If founders, chefs and other creatives are the beating heart of the restaurant industry, then franchisees are the veins delivering their ideas to all corners of the globe. Franchising is critical to the success of the industry, allowing brands to quickly scale their big ideas using other people’s capital. And whether it’s a mom-and-pop restaurant owner with one or two franchised restaurants or a seasoned veteran whose influence in the industry is well-known, franchisees — with all their individual attributes, styles and personalities — make a huge impact on the success of a business.
For this week’s Franchisee Spotlight, we’re featuring Brent Armstrong, who has been with Little Caesars for 37 years, climbing the ladder from part-time high school employee to an owner of two stores in the Detroit area. We spoke with Armstrong about his professional journey and passion for people as a franchisee.
“In the summer of 1985, I started Little Caesars before my senior year of high school just to earn a couple extra dollars and then I quit to go to technician school, but that wasn’t really my calling. My brother actually got me to sign on to Little Caesars full-time, […] We were maybe around 20 and we got to work full-time and support our families. […] The director told me to show up Monday and start training for management. I learned early on, that the company that I worked for was very personal. And all it took to be recognized was just hard work and application. [...] shortly after that supervisor came to the store, and we met in his office and it was like a lightbulb went off for me that this is something I wanted to do—I wanted this to me my career path.”
Becoming a franchisee
“I was getting ready for work one afternoon and my son came in the bathroom and said there is a Mr. I on the phone, and it was Mike Ilitch [the founder of Little Caesars. He said ‘I've been watching your results. You’ve been doing great […] What would you like to do here?’ And I looked at him and said that I would love to work for myself. So he basically snapped his fingers and called people in real estate and construction and we began the process. […] In 2009 I opened store one and he said ‘I’m going to give you a great opportunity’ and then when I opened store two in 2016, that’s when I left corporate and became a full-time franchisee.”
Advice for becoming a franchisee
“Pay attention to your people because without your people, you’re nothing. […] Be cognizant of the people you work for and work with and the people you serve. One of my goals is for someone in my company who comes from the same walk of life that I came from to show them that there are opportunities [like franchising] that might be outside the norm for them. […] Like Mr. I instilled in me, you get recognized for your integrity and hard work and then the sky’s the limit.”
Becoming a mentor
“I consider myself the face of Little Caesars! I went from just your average Joe crew member, the guy from the neighborhood to [an owner]. […] I was on the corporate side and as I continued to be promoted I was grabbing people and showing them, ‘you can achieve the same things by doing this.’ The company is designed to notice and acknowledge people on the inside who are doing really well. […] There was never a ceiling, or a closed door. As you continue to grow, and maybe you think a door is closing on your because of age or sickness, or having kids, but the door was never closed on me.”
How COVID changed the franchisee pool
“The ones who did not have opportunities before, and now they do. COVID definitely changed the world. Everything in [the restaurant industry] is going to be different moving forward. I think there are more opportunities available than ever. A lot of the mindset is not just ‘work hard’ as it’s always been, but it is more personally-driven.”
Passionate about people
“If you're sitting in front of me and you’re 16, you represent the future of growth to me. I tell all my new hires, ‘I want you guys to bury me.’ I’d rather hire these people and then never have to hire again. […] and the cycle continues. I get excited about creating a platform where people are happy to work for me. […] So it becomes more than just a job: I want to create an atmosphere where you feel excited coming into work and then while you’re here, you say that you’re hoping to grow.”