Passion Powered!: Love Of Product, Employees, And Customers Fuel Success
Charles Loflin started climbing the ladder of success from the bottom rung, and he hasn't stopped yet. "I've been in food and beverage all my life, starting when I was washing dishes at the age of 15," says the 40-year-old multi-brand franchisee.
Twenty-five years later, Loflin operates 30 Wingstop franchises in the Southwest, mostly in South Texas. And he's begun to roll out seven Einstein Bros Bagels locations, putting everything he's learned along the way to good use in expanding his business.
Before he started in fast food franchising, Loflin was general manager of a Holiday Inn Select in Dallas. One day he and his wife stopped in for a fateful plate of wings at the local Wingstop.
"We were hooked," says Loflin, who then began testing various wing recipes in the hotel kitchen back in 1997. That's when he got a call from Wingstop asking if he'd like to get into the business under the corporation's wing.
A year later Loflin was back in his hometown of San Antonio with his first restaurant. Twelve years later, he has 30 locations--most in San Antonio, with others scattered in the South Texas towns of Laredo, Corpus Christi, Austin, and San Marcos. He also has a few locations in Phoenix and one in Las Cruces, N.M.
Loflin recently signed a seven-store deal to develop Einstein Bros Bagels in San Antonio. And he did it for the same reason he bought into Wingstop: he loves the quality of what they serve.
When Loflin was working on a location in Phoenix, he used to stop by the nearby Einstein's for a quick bite. On a whim, he contacted the corporate office to drop his name--just in case they ever considered franchising. It turned out Einstein Bros was already setting that up, and the seven-store deal soon followed.
Loflin's passion for what he does plays a huge role in making his stores a success. "Seeing customers and the excitement in their faces looking at the product," says Loflin, is the best reward he can get for his work. And now that he employs some 400 people at his locations, getting them to feel the same passion he does has become one of his most important tasks.
For Loflin, who goes to work suited up and ready to take on any crew member's job at a moment's notice, it's all working.
Name: Charles Loflin
Company: San Antonio Wings Inc.
No. of units, by brand: Wingstops, 30; Einstein Bros Bagels, 7-store development deal
Family: Wife, daughter, 6, and son, 3
Years in current position: 11
Years in franchising: 11
Key accomplishments: Aside from my family, building this company.
Biggest mistake: I've been very fortunate, but I would say it would be my first store being undercapitalized.
Smartest mistake: I can't think of a smart mistake that I have made.
How do you spend a day, typically? Probably 60 percent in the office and 40 percent in the field. I come in, sign checks, pay bills, make phone calls, check on construction. For me, running the office has really become a full-time job. And my passion is being in the store.
Work week: I work 5 to 6 days, 8 to 10 hours a day.
Favorite fun activities: I love to fish and go to all the games with my son and daughter.
Exercise/workout: I need to. I run occasionally.
Favorite stuff/tech toys: My iPhone. I can't live without it.
What are you reading? Right now I just picked up Tom Peters' The Pursuit of Wow! for the second time.
Do you have a favorite quote or advice you give? Surround yourself with people who have a lot of passion for what they do.
Best advice you ever got: It's an old saying, but whether it's your customers or employees, just treat people like you'd like to be treated.
Formative influences/events: I had an uncle by marriage that owned a McDonald's in the Valley (South Texas). He paid me to sweep and clean.
How do you balance life and work? That's the biggest struggle I have right now. I've been married 18 years and we started a family. She's an attorney and spent time getting a law degree. I was starting stores. It's tough, but I am also in a position where I don't have to miss the games. I'm able to walk out when I need to.
Business philosophy: We stress the word "integrity" a lot in this business. I try to be fair and honest with people. In this day and time it gets harder and harder to have people around you like that.
Would you say you are in the franchising, real estate, or customer service business? Why? Customer service. We call our customers guests. We like to invite guests into our house. That's how we do it at Wingstop, and we'll do the same thing at Einstein's. Service is extremely important to us. We have three things: quality of food, customer service, and cleanliness of the restaurant.
What gets you out of bed in the morning? My passion for the business; enjoying and seeing employees' faces and talking to them.
What's your passion in business? It's all about being the number-one operator, having the best employees, and having a lot of opportunity. We have 400 people now. And some of my employees have moved up to become managers and, in some cases, partners.
Management method or style: I'm an aggressive person. Sometimes that's fortunate and sometimes it's unfortunate. I'm very hands-on, always in a Wingstop uniform so I can walk in any store at any time and feel like one of the employees there.
Greatest challenge: There's a couple. Costs right now are still escalating. We're trying to figure out ways to maximize the customer experience without minimizing the value or quality of the food. Getting and retaining the right people.
How close are you to operations? Very, very close. I'm in the game every day.
How do others describe you? Hopefully people see me as a happy individual who works hard and is passionate, fair, and honest.
How do you hire and fire? I don't really any more. As a company we go through a nine-step process to hire managers and terminate them. No one wants to terminate someone unless it has to happen. You counsel people several times and then after that make a move.
How do you train and retain? We're constantly training in the stores. We have a training manager in San Antonio and a two-month training process; 99 percent of it is in-store training. As far as retaining, I have someone who works for me. She does hiring and recruiting for managers and is always looking at ways to keep people. We have incentives, bonuses, and different things; it's not just financial. We've taken staff to play paintball. Once a year all the employees get packages so they can bring up to four family members to Six Flags Fiesta Texas--the company pays $25 and the employee pays $7--and they love it.
Annual revenue: $24 million last year
2009 goals: To make us stronger as a company. We want to open a few Wingstops and Einstein's and just try to get through this recession and spend more time with the family.
Growth meter: How do you measure your growth? By the cover count, how many people are coming in the store. You can be up 20 percent in sales because you raised prices. But if you served 5,000 before and serve 4,000 now, that's not a win-win situation.
Vision meter: Where do you want to be in 5 years? 10 years? Still growing stores here and there, maybe cutting way back on work, having others who have the same passion continue to run the stores. There's also a concept in the back of my head I'd like to do on my own.
How is this economic cycle affecting you, your employees, and your customers? So far it's positive and negative. In 10 years we've never had a layoff. I would think my employees are doing well. Gas is down, and that has benefited everybody. In South Texas, the economy hasn't hit hard yet. Our customers, though, are definitely watching their money closer. But our price points make it easy on customers.
What are you doing differently in this economy? We constantly talk about getting better, about tightening up on the nuts and bolts, getting to the next level. We watch waste and spoilage and just keep trying to get better.
Where do you find capital for expansion? My biggest lender is GE Capital. They've slowed down nationwide but still help me grow.
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