BVM August, 2016 - page 19

Business View Magazine - August 2016 19
Five Smart Moves that
Pay Big Dividends
Business View goes back to school with Pita Pit co-founder, Nelson Lang
By Lorie Steiner
In 1995, offering college kids a healthy alternative to
traditional high-fat, high-carb, high-calorie fast food was
a bold move. So, when Nelson Lang and John Sotiria-
dis opened their first Pita Pit near Queen’s University in
Kingston, Ontario, they knew the risk. But the vision paid
off. Their signature-style pita sandwiches loaded with
fresh veggies, grilled meats and tangy sauces won the
loyalty of faculty and students, alike.
Within two years, franchise stores were opening across
Canada. Two years later, Pita Pit expanded to the US
market, tempting not just college kids but consumers of
all ages. Co-founder Lang recalls, “When we opened the
first Pita Pit on July 20, 1995, I was dating my girlfriend
(who’s now my wife and mother to our four little girls). I
bragged to her that in the next ten years we would open
ten stores. Well, in seven years, my business partner,
John, and I opened 200 stores!”
The enormous success of the Pita Pit franchise is built
on smart moves that entrepreneurs and owners in any
number of businesses would be wise to adopt.
: Be flexible. With a buyer base an-
chored by hungry students on a skinny budget, catering
to the late-night crowd made fiscal sense. Keeping the
store open well past midnight increased sales volume
and earned positive brand awareness on campus and
beyond. Flexibility sealed the success of that first Pita Pit
location and hundreds more to come.
: Strategy – revise & conquer. As the
brand matured, people were making comments like,
“Why don’t you have a Pita Pit in Chicago? I remember it
from college.” That kind of sentiment rocketed Lang into
high gear. Drawing from his own college experience, he
knew that enormous growth was possible with a revised
strategy. Former students now had families of their own,
so changing to a community-centric focus was the order
of the day.
: It’s OK to say “No.” With only 20 cor-
porate-run locations, franchise stores are the heart and
soul of the Pita Pit realm. Though, not everyone who
wants in is a good fit, 80-85% of applicants are turned
down. “Owning a franchise means hard, long hours,”
says Lang, “it’s your biz, your baby, and you have to be
prepared to give it your all.” Potential franchisees attend
Discovery Day where they meet the corporate team for
a two-way interview. Personality is a big factor. “We call
it ‘the BBQ test’ – as in, would you invite this person to
your BBQ?”
: Prioritize training. To do a job well,
knowing the basics – and then some – is key to feeling
comfortable and confident in your role. New Pita Pit fran-
chisees take an extensive 12-day course at the National
Training Center in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, split between
the classroom and live time in a restaurant. The pro-
gram, run by experienced, long-time owners, covers es-
sential topics for operating and maintaining a franchise
to corporate standards.
: Reality check. Lang stresses the
simple, stark realities of business to new franchise own-
ers. “Honest effort equals honest return. Pay attention
to customer service. Know your food and labour costs,
chase every nickel. Be there when it’s busy; hands-on
owners who work full time in the store do better than
those who depend on hired staff. Take Sundays off, fam-
ily time matters.”
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