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Thriving in the Tough Times: Doubling Down on Quality

Thriving in the Tough Times: Doubling Down on Quality

This is part 3 in a series called “Thriving in the Tough Times.” Read part 1 here and read part 2 here.

Continuing series on my approach to surviving and thriving in a downturn:

  • Double down on quality
  • Lead by example
  • Serve our people
  • Focus, focus, focus on the customer
  • And remember why we got into this business

The obvious comparison to the COVID-19 fallout is the ’08 Great Recession. But how we handled that was born years earlier, when times seemed pretty great to me.

We had reached about 200 units on the back of franchisee sales. That early success was intoxicating!  I was in love with that franchise money pouring in. But I started loving the business of the business more than the store. I had good managers, and took things for granted, got a little too happy with where I was at. I had sold franchises to people with money, not operators, not believers in the brand. With my personal stores cranking, it was easy for me to take my eye off the franchised stores.

So around 2003, James North, Jimmy John’s Operations Manager at the time, came to me and said that of those 200 franchises we had, 70 were failing. He said we need to stop selling franchises. And he said we’re going to go on the road and turn around the stores. So we halted franchise sales. Completely halted sales.

You can only expect what you’re willing to inspect. So we went to 70 units. We would go in the store, pull everything away from the walls, clean everything, the ceiling tiles, air intakes where the dust builds up, pulled all the light covers off, took everything off the shelves. We dumped all the junk out of the file cabinets. All we needed was a pen, pencil, and calculator. Threw out everything that was disposable that has to be replaced every couple of months. Blew the dust out of the compressors, checked the ovens, fixed the meat slicers, and got the operating procedures out of the drawer.

Then, we walked through all of the procedures. We followed it with them – step one, unlock door, step two, turn on lights, and literally went through the procedures with them. At first it took us a couple of weeks per store, but after a while we got really good and then it took us only a week to turn a store around. With our own brawn and our own muscle, we turned around those stores, 63 out of 70 stores.

The fact is, the small things are the big things. Sales are rented not owned. We are only as good as the sandwiches we serve today. Yesterday is over.

2008 rolls around and stomps on just about every biz around. Traffic, sales and ticket averages were all in freefall across all categories, including ours. So like we did with the 70 failing stores, we doubled down on the quality. We added managers and delivery drivers, boosted sampling and made the restaurants as strong as they could be.

I added 2 managers to each store for a total of 4. I doubled the number of delivery drivers from 20 to 40. Whatever it took to support operations, I spent the money to open it up and support people that were stressed out.

I knew in order to survive, even if we only broke even during this, I would come out of it with the greatest operating team in the world. They were strong, they were tough, they had stamina. Every leader led by example and took the hardest tasks for themselves. If someone needed a cold table or meat slicer, we would put it in our pickup and drive it to the store, no freight, no wait. If someone was out of bread, we would roll up our sleeves and help bake them bread. Whether a company or franchise store, I threw tons of support and love and authentic, genuine, real care. I want to help everyone win.

I knew if I kept operations strong and supported my team, I knew the sun would be shining again. And it did! We came out of that mess with more positivity. We sold more franchises than ever before. And none of this came from big ideas. You don’t need to trick people to come to your store. You can’t cheat success. Quality isn’t a gimmick.

Jimmy John Liautaud - Official Signature

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