5Qs: Askar Brothers on Competing and Winning in the Pizza Industry

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There are about 65,000 pizza franchises in the United States, making it an especially competitive business. One rising player is Askar Brands, which operates regional pizza concepts across the U.S. such as Papa Romano’s, Papa’s Pizza To-Go, Breadeaux Pizza, and Blackjack Pizza. The company, headquartered in Commerce Township, is led by Casey Askar, president, and Sam Askar, CEO. The brothers acquire restaurants, then work to boost profits and brand equity through operational support. The brothers spoke with DBusiness Daily News about the acquisition process and the future of their company.

1. DDN: How long have you been in the pizza franchise industry?

Casey Askar: In 2006, I acquired my first franchise, a Papa Romano’s. I saw the significant growth benefits that come from acquisitions. Today, we average one new franchise per year. We now have 120 units and 1,500 employees nationwide.

2. DDN: What do you find most rewarding about your work?

Sam Askar: It feels good to watch people develop and work for a greater purpose. Being able to walk into a system that has been stagnate or on the down trend and come in with some of your know-how, and giving (the employees) the tools they need to succeed (is gratifying).

CA: We have been doing this for so long that it’s been very rewarding to have a long-term relationship and watch these franchisees grow and their families grow. (In addition), some of these franchise owners become corporate employees that work with us corporately and help other franchise owners.

3. DDN: What have you discovered when you acquire a struggling franchise?

CA: One thing I have learned is to never underestimate brand equity and good will, especially in this industry. If you look at the pros and cons, it’s a lot more beneficial to keep the brand. Imagine right now buying Heinz Ketchup and trying to rebrand it — probably wouldn’t be a good idea. Loyalty is different in every industry, but for a food franchise, you go in (to a business) for that product. That product may have been around for generations and something you have had as a kid and have grown up on it. You can’t just take that away.

4. DDN: What is the timeline for turning around a franchise?

SA: Once we acquire a franchise, it can take about 13 months for the franchise to become profitable. (We spend) months utilizing resources to grow their business, however, some companies can already be profitable when we come in, and then it’s about letting the owner focus on execution and retaining customers as we try to make the brand stick.

5. DDN: What’s next for Askar Brands?

CA: We plan to continue in our growth mode, acquisitions, and growing organically. After we acquired Blackjack Pizza in 2012, we put a stop into growth momentarily to prepare our infrastructure for larger growth. Now we are going to go ahead and start growing again and acquire more regional pizza chains. What is really neat is being Detroit guys and starting with a chain (Papa Romano’s) that had under 60 (locations) and growing it across the nation. We now have over 200 locations by just starting with this concept of acquiring brands.

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