On the Grow: Jett Mehta Keeps Adding Units And Brands
Jett Mehta knew early in his life that franchising would be a good fit for him.
"I grew up in the business," says Mehta. "My dad is a Ponderosa franchisee and was the largest franchisee in the country at one point. He was investing in multi-family real estate and got into the restaurant business in the '80s. When I finished school I hooked up with him."
It wasn't long before Mehta drew up some ambitious plans of his own. First came a motel deal, and then the food industry beckoned.
"We decided to do a Microtel multi-unit deal and opened five Microtels," says the energetic 30-year-old. "During the course of the build-out, running around finding sites and getting permits and everything else, I was attracted to the Dunkin' Donuts business, which had a territory in my backyard." That led to a development deal for 15 Dunkin' Donuts, most in the Rochester, N.Y., area where Mehta grew up. Today, 13 of those locations are open and the other two are in the pipeline
Despite the economic woes that have battered businesses from coast to coast, Mehta says he's keeping his eyes open to new opportunities as they come along. "I am very focused on some more hotel development," he says. "Microtel was acquired by Wyndham Worldwide. They have a couple of concepts and some have piqued my interest. We're working on a project now and may get something going in 2010."
But he's not done there. "We are looking at a couple of more food concepts as well," says Mehta. "I'm interested in casual dining and quick-service concepts and I'm doing my research, talking to existing franchisees, doing due diligence."
Through it all, Mehta has been eager to learn more about each of his businesses, and he's had the chance to grow as a manager. In his early days at work, says Mehta, it was important for everyone he worked with to like him. Now, he says, the important thing is that they respect his decisions and appreciate what he's been able to learn about the franchise business from his own experiences.
Even with the recent economic turmoil, Mehta says he's very much focused on new growth. He still budgets the lion's share of each work week on growth opportunities, and isn't forecasting any slowdown in the months ahead.
Name: Jett Mehta
Company: Indus Companies
No. of units, by brand: Ponderosa Steak House, 13; Dunkin' Donuts, 13; 5 Microtel, 5
Family: Single, no children, with an older brother, mom and dad
Years in current position: 10
Years in franchising: 10
Key accomplishments: Successfully completing these franchise development agreements. When we signed the 5-unit Microtel deal, it was ambitious; the same with Dunkin' Donuts where we signed a 15-unit deal. It was a big deal for Dunkin' Donuts to sign off on so many units at once.
Biggest mistake: I think when I first got into the business I wanted everybody to like me. I learned over time that it's not about having everybody like you, but to have everyone around you respect you.
Smartest mistake: Inside every obstacle there's a hidden opportunity. The goal is to find the hidden opportunity. I was permitting a hotel project a number of years ago and the site plan was denied by the planning board. I didn't even know what that meant. The architect said we'd have to sue the town, challenge the denial by going to the state court, and said we were going to lose a year on the project. It was that year I decided to get into the Dunkin' concept. It was something I could develop in my backyard. I had a year of dead time and I said I might as well get involved in something else.
How do you spend a day, typically? We have a central office. I spend a majority of my time there. Maybe 20 percent of my time is spent on the road visiting locations, meeting with key management. Fifty percent of my time is spent working on new projects: site selection, working on financing packages with lenders, new construction. The remainder is spent in the office with accounting, legal, and general corporate administration. I try to go on the road two days a week.
Work week: Two days on the road, the other three I'll work in the office. I love to come in for half a day either Saturday or Sunday. I get a lot accomplished.
Exercise/workout: I exercise probably 6 days a week. I think about it all the time. I built a gym in my home with free weights and cardio equipment.
Favorite stuff/tech toys: My Blackberry. I got a Blackberry Storm smart phone recently. I love music and I have access to a huge library of every song and album available. The
Storm allows direct download.
What are you reading? I read the industry trade magazines. And I'm interested in the
financial markets. It's more newspapers and online, not as many books. But I'd like to bring that into my life.
Do you have a favorite quote or advice you give? Be persistent, work hard, have good morals.
Best advice you ever got: I learned it from my father: Do the right thing.
Formative influences/events: Growing up in a business family, talking about business around the dinner table. As a young kid, being exposed to what it is to be an entrepreneur in good times and lean times. People fear things they're unfamiliar with. I grew up around it so I was comfortable with taking risks and working hard.
How do you balance life and work? I have a large social network of friends. I like sports, reading, and socializing with people. When I'm not working, I like to be working.
Business philosophy: There is no growth without risk. It's inherent. Try to cherish the moments. I know success is not forever and I know failure is not forever, either. I try to make decisions based on business realities and not on ego. It's also important to communicate clearly and make quick decisions.
Would you say you are in the franchising, real estate, or customer service business? Why? Customer service first, franchising second, and real estate third. It's a people business. The customers and employees are sacred and our job is to serve them.
What gets you out of bed in the morning? Just to grow the organization. I look at other companies, how good they are with operating procedures and policies. That's what drives me to create the mechanisms and machine to continue to build the company.
What's your passion in business? Growth.
Management method or style: I'm pretty hands-off. I like to find quality people and really empower them. Some of my key people are really long term, loyalty-driven, and loyalty-based. I set goals and expectations and monitor the deviations, but you need to let people shine.
Greatest challenge: I think the most challenging part is opening the right locations in the right markets. We can open five, six, seven locations a year. It's important to open quality sites. You keep your fingers crossed that you've found a winner, but when you swing you won't connect with the ball every time. I've hit some home runs and struck out. You just have to keep your average as high as possible.
How close are you to operations? Very.
How do others describe you? I would think energetic. People have told me they admire my work ethic. I'm pretty easy to get along with.
How do you hire and fire? We tend to hire more from our gut than I would like for us to. I'm interested in some human resources services and consultant offers for testing, and getting better at finding the right match for the right job. I'm very adamant about how we fire. While you work for us nobody should work in fear of being fired unless there's a major offense. You should know it's coming, have it documented, written up. Three strikes you're out.
How do you train and retain? We vigorously train. We have different training modules, courses, signoffs, and certificates depending on the different brands we're part of. Retraining is a constant effort when we have new products and systems being put into place.
Annual revenue: Proprietary.
2009 goals: Everybody is nervous about the current business climate. Our goal is flat for 2009. We are moving forward with new development plans: two new Microtels and we have three Dunkin' Donuts to open next year. All five are in Rochester.
Growth meter: How do you measure your growth? Revenue, as well as the number of locations open.
How is this economic cycle affecting you, your employees, and your customers? I think any business person who has as much skin in the game as I do and makes aggressive investments thinks about it every day. Naturally, I'm a bit nervous about what we hear about the economy. I'm sure the same goes for our customers and employees. The consumer is cautious and with jobs lost and credit tightening for employees we'll try to do what we can to get them through these times. Sales for both brands of restaurants have stayed pretty consistent to last year. I have some up and some down. But you never know how we may be affected by road work, or a new competitor.
What are you doing differently in this economy? We have not raised our prices. We have not changed our operating hours. It's business as usual for us. We're just plugging away and taking care of the customer.
Where do you find capital for expansion? I use a lot of community lenders. Many times these community and regional lenders are our neighbors and have a lot less exposure to the problems out there.
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