Married with Sizzlers: Persistence, Consistency, Hard Work, and Faith
As multi-unit franchisees with 24 Sizzler restaurants, Gary and Sally Myers spend a lot of time together at work, where he is president and CEO of their Temecula, Calif.-based company, and she is vice president of marketing.
And after working together for more than 25 years and being married nearly 34, the energetic couple still jokes about the "sizzling" romance they started in high school. Gary, a business major, proposed three times during their college years--the final time in front of her fellow cheerleaders at Pepperdine University. Sally, who majored in marketing and communications, accepted as soon as they graduated. "Let's just say I'm known as persistent and consistent," he says.
Gary, who put himself through school by moving up through the ranks of the Market Basket grocery store chain, had benefited for years from the tutelage of his father-in-law, Jack Williams, a veteran Sizzler franchisee. When Williams offered him a position as director of training with his company, Forbco Management, he accepted and set out to learn more about franchising and restaurants. Sally turned her hand to developing marketing and advertising programs for the company.
The couple, who worked for Forbco for six years after their marriage and through the opening of 36 units in Southern California, don't believe they could have had a better teacher. "He's so passionate about his work and such a talented entrepreneur," Gary says. "He taught me all about what to do and what not to do in the restaurant business: how to formulate a company, take care of your people, and hire a great attorney, accountant, and banker. And he's really been a leader among Sizzler franchisees."
By the early 1980s, the couple, who'd found to their delight that they enjoyed working together, were ready to start their own company. They became partners with John Burk, a general contractor who'd built some of the Forbco Sizzlers, and with Williams, who would operate as a silent partner, forming BMW Management Inc. "I talked to the president of Sizzler USA and he approved our five-store, five-year development agreement," says Gary.
Their idea was to take Sizzlers to areas that really needed restaurants. In 1983, they opened their first in Temecula, Calif., where they would move one year later. "We had lines out the door. There were cowboys coming out of the hills on horses, so we had to have a tie-up for the horses," Gary recalls. "People there just fell in love with Sizzler but they got tired of standing in line. One regular customer said, 'If you'll build another one in Moreno Valley, I'll give you the property and $750,000 for the building.' It turns out that the property he offered was exactly where I wanted to build." BMW opened that location in 1985.
2011 Multi-Unit Franchisee Magazine MVP Award winners, the couple currently are revamping their 24 Sizzlers into what they call the "new-generation Sizzler." Though their three children are now grown, family, complete with grandchildren, is still a priority with the busy couple.
"Juggling is something we still do. It's not easy and there were times we had to sacrifice our own sleep and interests to maintain a positive, loving, thriving family and to be there for the business and staff," says Sally, who points to the family camping vacations as a highlight of every year. "But it's all been worth it. We are very blessed."
Name: Gary Myers, president/CEO; Sally Myers, VP marketing
Company: BMW Management
No. of units: 24 Sizzlers; 1 Richie's Real American Diner
Age: Both 55
Family: Three children: Bryce works for us in real estate development and lease negotiations and is married to Heather with one child and another on the way; Britney Neffendorf, a married teacher with two children and husband Jimmy, who does our Sizzler building maintenance; and our youngest, Brenna, who works in catering in the hospitality industry.
Years in franchising: 27Â½
Years in current position: 27Â½
Gary: Leading and operating a first-class organization with dedicated and loyal people, keeping a family culture throughout our organization even as we've grown larger, and continuing to grow and succeed during economic recessions. More recently, BMW Management has produced the greatest change to the Sizzler concept through building and remodeling restaurants. The Murrieta and Oceanside Sizzlers are the newest remodeled units to feature our innovative design elements along with some of the new food offerings on our menu.
Sally: I created Sizzler's local store marketing program, banquet and catering services and store opening festivities, and founded the Student of the Month, Inc., a nonprofit organization to recognize college-bound high school seniors for demonstrating character, perseverance, and concern for their community. My most important accomplishment has been supporting my husband and his passion to have a company that is built upon a culture of integrity, hard work, service, and a warm, caring atmosphere.
Allowing others to talk us into making significant positive changes in our company later than sooner.
Running out of employment applications at our very first location twice, missing the same person and leaving him standing in the middle of the Sizzler parking lot in Temecula all by himself. It was Ken Jay, who became the director of operations for the company and has been with us since the beginning.
How do you spend a typical day?Â
Gary: There really is not a typical day in my life. If there is anything typical it is the attitude of being flexible and being of support to my staff in continuing to maintain and improve our business. Priorities include catching up on sales numbers and analyzing other critical reports from the previous day or week, sending feedback to guests and the troops, meeting with various department heads, visiting as many of our restaurants as possible, and meeting with vendors and others, usually at one of the restaurants.
Sally: I rise early, pray, exercise, and walk, hit the BlackBerry or laptop, spend the day in and out of the office based on what projects are under way, and meet with community or city leaders or with management and operation supervisors.
24/7 or whatever is required.
Favorite fun activities:
Family gatherings and vacations.
Sally: I enjoy walking five to eight miles at least five days a week.
Gary: I get in a few sit-ups and push-ups once in a while, or I take a long, fast walk with my wife.
Favorite tech toys:
Our BlackBerrys and laptops.
What are you reading?
We always go back to our John Maxwell Leadership books.
Do you have a favorite quote/advice?
Gary: How you set your sail determines your course in life, not the forces of nature.
Sally: Character protects your talent (John Maxwell).
Best advice you ever got:
Gary: Surround yourself with winners and give them your vision every day. Listen, listen, and listen.
Sally: My best advice comes from the Bible. God gives each one of us special gifts and talents to develop and use for His glory by serving others around us.
Gary: I was largely formed by my Dad's discipline and organization and my Mother's unconditional love and encouragement. Running cross-country was the hardest thing I've ever done, and it gave me a sense that I could do anything in the future. Working for my father-in-law Jack Williams taught me how to operate a successful company and how to lead an organization. I'm still amazed how small my feet are when looking at the shoes he wears.
Sally: I learned the importance of family at an early age from my Mother, a stay-at-home mom, and my Father, a successful businessman who worked long hours. My mother was the glue that held the family together, and my father introduced us to business experiences at an early age. All that set the stage for me to work happily alongside my husband and to fulfill our passions of hospitality, innovation, and serving others.
How do you balance life and work?
Gary: I spend most of my time at work, so my wife gives our family the balance we need at home.
Sally: Even though we're now empty nesters, this is still a challenge. Our work and our family are 24/7 priorities. The key to balance is being flexible--otherwise life falls apart.
We tailor our products, advertising, operations, and attitude to meet the needs of our guests on every visit. Our prime objective is to continually improve and never to swerve from guest service, employee growth, market share, and the success of the people who work with us.
Are you in the franchising, real estate, or customer service business? Why?
We are a franchisee of Sizzler and a licensee of Richie's Real American Diners. We have some real estate investments, but mostly we are in the customer service, people-pleasing business. All three are critical to staying alive in today's economy.
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
The thought of accomplishing our goals and adding value to the company and others motivates us every day.
What's your passion in business?
Serving others, watching our staff engaged in serving and pleasing our guests and watching them grow.
Management method or style:
We have a "speed of the boss is the speed of the team" mentality, with a people-first, employee-second culture that keeps a Godly family spirit alive. We teach, encourage, and focus on the mission.
To see and catch a vision for the future and to continue to work diligently and passionately with Sizzler USA to energize the brand.
How close are you to operations?
Gary: I am very close to operations--it's my passion and my strength.
Have you changed your marketing strategy in response to the economy? How?
Sally: Yes. We have experimented with many new strategies from our advertising to our menu pricing, menu mix, and new product development. Not all of our communities share the same advertising plan or are part of a TV market. We look at each market and determine the best, most powerful, and economical approach to reach our demographics. We have worked with Sizzler USA to determine the best Value Menu for our guests that pairs a popular grill item with the Endless Salad Bar or pairs a popular lunch entrÃ©e with a beverage. We also were the first Sizzler franchisee to add the calorie counts to our menus before the menu labeling law requirement. The most dramatic and aggressive commitment BMW has invested in is the new generation/new vision remodels in our California communities. We're showing our guests that Sizzler isn't just going to hunker down during the recession. In fact, the new Sizzler is now a lifestyle restaurant serving great food to guests of all ages in a new building with a new energetic, fresh, and interactive interior. We're moving fast and furious to change all of our Sizzler locations into the new-generation Sizzler.
Gary: God-fearing and bold with a love of people and a big heart.
Sally: Passionate, happy, honest, fun, and a Type-A personality.
How do others describe you?
Sally: Caring, fun, social, organized.
Gary: Two words that always come back to me from others are persistent and consistent.
How do you hire and fire?
In addition to having a hire-slow, fire-fast mentality, we give our management applicants time to share, talk, and interview with our multi-unit managers. We look for people with initiative and a positive attitude that fits our company profile. Having only three individuals out of 1,200 employed in our company who can give the okay to activate a career change or termination of employment takes the emotion out of any situation and gives us the opportunity to investigate the issues. Before taking any action, we look at ourselves first to see if there is anything we could have done differently to obtain a more positive outcome.
How do you train and retain?
We have learned over and over again that training is a continuous process. We have a complete training program for our management team and employees.
How do you deal with problem employees?
We engage the right people to coach all involved toward a win-win situation. Our goal is to always have you as our friend, even if you cannot work for us. And we certainly want you back as our guest.
Growth meter: How do you measure your growth?
By guest count growth, sales growth, profit growth, and people growth.
Vision meter: Where do you want to be in 5 years? 10 years?
Gary: I hope I'll be the same person with much more experience and knowledge. I want to continue to add value to others and lead or influence the leadership in a positive way. We may shrink or grow our business, but we plan to continue to improve upon our success and to always strive to encourage our people to be the best in the world.
How has the most recent economic cycle affected you, your employees, and your customers?
It has activated our talent and initiated the search for what will make the biggest difference in connecting with our employees and guests. Instead of just hunkering down and getting through these times, we have engaged our talents and hard work through training and upgrading our food offerings with over-the-top remodels that differentiate Sizzler from the past and its current competitors.
Are you experiencing economic growth/recovery in your market?
We have seen three to four years of growth during the economic downturn and are now seeing even more growth as we continue with our remodels and new Sizzler concept.
What did you change or do differently in this economy that you plan to continue doing?
We are continuing on our successful remodeling program and new unit openings.
How do you forecast for your business in this economy?
We're focused on acquiring 5 to 10 percent increases on same-store sales this year and into 2012.
Where do you find capital for expansion?
We have formed a relationship with GE Capital Finance for future remodels and new unit expansion. We're also working with other local banks that are breaking loose from the no-lending era and have shared their interest in lending to our growth vehicles.
Is capital getting easier to access? Why/why not?
Yes, it is for us, because our company has demonstrated through our continued success during the recession that we're set up for growth.
Have you used private equity, local banks, national banks, other institutions? Why/why not?
We have never used private equity, but we have used the rest.
What kind of exit strategy do you have in place?
No exit strategy--we're in it for the long term.
What are you doing to take care of your employees?
We have continually trained and retrained our employees, and they can count on receiving a paycheck on time even during the worst of times. We provide the tools for all to grow and succeed within our company. And if they leave us, they take with them our standards of operation and integrity.
How are you handling rising employee costs (payroll, healthcare, etc.)?
We are finding ways to keep our costs in line by having the best people in the industry looking out for our needs and protecting our bottom line, while delivering the best benefits the company can afford.
How do you reward/recognize top-performing employees?
We give our management team profit-sharing bonuses that rise or fall depending on their managed results.
2011 MVP AWARD WINNER
You were recognized for demonstrating outstanding performance and innovation in growing your organization and brands. Tell us what you did. We believe it was because of our commitment to make the Sizzler brand better than it has ever been--to make it the new-generation Sizzler with our remodels and revamped food items over the past four years. Our commitment to brand is illustrated in many ways, including our local store marketing programs, community giving, and student recognition organization. We are also committed to our people--our most important investment.
As a multi-unit franchisee, how have you raised the bar within your organization? BMW has set the bar high by going beyond what others will do and spend in their Sizzler concept. Our focus is on character, integrity, and service, building relationships and making a difference when and where it matters. We will never put a lid on our box. We think outside the box and teach and expect our team to grow and keep their lids lifted too.
What innovations have you created and used to build your company?There are many innovations related to our new-generation Sizzlers. At the new salad bar, which is stocked with fresh food from the inside, the Greek, Asian, Caesar, and spinach salads will be tossed and made fresh before guests' eyes and displayed in colorful bowls. The new POS terminal ordering counters are no longer boring straight line countertops but contemporary elliptical pods. Some of our new BMW Sizzler designs incorporate an open kitchen similar to that of Houston's Restaurant. We want our guests to be engaged in every fresh aspect of our food, service and facility. Our new look incorporates lifestyle pictures with a positive and active American theme, elliptical booths, and new playfully designed furniture. The outside has also undergone a transformation and we've come up with delicious new food products. All this has worked together to attract new guests, improve frequency of visits, drive incremental sales, and improve the Sizzler concept.
What core values do you feel led you to win this award? Our core values focus on knowing who we are in Jesus Christ. That means we value people over position and power. We value teaching others best practices and emphasizing honesty, humility, passion, and responsibility as the keys to growth and success. Success to us is investing in the lives of people and watching them grow their gifts and talents and becoming strong contributors to the organization. At the same time, we're committed to attracting and maintaining loyal guests, being the very best at what we do, offering superior products and services and improving our brand.
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