55 Ways To Grow After Half A Century

Started in 1956, Jersey Mike’s Subs, a sub sandwich franchise with more than 500 stores open and under development nationwide, has stayed true to its roots even 55 years later.  To celebrate this milestone, Founder & CEO Peter Cancro, shares 55 tips on how to survive and prosper for more than half a century…and counting.

  1. One company, one mission.  At Jersey Mike’s, we believe in the power of the sub sandwich – and have since 1956.  We have one mission -- to make the best sub sandwich in the industry and make a difference in our communities.  Period.
  2. Success comes one sandwich at a time.  Don’t spend time dreaming about how big you can become or how great.  Just focus on doing the best you can, one sub at a time.
  3. The customer is the only reason we open our doors.  We love our customers and we know we are here because of them.  Our customer satisfaction rankings are around 90% and we are on a mission to move that number closer to 100%.
  4. Create a craving. Having a signature touch can help differentiate you from your competitors.  One thing that sets Jersey Mike’s subs apart is “The Juice,” our signature blend of olive oil, red wine vinegar and spices.  Along with lettuce, tomato, and onions, that’s how your sub comes if you order it “Mike’s Way” (and most people do!).  
  5. Stay bold.  When you are young, you don’t think about failing.  That’s why it didn’t faze me to start a business at age 17, before I was even legally able to use the slicer.  Companies need to keep that bold entrepreneurial spirit alive…no matter how long they’ve been in business.
  6. Overnight success takes decades.  Actors face this all the time – they have one hit and suddenly they are “an overnight success.” The truth is: this success took years of hard work.  That is how it is for us.  We’re celebrating our 55th Anniversary this year – and yet many people think we’re the popular new kid on the block.
  7. Give back because it’s the right thing to do.  When I was a teen, I saw local business people like Bob Hoffman, Jack Baker, Rod Smith and Norm Wolfson doing so much for their community.  Because of them, making a difference was part of the mission from day #1.
  8. In tough times, return to basics.  Whenever we hit tough times, we always turned back to our core business: slicing, sprinkling, wrapping.  We stayed focused on execution, quality, training and customer service.  And we came out better and stronger.
  9. Celebrate your veterans.  Some of our core team members have been with me since the beginning like Mike Manzo, COO, and John Hughes, Senior VP/Director of Training.  The first to open a Jersey Mike’s franchise in California was an old football rival of mine. These guys grew up on Jersey Mike’s subs and innately understand the brand and believe in it.  They are so important to helping us maintain our culture and business model.
  10. Your customers may deliver your next big idea.  In the mid-80s I heard more and more people say, “Peter, we’re going to miss you and your subs this winter.  We sure wish you could put a Mike’s where we live!”  People would come in at the end of the summer and get several giant subs wrapped for travel, to carry back to their homes across the country.  That’s how our franchising concept began.
  11. You’re only as good as the length of your counter.   For us, the counter where we are interacting with our customer is the most important place in the store.  Everything happens in that stretch of real estate.  That’s where you make your strongest impression – even before the first bite.
  12. The brand is the brand is the brand.  Consistency is the key to our success and we reinforce that with frequent training. Our customers in turn reward us with their continued loyalty. 
  13. Cover the ends of your sandwich.  That is both a literal and figurative rule at Jersey Mike’s.  In product terms it means make sure the cheese and meat goes right to the edge of the bread so that every bite gives the full flavor experience.  From a leadership perspective, this is a reminder that focusing on quality and consistency will result in a satisfied customer every time.
  14. Hire the personality, teach the skills. The right energy is important to us.  If someone has that enthusiasm and work ethic, we can teach them how to make a great sub or interact with customers.
  15. Model the behavior.  Jump behind the counter, start slicing…sometimes you need to do more than talk.
  16. Keep your core fresh.  For instance, we are retrofitting older restaurants to freshen the look and celebrate the history of the Jersey Shore so that we provide a consistent customer experience coast to coast.  We’ve seen sales increases from that already.  It’s also important to keep up with technology to make life easier for our franchisees and our customers. Online ordering is taking off and so is our new iPhone app.
  17. Recessions have a silver lining.  We’ve lived through quite a few recessions like the one in 1990-91.  The upside is that we were able to recruit top talent from hard-hit industries like tech and the financial sector.  Take advantage of industry lulls.
  18. Don’t slice a tomato before it’s time.  We are obsessed with detail when it comes to food quality.  For instance, we live by the 5 R’s of a tomato:  Rinse. Red. Ripe. Ready. Refrigerate.   Our entire sub experience depends on this one simple rule – if a tomato is not ready it affects everything else - the juice slides off and the flavor profile suffers.  Patience.  Short cuts don’t pay off in the long run.  
  19. Cutting quality doesn't win best sub awards…which we win in virtually every market we are in.  Something must be working!
  20. Recognize your customers by name.  Heads up.  Look your customers in your eye and engage them.  Know their names and their sub.
  21. If you’re nice and give them a good sandwich, they will tell their friends and be back.  Pretty basic.
  22. Take a sincere interest in customers and their lives.  Share your lives with your customers.
  23. The best marketing is not discounting -- it’s supporting your community.  You never win on price.  Instead, invest in making a difference in your community by partnering with organizations to raise needed funds or donating food to local events.  To celebrate our anniversary, in March we held a Month of Giving, raising more than $600.000 for 66 charities throughout the country.  We are now in the midst of a six-month initiative to build awareness and funds for Susan G. Komen for the Cure®.
  24. Seek the opportunities that come to you everyday.  You don’t have to go far to do good deeds.  Look at your own community and you’ll find there is so much to do.  That’s where we look so that we can make a difference in people’s lives.
  25. Take care of your employees and they’ll take care of your customers.  We know if our team members are happy, our customers will be too.  We like to make work fun and also offer growth opportunities.  For instance, one of our initiatives is our Subcommittee, a volunteer team where members communicate and help build excitement about our programs at the store level.
  26. Put the right players on the field.  Not every person is suited to every job, however, we try to match talent with the right opportunity while developing areas needing improvement.
  27. Believe you can teach anyone, anything.  We love sharing our story, traditions and culture with everyone who joins us – with the right coaching we hope they become a critical part of our team for years to come.
  28. Rethink your interview process. At Jersey Mike’s we don’t interview – we hold tryouts.  As with casting directors, we look for the potential in each person and the best fit for the “role.”
  29. Franchisee stability provides clues to the strength of the franchisor.  This speaks volumes about an organization’s culture, values and profitability.  We have amazing franchisees that have been with us for decades.
  30. Be true to your training. We are a training company.  Training separates you from competitors.
  31. Never cut training – double it.  Training drives customer satisfaction, which drives sales.  Cutting training is the last thing you want to do.
  32. Stay focused on unit profitability.  In professional football, the goal is to win the Super Bowl and you can’t do that without winning games in the regular season.  It’s the same with us.  As a company we aren’t profitable unless each store is.
  33. Control what’s inside your four walls.  There is lots in life we can’t control so focus on what you can control in your store: food quality, training, customer service.
  34. Keep moving the chains downfield.  To succeed, we need to get that first down and systematically move down the field.
  35. Stick to the game plan.  Create a strategy and stay with it. 
  36. Location, Location, Location.  This never changes:  the right location for a retail store is critical.
  37. Ask for the sale. You need to invite people in.
  38. Safety first - Don’t think that “someone else will take care of it,” you take care of it.
  39. It’s about more than product.  Create an experience.
  40. Stay true to the sub.  Stick with the same quality and quantity.  Don’t adjust to the economy or other outside influences.  
  41. Remember your roots.  I got so much out of playing sports in high school that when I heard our local New Jersey schools were cutting funding for extra curricular activities such as sports, music and art, I wanted to help.  We are now working with four nearby schools by providing financial assistance and honoring top students through a program called, “Student Standout.”
  42. Be passionate in all you do.  Show your enthusiasm every day – but you better be authentic or people will see right through you.
  43. Celebrate small and large employee victories.  One small, yet appreciated, success will lead to an even bigger win the next time.  Take the time to celebrate and recognize team members who make you proud.
  44. Keep it simple.  At Jersey Mike’s, everyone knows the 7 principles of success.  These are 7 questions I asked myself every day, which led to success when I was working in the store:  Is my restaurant clean and well maintained?  Is my restaurant well stocked?  Are my products fresh?  Are all of my employees neat and well groomed? Are we making subs with the proper procedures?  Are we sharing our lives with our customers?  Have I invited people into my restaurant?  
  45. Listen and measure.  There is a lot of chatter on Facebook and Twitter about Jersey Mike’s so we know our fans are talking us up.  But it’s also important to measure their experiences such as intent to repurchase and satisfaction.  We measure this on a quarterly basis and our numbers are at nearly 90% total satisfaction.
  46. It’s all about football. There are lots of lessons that you can apply to business that are taken from the football field.  For instance, it’s important to build teams in each store and region.  For us, sandwich making is a team sport. 
  47. It’s okay to be the linemen who get no glory.  We block for the franchisees and let them take the accolades.
  48. Treat your franchisees like customers.  As the franchisor, we are the wheel hub and franchisees are the spokes.  We are there to hold everything together, to coach and mentor them, and they grow from there.
  49. Immerse your franchisees-to-be in your culture.  All our potential franchisees participate in an “in-store experience” to make sure the fit is right.
  50. Service to owners and operators must be a priority.  This is critical for us.  We don’t make subs - we sell lifestyles, and offer support.  
  51. Be picky.  Just because someone is financially qualified doesn’t mean they have the right energy to be a Jersey Mike’s franchisee. 
  52. A great coach does not push.  Show your team the way and invite them in. Take the time to show new franchisees or team members how to grill a steak and cheese so it is not overcooked. Jump behind the counter and show them what you mean by banter.  That is how I was coached in football and how I coach my team here.
  53. There is no fooling the customer.  Some companies look for ways to save money at the customer’s expense.  For instance, some sub shops only cut one side of the loaf and wedge in a smaller amount of meat and cheese.  We slice every loaf of our in-store baked bread straight through and then pile it high with private labeled meats and cheeses that are sliced fresh for each sandwich.  Another example of doing things right for our customers is our certified Angus Beef top rounds, which are trimmed and cooked right in the store.
  54. Manage growth properly.  We’re not interested in numbers for the numbers’ sake.  If we stay focused on our mission, growth will follow.
  55. Love your sub.  People often ask if I ever get tired of eating our subs. No way.  That would be like getting tired of eating.