Umar Malik joined Papa John’s as a franchisee in 2014. He explains how he’s grown with the brand
Last year I opened four new Papa John’s in Wales and now manage a total of seven stores - two in Swansea, three in Cardiff, plus one in Neath and one in Newport.
I grew up in Belgium and lived there until I was 18, before travelling to the UK to take a degree in business studies at Derby. I went onto complete an MBA at Carlisle and that’s where I first discovered my passion for pizza. I was at university during the day and working as a delivery driver in the evenings and at weekends. I used to dream about owning my own pizza outlet one day.
I believe if you have a goal, stay focused and never give up you will make it eventually, no matter how big that dream is. Then I found Papa John’s. John Schnatter, founder and CEO of Papa John’s, was and still is my inspiration.
He started from nothing, selling his prized car to fund restaurant equipment to set up, and went on to build one of the most successful pizza businesses in the world. He is still very hands-on and, like many franchisees, I aspire to be like him.
Papa John’s concept of ‘Better Ingredients, Better Pizza’ also impressed me. Unlike other pizza brands, as the company grew there was no compromise on quality. Papa John’s is the only branded pizza chain to use only 100 per cent fresh hand thrown dough, giving a better natural flavour, plus a unique tomato sauce made from the best Californian tomatoes, picked and packed from vine to can in just six hours.
I eventually found a way to fund my first Swansea Papa John’s through some savings, plus a business loan from HSBC. It covered one half of Swansea, but it soon became clear there was a demand for a second outlet to cover the other half of the city.
I was lucky to secure a great location on a new retail park close to Asda and we were receiving calls from customers trying to place orders before we had even opened the second store.
My original plan was to open five franchised stores within two years. However, the business went from strength to strength and I ended up opening seven. The incentive scheme run by Papa John’s to assist franchisees setting up has been a great help. I received deals on equipment and franchise fees, which freed up a little working capital to spend on other things like marketing.
Working As A Team
When you are growing fast like this, it’s important to have a good team around you. Having started off on the bottom rung of the career ladder, I know everyone has a critical role to play - from the delivery drivers who are a key customer interface, to the person who answers the phone, to those who make the pizzas and the management staff.
We are like one huge family working together to produce the best product and highest level of service we can for our customers.
Training staff properly is essential when it comes to creating a good, functional team and Papa John’s runs a comprehensive training scheme for both franchisees and staff, which teaches them about every aspect of the business.
Staff have the benefit of an e-learning portal called ULearn. They access it over the internet via a PC or store terminal and it offers a blended learning approach to training. ULearn is divided into 12 core modules designed to cover every aspect of the franchise. From new team member orientation to developing delivery driver skills, the visual and audio presentations provide staff with all the skills they need to succeed. Staff can also complete the Food Safety Level 2 certification.
It’s helpful, as I manage multiple teams. It’s also important when we’re introducing new recipes, for example. It allows us to communicate to all staff how to make the new pizza on a stepby- step basis, ensuring the consistent high quality of our products.
Keeping in touch with customers is the other important aspect of running successful stores. We use a system called Rant and Rave, which enables customers to deliver feedback via text straight after delivery so I can keep in touch with how we are doing on service and quality on an hour-by-hour basis.
I also like to do my own random mystery shopping by placing orders regularly in each of my stores. In this way I can experience first-hand the whole customer journey and make any improvements as necessary. This usually means I eat pizza on a daily basis, but with so many menu choices I never get tired of it.
Keeping motivated is important when you run any business and for me it always comes back to consistently producing the quality of the product we offer. Our ‘All the Meats’ is our most popular pizza, along with a giant choc chip cookie for dessert. We also do a version of chicken nuggets called chicken poppers that are oven baked, which is the perfect accompaniment to pizza.
Customers have also been enjoying our new Hawaiian pizza lately, which is an industry first as it’s topped with fresh pineapple and premium ham. It’s Papa John’s focus on the best ingredients to create a better pizza, combined with our levels of service, which keeps customers coming back for more.
Building A Portfolio
I joined Papa John’s when I was 27 years old. I have enjoyed building my portfolio of stores and feel I have grown with the brand. As Papa John’s evolved in the UK, so did I. I have also enjoyed communicating with and expanding my customer base, as well as working with the team.
Last year I opened four stores in 12 months, so it was a pretty busy time. This year I am looking to build the customer base for each outlet and constantly aiming to improve our levels of service, with our focus firmly on creating the best pizza possible for our customers.
Papa John’s is one of the largest pizza companies in the world and has opportunities for franchisees throughout the UK. It’s currently running an incentive scheme to help franchisees in the early stages of growing their businesses, which includes discounted royalty fees, a contribution towards marketing spend, plus free equipment for new stores.
Help is provided with location selection, as is a full turnkey solution to opening the store. As a franchise, the company supplies all the assistance needed to get your successful Papa John’s up and running.