By Austin Titus

Building and maintaining a viable pizzeria requires many different skillsets, and when people say it’s a lot of work, that is truly an understatement. So, it’s not uncommon for owners to explore different avenues when looking at how to achieve success with their restaurant—whether it is performing to their standards or not. Some owners might sell it if the business is doing really well, or they might sell it if the business needs some improvements. Others might convert to a franchise concept to obtain additional support to balance their strengths and weaknesses, while in really bad scenarios some face foreclosure and don’t have a choice in the matter.

As the president of a pizza franchise, I can say with full confidence that converting to a franchise isn’t for everyone. You’ll get out from under tough business decisions, but you may not be ready to give up control. In that case, selling could be your best choice. However, franchise conversion is a viable option for many independent pizzeria owners; it can be a smart strategy for building up the business so you can one day sell your franchise interest at a healthy profit.

Benefits of Franchise Conversion
A franchise does all the things that some independents don’t do well—the reasons they often fail. Most people running restaurants are great with food, but they often don’t do well with sales and marketing, and they don’t have any support. They don’t have the time to negotiate better deals with their suppliers, and they may struggle with how to deal with the bad employee who’s alienating customers. They’re too busy running their business.

Related: Is this a top 10 pizza brand in the making?

Some of the main benefits you get when you convert to a franchise are:

  • An ally in the fight against inflation. It’s a top concern for 52% of small businesses, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Being part of a franchise gives you more purchasing power, and not just because you get volume discounts as part of a large group of buyers. You can also earn money from vendors who participate in cooperative marketing programs with you, where they pay you to support them in your promotion efforts.
  • Expert support. Your franchise leadership team will handle marketing, advertising, training and other secondary functions so you can focus on your core skills. (You opened your restaurant to make pizza, not social media posts.) Your corporate marketing team will also handle the operation of a very high-level website. Each location might have its own page, with SEO directing customers to them. 
  • A network of mentors. Typically, franchise brands have annual conventions where all the franchisees get together and share best practices. Vendors participate, too, usually helping with conference sponsorships and other assistance.
  • Objective decision-making. When you’re running a mom-and-pop restaurant, you may find it hard to change unless you have to. Maybe you’ve had the same menu design for 20 years and your sales have been declining, and you may not connect the two. If you’re a franchise, those items would have been updated every year or so, and you know you’re offering the newest menu items and following best practices with technology that will keep you on track.

Your pizzeria needn’t be highly profitable to interest a franchise brand in conversion. Potential can matter as much as profitability.

Austin Titus, president of Cannoli Kitchen Pizza

Preparing to Convert
Maybe your profits are just OK, and you’re having trouble getting over the hump, or the business is stagnant and unable to grow. A franchise organization can help you get where you need to be with branding, purchasing power and on-going support.

During the conversion process, you should be thoroughly informed of expectations on both sides, including investment costs and fees. Typically, the franchise brand will assess your location, its equipment and both the interior and exterior, and then provide you with a ballpark estimate of what it would cost to do any remodeling. You then should be given a complete rundown of projected costs. That’s the point when everything is final, and the brand and franchisee get to work on turning the new business model into a success.

What does success look like? For franchisees at Cannoli Kitchen Pizza, it looks like new customers and an increased volume of deliveries and online ordering because of the restaurant being added to our website and increased online traffic. If you want to scale the business to multiple locations, you have a system in place that can help you grow your eventual chain to three or five locations in your region and provide support along the way each time. On the other hand, if you were to try adding multiple locations yourself as a mom-and-pop, you would have a lot of obstacles to overcome. When you’re thinking about your eventual exit strategy, owning a pizza franchise makes the process a lot easier and more viable. Your legacy will live on. 

Converting to a reputable franchise brand has so many benefits, but from the franchisee’s perspective, I think the overarching one is that you can actually just make pizza and rely on an experienced team to make the business decisions and implement proven processes to take your pizzeria to the next level.

Austin Titus is president of  Cannoli Kitchen Pizza, a growing restaurant franchise founded in 1996 that serves not only fresh pizza, but also pasta, subs, wings and, of course, cannoli. Offering dine-in, takeout, delivery and catering options, it has seven locations throughout Florida with plans for expansion. The brand operates within the family of award-winning franchise brands at United Franchise Group.