Please give our readers insight into the history of CiCi’s.
CiCi’s Pizza opened its first restaurant in Plano, Texas in 1985. We are now one of the nation’s fastest growing pizza chains. With about 550 restaurants in 35 states. Nation’s Restaurant News has ranked CiCi’s No. 1 in sales and unit growth among pizza chains for the past four years. We are much more than pizza. We are a family-oriented restaurant, known for pizza, pasta, salad, soup and dessert buffet.
Are your stores company owned or franchised?
It’s primarily franchise. We have some corporate stores primarily in Dallas. We use them for testing and training purposes. But we are about 98%, 99% franchise.
And tell me about the opportunity that exists as a franchisee? And who is the target franchisee?
Well the target franchisee for us is a multi-unit multi-brand developer. So someone who is already in the franchise business – doesn’t necessarily have to be restaurants, but I prefer if it is restaurants and has multiple units so that they have an infrastructure in place and who can sign a deal of say 3 to 5 restaurants. We don’t do deals typically larger than that and this individual would have the background and the experience, the business acumen and sophistication you need to succeed.
What makes the CiCi’s franchise opportunity unique?We recently announced our 2012 growth plans to continue our Build the Brand growth initiative. Qualified franchisees benefit from a 2-to-1 sales-to-investment ratio, demonstrating that CiCi’s Pizza is a predictable, measurable and sustainable investment opportunity.
Your commitment to returning veterans has been well documented, what is the thought behind that?
We are proud of the recognition we have received for the CiCi’s Patriot Program, one of the industry’s most extensive programs benefiting U.S. veterans. Through the CiCi’s Patriot Program, we will waive its franchise fee for the first restaurant and offer a 50 percent royalty fee reduction for the first full year in operation for all qualified, honorably discharged U.S. veterans. This totals to an approximate savings of $58,000. At CiCi’s, we are very thankful to the brave soldiers who put their lives at risk and sacrificed so much to serve and protect our country. We created the CiCi’s Patriot Program to express gratitude and deepen our brand’s commitment to veterans. We’ve found that veterans make great franchisees because they have a very disciplined approached to business.
What steps have you taken to create jobs in the communities in which you build restaurants?With our veteran program, they are required to hire a manager at their store who is also an honorably discharged veteran in an effort to create more jobs for the veteran community. Additionally, CiCi’s Pizza will support the veteran franchisee to obtain his or her Certified Franchise Executive (CFE) designation through the International Franchise Association (IFA). CiCi’s has also agreed to support Sprigster’s “Boost a Hero” program, the nation’s only crowd funding platform focused exclusively on franchises, to further help veterans raise the necessary capital needed to gain business ownership.
What is CiCi’s approach to training its franchisees to ensure success?
It begins with the IFA’s certified franchise executive designation program. We reward our franchisees who attain it, a continued royalty reduction. And then, of course, they are going to go through our training program which is 12 weeks long. The key becomes a lot of support. That takes the form of more mentoring than anything else. When you combine that with the things we can’t teach: a passion for the brand, you end up with great franchisees.
You’ve made the unemployed a target for your company?We noticed as we created our veterans’ franchisee program that the unemployment rate for our younger veterans in particular, the say 20 to 25 year-olds, is upwards of 30%. So we looked at this as an opportunity for the hard working vet that might not be in a position yet to be a franchisee. So we went to our 230 franchisees and said look you’ve got a great opportunity to hire a veteran, hire somebody that’s got great skills, great leadership skills and management skills. There are some tax opportunities, credits that you can get for hiring these veterans that range from $2400 all the way up to $9600, if you hire a wounded warrior. So we’ve encouraged our franchisees then to get out and hire a vet. And that helps some in the unemployment side, in addition to that is part of the Patriot program. If someone comes aboard who is a veteran and becomes a franchisee, they are required to hire a veteran as a manager in their restaurant.
The Northeast traditionally has been a marketplace for independent pizzerias. Where does CiCi’s fit and how do you compete?
We’ve found our niche by positioning ourselves as a family restaurant serving great pizza, not just a pizzeria. Secondly, in a struggling economy our “all you can eat” concept is very unique that traditionally you could only find in a Chinese restaurant. So by offering a full buffet that includes salads, soup, pasta, pizza and dessert for around 5 dollars, we have a winning opportunity.
What are your plans for Metro New York City?
We’ve had good success in six to eight markets in the Northeast. We are about to open our first store in New York City. One of our franchisees from Orlando came to us with a plan for a store in the Bronx that will open near Co-op City this month. So Tahir Asani who owns ten of our units will open the biggest restaurant in our system: 5337 square feet. By testing it in the Bronx, we’ll get a feel for what size and scale and where we should be in New York City.