work hard and I'm passionate about what I undertake. I'm a compassionate human being who believes in people. I don't chase the dollar, I chase the opportunity. I learned as a kid that money comes and goes. For me it's always been about an opportunity that's challenging and rewarding.
How do you hire and fire? I don't fire. I will sit down and I will present a problem. Whether it's my problem, their problem, or both, I like to revisit how we came together. Why did you apply? Why did I hire you? What have I missed?
How do you train and retain? I want to train people to think outside the box. I want them to think that this is not a job, it's an opportunity. We've been sending people to the training center in Toronto, and with four stores we can now train locally. For retaining, we treat our employees with respect and have them understand we are growing a brand, that it's not a one-shop deal, and that there's tremendous opportunity for growth within the company.
How do you deal with problem employees? We sit down with the person and try to find out what the issue is and where we went wrong. Maybe the job hasn't met their expectations. That's my approach.
What kinds of things are you doing to take care of your employees? My style is to help people understand their value. On December 24th, a month after opening our Palm Beach Gardens location, I spent the entire day at the store. I asked all 20 employees to come by and pick up their check, even though it wasn't due until a few days later. Everybody got a box of Godiva chocolate and a little envelope, a little cash, and a handwritten note thanking them. Why? I'm not Santa Claus. I wanted people to understand that I take tremendous pride in who they are and have great appreciation for their work. For my part-time employees who are still in school, I give them $20 for every "A" they earn. I want them to recognize the value of education and of balancing it with work in their lives.
How are you handling rising employee costs (payroll, healthcare, etc.)? I'm actually paying more than minimum wage because I want to maintain the highest level of customer service. Employees are the face of your brand and I want to attract the highest caliber employees I can.
How do you reward/recognize top-performing employees? Top people are very, very, very well taken care of. Trips, the list goes on. Everybody is incentivized differently. They can get a gift certificate when they don't expect it. I may say, "Here's a voucher at a particular hotel. Take your wife or fiancé. A spa has been arranged." At my table if there's a bowl of pasta, we're all going to eat.
Annual revenue: I can't tell you. But I believe the stores in Florida are going to surpass what the franchise disclosure document states.
2010 goals: I'm an area developer. My business mandate is to expose the brand, sell franchisees, do some multi-unit development deals.
Growth meter: How do you measure your growth? As far as sales at stores, clearly I expect them to grow. So definitely dollars and the number of stores. My goal is to see five to eight individual franchisees this year and bring on five more live units. We did four locations in 2009, plan five in 2010.
Vision meter: Where do you want to be in 5 years? 10 years? I would like to see myself as the number-one area developer for the brand worldwide. And that's a huge challenge.
What did you change/do differently during the recent tough economic times that you plan to continue doing into the future? There's a certain logic at work: You find the franchisee and work with the franchisee in identifying a location. I understand that. But I don't believe it works today because of the economy. I work backwards. With the Millenia location, I knew that was the perfect location. I fought hard. But once I had the location I had the franchisee within days. I'm putting the cart before the horse.
How do you forecast for your business during trying times? Can you even forecast at all? In my situation I take a very simple approach. I have certain expectations on a store-by-store basis. On a 10-year run, stores should be generating $500,000 a year times 10 years. That's $5 million times 3 percent: $150,000. That's my projection. Every store is worth $150,000. Some locations will double that, some will triple that.
Where do you find capital for expansion? We're pursuing all known sources.
Is capital getting easier to access? Why/why not? Unfortunately the answer is no. However, we're especially excited following the State of the Union address proposing $30 billion be allocated under TARP for community banks.
What kind of exit strategy do you have in place for your business? I want to build this brand, I want to live this brand, and I'm completely passionate about this brand. I don't look at exit strategies until I have achieved what I set out to accomplish. I like to stick with what I'm passionate about, and Teriyaki Experience fuels such passion every day.
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