Sub Mission: Former NFL linebacker Aims for 100 Jersey Mike's
Angelo Crowell, a Jersey Mike's multi-unit franchisee, credits a sit-down with his big brother for his fast start to franchising success.
Crowell, a former NFL linebacker, was drafted by the Buffalo Bills in 2003, just as his brother Germane was retiring from football after five seasons with the Detroit Lions. That family heart-to-heart was a game changer for the younger Crowell, winner of the 2018 Influencer for Former Pro Athlete MVP Award.
"My brother asked me what would I do if football ended today," Crowell recalls. "I didn't have an answer for him. He told me I needed to get an answer and start working on my transition plan--now. That conversation started my thought process on what my next step would be when the game ended."
His first franchise investment would be a familiar choice for Crowell, who grew up in Winston-Salem, N.C., one of six kids--all athletes. His mother cooked dinner Monday through Friday. On weekends Crowell went to Jersey Mike's. The high school football star, who later earned All-ACC honors at the University of Virginia, loved the fresh grilled subs at Jersey Mike's, where he talked sports--and what it takes to own your own business--with the brand's local franchisee.
"When I started looking into franchising, the franchise models that were hot at the time were not going the way of the world. People were wanting healthier and fresher," Crowell says. "I was already a fan of Jersey Mike's, and once I understood the business model it just connected for us."
Crowell and his wife Kim, his college sweetheart and now president of their company, Kalo Restaurant Group, opened their first Jersey Mike's in November 2010, not long after Crowell left the NFL. Today they own 12 Jersey Mike's in the Southeast in Florida, Georgia, and Alabama, and have plans to rapidly expand to 50 within the next three years, and double that in the next 10.
The Crowells are not new to recognition for their achievements. In 2011, they earned Jersey Mike's nod for Rookie of the Year, and have been recognized with local business awards for their contributions to the economic development of Tallahassee, the company's home base.
While Crowell appreciates his experience in professional sports, he is most proud of being seen as more than just a former athlete in business. "When people find out you played sports, it is the first thing they want to talk about," he says. "We are no longer looked at as being just a former-athlete owner. We put in the hard work, commitment, and dedication that it took to become successful."
Name: Angelo Crowell
Title: CEO, Kalo Restaurant Group
No. of units: 12 Jersey Mike's Subs, 4 in development
Family: Wife Kim, daughter Kendall, son Austin
Years in franchising: 9 in November
Years in current position: 6
1) Advice from my older brother. When I was entering the NFL, my older brother, who played five years for the Detroit Lions, was retiring. He told me to start working on my transition plan--now. That conversation planted the seed to start thinking about what my next step would be if the game ended today, and I started looking for ventures. 2) Attending the Professional Athlete Franchise Initiative (PAFI) conference when I was researching the franchise business. One of the first keynote speakers was Junior Bridgeman, a franchise mogul. Just hearing him speak about his transition from basketball and how he purchased three Wendy's while he was still playing, was monumental for us. It set our vision to think big and execute. 3) Going out to Arizona, when I first joined the brand, to spend time with Jersey Mike's franchisee Bill Mapes. He is still a mentor today. He talked about creating and managing the systems of business. It changed the game for me. I saw it from a bird's-eye view--how important systems were to the bottom line of the organization and the management of multiple locations.
Being respected as a business owner.
Generally, I get up around 4:30 to 4:45 a.m. to get in an hour of exercise. I come back and shoot out emails and correspondence hours before emails start coming in. Generally, I have all my emails sent before 7 a.m. so I can focus on getting the kids ready for school, getting breakfast going, and seeing my wife off to work. I get into the office around 9 or 9:30 a.m. when emails are coming back in. From there, I am in the office, visiting locations, following up with my directors, looking at my stat sheets and inventory, and working on marketing. I don't have a set schedule. I just try to check my checklist off on a day-to-day basis.
What are you reading?
Philosophies and Traditions by Russ Umphenour (RTM Restaurant Group).
Best advice you ever got:
About a year and a half ago, my area director said, "You have to believe in yourself or nobody will." I am one of those people who will analyze myself up and down. That advice really forced me to put the pedal to the metal. I knew what I was doing, so I just needed to go for it--go big or go home.
What is your passion in business?
People. People are the fuel to the engine. Having great people around you to push the envelope for the organization and bring different perspectives to the business that you can trust and believe in.
I don't have a business philosophy right now.
Management method or style:
I'm definitely a driver. My wife is the analyst. She will analyze the information, but I'm the driver to get things done.
Our people. Being able to find and retain good people who drive the organization to meet its goals.
How do others describe you?
Kim, my wife and president of our company, describes me as "driven, intense, and a true leader." And adds, "He has been successful his entire life because of those three things and his focus."
How do you hire and fire, train and retain?
I'm only hiring executives of the organization at this point. We are always looking for talent and we like to hire from within. We have hired managers off the street and taught them the Jersey Mike's system, but we believe if you put your hard work in, grow the company, understand and cement the culture you want to build within the organization, it really comes from developing from within. We want to continue to grow and create opportunities for our general managers who want to become district managers, and DMs who want to become directors of operations, to continue to grow and push the organization further. That is really what it is about for us right now.
We would like to have 18 to 20 stores.
Growth meter: How do you measure growth?
Top-line sales. We look at things globally now as a company to make sure we hit our top-line sales goals, cost of goods sold, and labor.
Vision meter: Where do you want to be in 5 years? 10 years?
Our goal is to get to 50 units within 3 years and, realistically, we would like to have 100-plus units in 10 years.
What are you doing to take care of your employees?
We pay above industry standard and have benefit packages for store managers and area general managers. We also have salaried area general managers. We are offering ownership opportunities for what we call tenured managers, who is anyone who has been in our organization for more than three years.
What kind of exit strategy do you have in place?
No exit plan right now. It is generational for us. We have one brand right now, but who is to say where we will be five years from now? We have young kids and would like to see them grow up and one day work in the business in some capacity, and, if they are capable, maybe one day run the organization.
Why do you think you were recognized with this award?
People are taken aback when they find out what we have been able to accomplish in a short time. I remember when we opened our first location and people thought we were crazy. If you do franchising right, you can be very successful and change the game up.
How have you raised the bar in your own company?
It all starts at the top. If you are going to lead the organization, you have to set the example and drive people to be better. You have to set out a vision and path for the company that people can go chase. Having that vision and accomplishing that vision--not just being about the talk.
What innovations have you created and used to build your company?
We use the platform Red Book and have switched over to Zenput. It has digitized our company. Red Book is what we call the "bible" for our company, with our checklists, reporting, and live, up-to-date data. It has synchronized us. We know what is going on throughout our multiple locations all at one time. It has changed our organization.
What core values do you think helped you win this award?
Discipline. The ability to stay focused is our greatest strength.
How important is community involvement to you and your company?
We do fundraisers throughout the year with different organizations. We connect locally with the entire community, giving 100 percent of our sales back on Jersey Mike's annual Day of Giving, part of the brand's national Month of Giving every March. To think about the lives you affect and the resources the money goes back to, it is a no-brainer. And we start looking at how we can raise even more money the next year.
What leadership qualities are most important to you and your team?
Integrity and doing what you say you are going to do.
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