Brian Loughran has been with Jersey Mike’s since 1996, starting at the restaurant as a part-timer during high school. In 2004, he joined the home office and has been a part of the system since, now serving as director of training. Without hesitation, he says the company’s culture has kept him aboard and engaged. What drives that culture is a “relentless approach to training,” he said during a recent interview.
“I started as an hourly team member and here I am. I am not the exception, I’m the norm,” Loughran said, noting that founder Peter Cancro has long called Jersey Mike’s a “training company.” As such, the brand prioritizes an equal balance of “great subs and great service,” especially as it grows at a significant clip. For context, the 2,500-plus-unit company has added over 1,000 new restaurants in the past nine years and, according to Datassential, grew by over 14% from 2021 to 2022. Sales during that time jumped by over 22%.
“The more you grow, the more critical training becomes. It’s like a game of telephone where you start passing the message down the line and is the original message what gets to that fifth member, or 500th team member? So, with scale comes challenges and if you want to continue to execute at a high level as a brand and continue to have success, we’ve got to continue to make great subs, so we’ve prioritized a relentless focus on the details of making sub sandwiches,” Loughran said.
“We don’t just say it, I think we live it,” he adds.
Jersey Mike’s takes a multi-faceted approach to “living it.” Training sessions, for example, include three hours for all team members focused on customer experience, and two hours for all team members focused on basic operations. In 2022, the company conducted more than 5,000 classes in the field impacting nearly 35,000 employees. Jersey Mike’s also uses E-Learning Mike’s Way, an integrated Learning Management System for new and ongoing training, which Loughran says complements in-person training. Further, new franchise owners must commit to having three in-store employees undergo extensive training – two employees for at least 360 hours over the course of 8-to-12 weeks and one employee for at least 180 hours. All three complete this commitment at the company’s training center, which is set up as an actual store to provide an authentic experience. There, trainees do everything from slicing subs to managing tasks and engaging in leadership lessons.
“Our manager-in-training program is substantial and gets people ingrained in our culture and leadership lessons. As we grow as a brand, we want to keep that mom-and-pop feel to each restaurant and in order to do that, you have to have managers that really take ownership in the restaurants. They’re the ones delivering training and delivering culture to every one of our team members,” Loughran said.
There are also smaller but impactful initiatives that support the company’s training, such as Brand Promise Day, first held in 2019. The day, held each November, is dedicated to training for the entire system. And, the G13 Sub-Making Competition is held each year to challenge employees to make the fastest and highest-quality Giant 13 (original Italian) subs for a cash prize incentive. Even with all of these components, Loughran said the most important piece, and the piece that has stayed consistent throughout the entirety of the company’s history, is its face-to-face, hands-on training.
“I look at our training department from two perspectives – one, with the ongoing development of stores, training new franchisees and managers and assistant managers, and then you have ongoing training for open stores and how to keep managers and crew members engaged,” he said. “The key component that ties all of it together is hands-on, side-by-side, working directly with team members.”
The company’s focus on training has paid off. Loughran said about 80% of Jersey Mike’s managers stayed during 2020 and 2021, for instance, when Covid devastated the industry and drove an all-time-high quit rate.
“Through all of that, to maintain 80% management is incredible,” he said.
Those retention numbers indicate the training programs are effective, but so, too, does the company’s overall success.
“To measure success, and we always want to make sure there is value there, I can tell you when we go to new markets, they’re filling rooms,” Loughran said. “Also, the general performance of the brand continuing to grow at a high rate, sales are growing at a high rate – that’s a byproduct of good execution in the restaurants. If we aren’t making great subs, it would show in our sales. It all boils back to us prioritizing that we’re a training company. We pour into our employees because the more you pour into them, the more you’re going to get in the long term.”
What does that long term look like, exactly? According to Loughran, more of the same working formula.
“We’ll continue to be out there face-to-face. The reality is as we grow, we want to train more and train harder than we ever have,” Loughran said. “We’ll continue to prioritize being in the field and engaging with team members and getting them to see the big picture and creating a culture where team members are coming to a place where they want to work.”
Contact Alicia Kelso at [email protected]