Stories from the Front Lines: Hungry Howie's CEO Steve Jackson
How has Covid-19 affected your brand?
We’re very lucky to have stores opened and been an essential business operating during these unprecedented times. Like every business, Hungry Howie’s Pizza has had to shift and make operational changes to adapt to the pandemic. Our top priority is the safety of our customers and employees, so our first task was implementing mandatory health and safety precautions in compliance with the CDC and local/state health departments in all store locations across the country. Once established, we started discussing operational changes and ramped up projects in the works, including curbside pickup and quality stickers to seal the pizza box.
At the start of the pandemic, we did see a drop in sales, but a few weeks later it turned, and we went into a positive sale segment. Pizza is an affordable meal that can feed multiple people. With the turn of sales, we started to see an increase in customer orders, and today one of our biggest challenges is hiring the staff to fulfill these orders. Our store employees are typically around the ages of 18 to 25, and with the shelter in place order, concerned parents have kept their families at home. We are respecting these wishes and currently hiring store employees for several positions, including cashiers and delivery drivers.
What are you doing to help your franchisees through this?
We’ve always communicated directly with our franchisees on a regular basis, and the pandemic is no different. To guide them, we provided a Covid compliance handbook, offered a royalty deferment program, and assisted them in the PPP loan process. We’ve also asked our franchisees to operate as they can and focus on their customers during this time, as community engagement is more important than ever. The local customer base supports the business, so it’s prudent to be engaged in the local community. While franchisees are focused on providing the best product and service for the customers, our corporate team handles marketing prospects for store markets and franchisees.
How are you handling your corporate employees?
When the shelter-in-place order was announced, we closed our offices and had our teams work from home. To stay connected, we have a leadership meeting every Tuesday morning using Microsoft Teams to discuss social distancing rules, review store sales, and share company updates.
How are your franchisees handling employees?
Our Covid compliance handbook details the mandatory health practices employees are required to follow. That said, should a team member feel unwell or have any other obligations, we’ve allowed them to take the time off to focus on their health and well-being.
What are your franchisees doing for their customers?
Community involvement is near and dear to our hearts, and our franchisees do a wonderful job in representing that value. Across the country, our stores are doing what they can to give back and help others during this difficult time. For example, in Michigan our stores have connected with hospitals to coordinate donation pizza drop-offs; partnered with local schools to feed families; and worked with the American Red Cross Disaster Action Team to offer free pizza to front-line responders.
How do you see the future of your brand, operations, market, etc.?
No one knows what the future holds, but we’re constantly keeping an eye and ear on the news. As we continue to adapt our marketing messaging and operational procedures for the safety of our employees and customers, we’re tweaking our business model to continue the success and growth of the brand. Pizza has proven to be a successful and resilient industry. In the end, we’ll take the lessons we’ve learned to come out stronger as a community.
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