Primo CEO: Leading PrimoHoagies onto the national stage
Name: Nicholas Papanier, Jr.
Title: Owner, President, and CEO
Company: PrimoHoagies Franchising
Units: 89 open, 54 under development
Years in franchising: 21
Years in current position: 3
Nicholas Papanier, Jr. grew up in the family sandwich business, watching his father grow the brand that he co-founded in 1992. Today, PrimoHoagies, a New Jersey-based sub chain, has blossomed into 89 locations across Pennsylvania, Delaware, Florida, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, and South Carolina—and has plans for nationwide expansion.
Papanier has been along for most of the ride. He joined the brand in 2000 as a sandwich maker and moved on to running the shipping warehouse before rising to COO in 2017 and CEO in 2019. Today he serves as the company’s owner, president, and CEO.
Yet despite moving into the CEO role just as Covid was about to place its stranglehold on the world, Papanier led the brand to its most successful year ever in 2020. That year, PrimeHoagies recorded revenue of $56 million, a 22% increase over the previous year, and same store sales grew 13% YOY. One of the strategies that helped the brand achieve those goals was addressing and responding to growing consumer demand for pickup and delivery services by implementing new technology and procedures for the services.
Papanier says there are three essential keys to franchising success. “You need the right franchise partners because the relationship is like a marriage, you must provide great customer service, and never sacrifice quality,” says the 36-year-old Papanier.
He’s now focused on the next stage of the brand’s growth and says the company signed more than 50 new locations last year and will open its 100th location this year. He says the company would like to reach 150 locations by end of 2023 and 300 in the next 5 years.
What is your role as CEO? Overseeing the entire operation of the company. Most importantly, I believe it’s based on building a well-rounded and experienced team around me to help achieve our goals. Doing that gives me more opportunities to continue to develop strategies to enhance profitability for both the company and franchisees.
How has Covid-19 affected the way you have led your brand? Covid-19 made me open up the company playbook. To continue the growth and profitability of the company I had to see the brand from different viewpoints. This has ignited tremendous growth not only in company sales, but in franchise development as well. My team really stepped up to the plate when Covid hit.
Describe your leadership style. Bold and direct. I’m usually very straight to the point. I act without hesitation, especially in circumstances when I see the overall picture very clearly. Speaking up and making sure both my voice and those of my employees are heard will always play a big part in my leadership style.
What has inspired your leadership style? Growing up in the business, and watching my father take the company from 2 stores to 70. I always have admired his leadership style and will continue to carry that with me as we expand nationwide.
What is your biggest leadership challenge? Supply chain has been my biggest obstacle lately, while at the same time trying to manage franchisees’ expectations.
How do you transmit your culture from your office to frontline employees? I think my open-door policy and always being accessible translates well from the executive leadership down to the front lines. I make myself available 24/7. No problem is too big or too small.
How can a CEO help their CMO develop and grow? I think giving the CMO their freedom in their department and letting them run the show for the most part has allowed for great growth—although they always know I am around the corner if they ever have a question or want to run an idea by me.
Where is the best place to prepare for leadership: an MBA school or OTJ? OTJ, as you never learn until you do.
Are tough decisions best taken by one person? How do you make tough decisions? I think tough decisions should always be discussed in a group setting to get different viewpoints, but ultimately, at the end of the day, the decision is on the CEO.
Do you want to be liked or respected? Respected. Not everyone is going to like you, and that is totally fine, but being respected is critical in my position.
Advice to CEO wannabes: There are no days off in the CEO world. Know every position in your company and their roles.
Describe your management style: Understanding my team dynamics and encouraging good relationships, but setting clear and manageable expectations.
What does your management team look like? My team consists of hardworking, grind-it-out, whatever-it-takes-mentality individuals.
How does your management team help you lead? I set quick daily morning recap meetings with several leaders in each department. I feel communication is key.
Favorite management gurus: Do you read management books? My father, Nicholas Papanier, Sr.
What makes you say, “Yes, now that’s why I do what I do!”? When I see how we helped our new franchisees be successful entrepreneurs. The look on their faces on grand opening day always sticks in my mind.
What trends are you seeing with consumer spending habits in your stores? Digital and third-party ordering platforms are continually taking off.
How is the economy driving consumer behavior in your system? I think with remote working becoming more common, we have seen a dip in catering, but more individual meals being purchased.
What are you expecting from your market in the next 12 months? We will be nationwide in the upcoming months as we prepare to open our 100th store shortly and our 150th store by the end of 2023.
Are your franchisees bullish or bearish about growth and adding units? Without a question, bullish, which I absolutely love!
Are commodity/supplies costs any cause for concern in your system? I think it’s been a concern for all industries. It is definitely on my radar daily as we navigate through these challenges.
How are political/global issues affecting the market and your brand? The rising fuel prices are driving up the costs of goods.
What time do you like to be at your desk? Home office desk at 6:00 a.m., in the office by 7:30.
Exercise in the morning? Wine with lunch? Exercise after work. Wine with lunch and dinner!
Do you socialize with your team after work/outside the office? Yes, usually with team-building events.
Last book read: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey. This book has reminded me of the importance of being proactive and always thinking to win.
What technology do you take on the road? iPhone and iPad are always a necessity.
How do you relax/balance life and work? I try to get to the gym 6 days a week.
Favorite vacation destination: Aruba. It’s not called “One Happy Island” for nothing.
Favorite occasions to send employees notes: Usually after a big team win.
Favorite company product: Dirt Pudding.
What are your long-term goals for the company? 300 stores within a 5-year period.
How has the economy changed your goals for your company? It accelerated them. More people are looking to get out of the corporate world and instead become entrepreneurs by starting their own business.
Where can capital be found these days? We work with several different lenders, but money is readily available these days.
How do you measure success? I’m a numbers guy. The better the numbers, the better the success in my mind. Same goes with employee turnover; lower turnover means you have happy employees.
What has been your greatest success? Doubling sales and soon to be doubling the store count in a 4-year period.
Any regrets? I look forward, not back.
What can we expect from your company in the next 12 to 18 months? We will be a household name nationwide.
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