By Charlie Pogacar

Tara Charters owns two Little Caesars locations in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada. In her 14 years as a franchisee, she’s learned a lot about what it takes to hack it in the pizza business. 

Charters has become known throughout the Little Caesars franchising community in Canada as a determined leader who builds strong relationships with team members through open communication. Her story is one that any pizza operator—franchisee or not—could learn a lot from. 

One way Charters builds up team morale is via customized incentives based on each employee’s individual interests. For example, Charters set certain goals for a team member who enjoyed taking her children to a local park. When the employee hit her goals, Charters purchased a family season pass to the park on her behalf. 

Related: Rebecca Shannon: From Box-Folding Toddler to Hungry Howie’s Franchisee

“That personal connection makes the reward more meaningful,” Charters said. “If I got the same thing for an employee who was 16 years old, it probably wouldn’t have that same effect.” 

Here’s a conversation with Charters, lightly edited for clarity, about her background and the lessons she’s learned in her 14 years in the Little Caesars system. 

Tara Charters and her daughter.

PMQ: What path did you take to becoming a Little Caesars franchisee? 

Charters: I didn’t take the typical path. I worked out of a school and then did some administrative work for Child Protective Services for six years. After that, I stayed at home for six years because my husband was being transferred around with his career.

During that time, we learned to live on one income and had a lot of flexibility. When it came time for me to return to the workforce, owning my own business felt like a better fit for where our family was at that time in our life. So we started investigating different businesses, and I’ve always loved the concept of Little Caesars.

Fourteen years ago, HOT-N-READY was still a relatively new concept and something we were not seeing a lot of other companies doing. I had been a stay-at-home mom with three kids six and under, so I’d go to the store across town all the time. On top of that, I’d hear people say, “We need this on our side of the city” all the time. So that’s how it all came to be. 

PMQ: What was the process like in order to become a Little Caesars franchisee? 

Charters: The first thing that I’ll say is that the process might be different now. But 14 years ago, one thing I really liked was that we did the online application and then someone contacted us. Before getting into the details, they wanted us to do a one-day training in-store in order to make sure we knew what a day looked like. 

Before finishing the application process, we went in and made pizzas and sauce from scratch. After that, we submitted our financials, did interviews with corporate, and I did six weeks of in-store training in Ontario before opening.

PMQ: It must have been daunting to be going all in on owning a franchise. What were the conversations you and your husband were having at the time? 

Charters: Yes, my husband has an MBA, and I have no business degree or experience. But he believed in me, and we invested our savings. The corporate team at Little Caesars was very accommodating, understanding my need to hire someone to take over my role at home so I could focus on the business. When I went to Ontario for training, they even moved my training store to make it more convenient for me since I was staying with my mother in St. Catharines.

PMQ: How nerve-racking was it to open that first store? 

Charters: Corporate sent two people to stay with me for the first 10 days. Like opening any new business, you don’t sleep, and you work 60-70 hours a week. But that’s the expectation. You put in the hours at the start to get it to where you want it to be. It was overwhelming, but also like raising a child—you put in the intense effort at first, and over time, you can gradually spend less time in the store and more on managing the business.

PMQ: What were some keys to your early success?

Charters: Investing in the community from day one was crucial. We made sure that while we are part of a big international brand, we are also very much members of our community. We supported many small local projects and spread our efforts across various grassroots initiatives. This created strong community support and connection.

PMQ: What were some specific ways you invested in the community?

Charters: We sponsored the IDEA Center through the school district, the Dragon Boat Festival, and the local high school football team. We prefer to support multiple small projects rather than one major initiative.

PMQ: The information I was sent about you mentioned you’re a good communicator. Why is that important to you, and why do you think you’re good at it?

Charters: It’s important because you deal with staff all day. To run your store the way you want, they need to understand your expectations. Good communication with corporate and other franchisees is also crucial. I’ve learned a lot from other franchisees, like how to fix equipment over the phone with $27 in parts instead of calling someone after hours for a $1,000 fix.

PMQ: You also have a very diverse team and actually go out of your way to connect with programs that bring immigrants over to Canada. Why is that one of your values? 

Charters: Diversity enriches our store. It brings joy when staff from different backgrounds achieve their goals, like getting a university degree in a foreign country without family support. We value their unique experiences and contributions.

PMQ: Have you struggled to find employees, especially during the pandemic?

Charters: During the pandemic, it was definitely a struggle. But since then, in this region of Canada, we’ve seen a population increase and now have wait lists for staffing.

PMQ: What was the process of growing to multiple stores like?

Charters: Building four stores in five years was intense and fun. It’s important to have the right people in place. Managing multiple stores requires strong management and crew. If you get to four, you should push for a fifth to have the capital to support a mini-corporation structure.

PMQ: What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in the industry over the years?

Charters: Technology has vastly changed our stores. We now have dough cutters, automated sauce machines, and the Little Caesars Pizza Portal. The Pizza Portal allows customers to order from their phone and pick up their pizza without talking to anyone. It’s great for introverted customers or those wanting a custom order on a busy night.

PMQ: For someone considering franchising, what should they know about being a franchisee?

Charters: Research the brand, find something you love, and build relationships with corporate and your franchise community. Those relationships are vital.

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