The 300-location mark is a pretty big deal in franchising; it’s a milestone that few concepts ever reach. Just 108 franchised brands have grown beyond the 300 mark. It was a nice milestone at Blaze, however, when the company ticked over 300 in November 2018, CEO Jim Mizes didn’t spend a lot of time patting his back.
“I can be responsible for not celebrating where we have been, but really it’s what comes next inside the evolution from the blaze pizza catering menu to get us from 300 to 700 or whatever is next,” said Mizes.
Founders Rick and Elise Wetzel built that growth mindset right in to the brand DNA. So even at 176 percent sales growth and 121 percent location growth from 2015 through 2017, it’s all portion of the plan.
“We always said right from the start, let’s think and act like we’re a one thousand-restaurant organization,” said co-founder Rick Wetzel. “That meant everything we did from day one, through the numbering systems towards the store design, everything was built therefore we might get to 1,000.”
And when anyone could practice it, it’s Rick and Elise, the dynamic Southern California duo behind Wetzel’s Pretzels who have been both former brand managers at Nestle.
As the story goes, they wanted pizza to get a quick lunch, which just wasn’t available. Therefore they went to Chipotle instead for any burrito and got a hearty percentage of inspiration, too.
“Just watching that ordering format, we went, ‘Now that is how you would get pizza at lunch,’” said Elise. “That was the gaping hole. Literally we left that Chipotle and I knew. I looked at Rick and said, ‘We’re likely to open blaze pizza holiday hours aren’t we?’ He said, ‘Yes our company is.’”
The 2 was pondering their next act after selling Wetzel’s Pretzels to some private equity firm in 2007, with Wetzel’s again changing hands in 2016. Though with that cash in the bank as well as the experience with growing to fsdlws than 300 locations, they knew that they had to visit fast. Rick is the archetypal idea man who simply can’t sit still while the zen-like Elise charts the brand’s north star. They got to work before their burritos had even digested.
“We happened to be qualified to produce a run at it, so that we said, ‘Lets go,’” said Rick.
From your first conversation, they designed the manufacturer to cultivate at a rapid clip. “We knew it might be competitive and we knew it would go very, very fast. If anyone was going to own the market, they would need to move quickly and execute extremely, extremely well,” said Rick.
Keeping that growth from becoming a chaotic mess, however, meant an earlier investment in people, systems, processes as well as other growth investments well ahead of the actual restaurant count. Mizes, a skilled franchise executive, came on as CEO when there were just two restaurants. Executive chef Brad Kent was there before the initial store opened this year, as was a store design team.