After a lifetime of restaurant and hospitality jobs, from running a white-glove fine dining operation to owning Subways, Jon Gaudineer made a new discovery.
The find was in 2006. Gaudineer, also a Tampa-based general contractor, built a pizza store in a New Port Richey strip mall for a client. He was invited to the friends and family night at the store, the first Florida location for Marco's Pizza, a Toledo, Ohio-based chain. Gaudineer never heard of the pizza. But he was impressed.
“It was a great product,” he says. “This was far superior to anything else I had tried.”
Gaudineer liked Marco's so much that a few months later he and a friend, hospitality industry executive Scott Decker, invested $400,000 to become the first Florida area representative franchise developers for the chain. The area representative model is an approach at Marco's to grow its franchise base quickly in a state where it had a limited presence, like Florida.
Area representatives for Marco's buy a territory and commit to open a pre-determined number of stores in that area. They can own the new locations themselves or recruit other franchisees. Area representatives at Marco's earn a percentage of sales for every store a franchisee opens in their territory.
Through an entity named Dough Developers, Gaudineer and Decker bought Marco's franchise development rights to a territory that goes from Citrus County, north of Tampa, to Collier County. The duo, with the rights to open 60 locations in their region, has focused mostly on store development by recruiting franchisees.
That network, in turn, has opened 27 Marco's Pizza stores in the last five years, and more growth is forthcoming: Four stores are in line to open this year and another eight locations on the Gulf Coast are expected to open by the end of 2015.
Gaudineer and Decker, a California Institute of the Arts graduate who designed menus for a host of restaurants, oversee all the stores after they sell the licenses to the individual franchisees. They visit each location at least once a month. “The biggest thing is consistency,” says Decker. “It's all about product, service and image.”
The business partners like more than the taste of the pizza at Marco's. They also appreciate that because Marco's, with 500 stores in 35 states, is a teeny piece of the $37 billion pizza chain universe, there is a lot more room to grow. The industry's Big Three — Pizza Hut, Domino's and Papa John's — have a combined 21% market share, according to PMQ Pizza magazine. Marco's executives say fourth place is an attainable goal.
Native Italian Pat Giammarco, who lives part of the year in Collier County, founded Marco's Pizza in 1978. Giammarco is no longer involved with leadership of the firm, but his idea, to make high-quality pizza on a large scale, remains the company's core mission. That includes using fresh, never-frozen cheeses and making dough daily. In that way, the Marco's approach to pizza resembles Five Guys
Burgers and Fries, a separate chain. The decor of most Marco's locations is family-friendly, with TVs on the wall for sporting events.
Gaudineer and Decker have about a dozen Marco's Pizza licenses left to sell in their area development portfolio, a process they say could last another year or so. Says Gaudineer: “It's exciting to be part of a company growing like this.”
Follow Mark Gordon on Twitter @markigordon
University of Florida baseball star and former major leaguer Matt LaPorta, a Charlotte County native, has shifted from sports to business with a singular mission: to bring more pizza to the Gulf Coast.
“I've always wanted to do a franchise,” LaPorta says, “but obviously with baseball I haven't been able to act on it.”
That changed earlier this summer, when LaPorta, along with three business partners, including fellow MLB retiree Josh Fields, signed a franchise agreement with suburban Dallas-based Pie Five. The Pie Five model is to serve personal-size pizzas made to order with a variety of ingredients and toppings in less than five minutes.
The franchise agreement calls for the LaPorta-led partnership to eventually open 18 Pie Five franchise units in a territory that spreads from Pasco County to south Sarasota. A first baseman for the Cleveland Indians for parts of four seasons, LaPorta plans to open three or four stores in Tampa by 2017. He declines to say how much money he's invested in Pie Five.
“It's more about the passion than the money,” says LaPorta. “I wanted to do something I could really get behind.”