Kakapo Chat 006. Nick Turner of Sal's Pizza

Sal's Pizza has enjoyed great success over the past decade, from humble beginnings in their lone Commerce St pizzeria to building an impressive franchise system with 31 stores and 8 more opening inside the next 6 months. Nick Turner shares with James Ashwin his journey through 10 years in business, the transition from small business owner into franchisor and Sal's exciting expansion into Australia.

Firstly congratulations Nick. Sal's Pizza has just celebrated 10 years in business with 31 stores standing proudly within your franchise system and 8 more opening within the next 6 months. Business ownership is never a straight line, tell us about your journey into franchising and the breaking into the competitive NZ pizza game.

(Thanks James, appreciate it, of course we have a long way to go).
At the outset we agreed that if we can't do it 100% authentically to the quality of the best NY pizzerias, we wouldn't do it at all. We are always striving for the exact same slice that you'd enjoy on Carmine or Bleecker St. Although we have made mistakes in the last 10 years, we have never compromised on our initial mindset of our product. We always believed (and still do) that we were entering the high quality fast casual space, rather than entering a saturated NZ pizza market.
When we opened our first store, we didn't think we would franchise (or get to 30+ stores), but we saw the potential benefit of having motivated and hardworking partners driving each store in each local community, our experience with franchising has been a positive one. We still have a number of company owned stores to ensure we are at the coalface, and have a pathway for our staff. We are still excited by finding great locations. We have Shotover St opening tomorrow and Captain Cook Hotel in Dunedin in around 3 weeks.

You've just opened your first store in Melbourne with big success, what are your expansion plans for Australia?

When we first opened in Auckland 10 years ago we had reviews and validation from expat NY'ers certifying our 100% authenticity, and we have had the same response in Melbourne. Our Victoria master franchisees own 3 stores in NZ but grew up and lives in Melbourne which gives us a secure and experienced local knowledge base. We currently have 1 store and 1 dark kitchen with plans to open another 2 stores and 2 dark kitchens in the next 9 months, hopefully a roll out into NSW following that. We are certain our authenticity is unique to the Australian market and it has been very well received so far.

What advice would Nick Turner of 2019 offer to Nick Turner of 2009?

Read the Jeff Ross book 'Every Bastard Says No' as soon as it's released!
There are decisions we wish we could have made sooner, and others that we could have been more patient on - but hindsight is 20/20 of course, and you do have to look forward even when you make mistakes along the way.
Other lessons...

- To be incredibly resilient and embrace the daily challenges.
- To prioritise and maximise time and focus on what is important to our core business growth, product quality and brand integrity.
- Be prepared for 12 long rounds with Mike Tyson.
- Surround yourself with people who believe in the vision, as you'll need all the positive support you can get.

You and your business partners at the time pulled massive hours, operating your own stores from humble beginnings in 2009 before franchising in 2013... What did you find most challenging and the most rewarding when transitioning from business owner into franchisor?

Many exciting but very stressful years.
Franchising has given opportunities
to many long time, motivated staff members to become franchises or work within head office supporting the system. Around 65% of our franchisees and head office are former staff members who have been with us from the first few years of opening in 2009. New energy and fresh mindsets from new franchisees and staff has also been positive.
Franchising has definitely meant a shift in spending much more time with lawyers, accountants, business brokers, bankers, agents, and interviewing/supporting franchise candidates, rather than serving customers directly. But you also see highly motivated franchisees engaging with each local community which is rewarding.

How do you manage business growing pains within a franchise system that has experienced significant growth for what feels like the last 3 years?

We set up a central kitchen 8 years ago (same time we opened our 3rd store) where we still prepare our key ingredients in small batches, which means the same dough and sauces are in all of our stores. The accounts might show we set this up too soon in our growth, but it has meant we protected our product and set ourselves up to support more growth. We have stronger controls on our recipes and much tighter stock rotation which ensures we have freshest ingredients across all the stores. We felt this was a key to growth without losing our product quality and consistency (I believe it has improved as we have grown, and I'm pretty confident very few people have eaten more NYC pizza than me in the last 10 years)!

I'm approached by operators looking to franchise their business on a weekly basis and majority of these business owners are looking to franchise for two reasons.

1. They don't have the capital to grow on their own.
2. They own one store and view franchising as a passive, get rich quick scheme.

What are your two cents on this?

Our experience with franchising has been positive but it is definitely not a get rich quick scheme, in fact quite the opposite. I would only franchise if your model is simple, and you are comfortable empowering other people to be the face of your brand on a daily basis.

What three pieces of advice would you give to a business owner with 1-2 sites looking to franchise their brand around NZ?

  1. Spend as much time as you need to understand the your benchmarks, KPI's, and the number of stores you need to afford a strong support team. Does NZ's market size support that? How does that compare to owning company owned stores, and be cautious when/if you sell your company owned stores.
  2. Take advice from trusted advisors and franchisees, but never let any advice compromise your product quality or brand integrity, regardless of what other people might be doing or the trend of the day.
  3. Happy, positive and successful franchisees (with good H.O support and systems) are paramount to your success, choose them wisely.
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