Saturday, February 28, 2009

Starting to look like a Five Guys - Marlborough pictures

We're getting there -- I took these pictures at our Marlborough store this morning.   The DCM guys were laying tile (and they were perfectionists about it) when we got there around 10am.  The progress in the last 2 weeks has been pretty incredible.

This is a shot from the front of the restaurant - you're looking at what will be the seating area as seen from the front, and on the left is the counter.  If you've seen the Dedham store, it's basically the same layout.

This is the grill area -- no sizzling yet, but there will be.  The guys were also working on some of the ventilation/duct work behind it while we were there this morning.

Fries, anyone?  One thing's for certain: we have plenty of baskets.  We paid up for the higher volume units (4, not 3) in anticipation of more hungry customers than the average store in the chain.

Our walk-in cooler.  For some reason, this piece of hardware made it feel like a restaurant more than any other that we had installed.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Getting there...

Well, we are hard at work getting ready to open in Marlborough. It's starting to look more like April than May, and maybe even in the earlier part of April. Some of you have written me asking for firm date, but as yet, I don't have that. Believe me, when I know, you'll know.

Here's why: hard as opening a store is, opening our first one (for us, anyway) is especially hard. The beauty of a franchise, of course, is that we don't also have to invent the operating model. That's done for us. But there is much, much more that's involved.

To give you a bit of an idea of what goes on behind the scenes, here are some of the things it entails:
  • Dealing with vendors: we are simultaneously signing up for gas, electric, linens, pest control, cleaning chemicals, cable/telephone, point-of-sale, credit card processing, security systems, 3 or 4 kinds of insurance, payroll, music (Five Guys always plays specific Sirius channels in their stores), bread, syrup, and of course meat and other food, among other vendors I am leaving out. None of them have ever heard of us before and some want to run personal credit checks even though we have a corporation set up. In this world, they all want to get paid up front for everything. They all have 5 friends who run other businesses targeting small business and those 5 friends all call to pitch something.
  • Hiring: we have rounded out the management team for our first store, and are very proud of the group we have assembled. You're only as good as your people, so we spent a ton of time on this. Next, we/they will have to hire almost 50 people by opening day.
  • Construction/equipment: add to all the vendors above the massive project of design, construction, and equipment ordering. Our construction company has done fantastic work so far, although Marc has spent countless hours chasing down vendors for grills, walk-in coolers, shelving, work tables, etc. At the same time, Five Guys is constantly optimizing how stores should be built. For example: should there be shelving above the fryers? If so, how much and what kind? This affects the bill-of-materials (BOM), and in more than one instance for us, changes it even since we placed the original orders 5 weeks ago.
  • Marketing: this one is easy. Five Guys doesn't do any - they let the product speak for itself. This pays huge dividends in moments like the one I had yesterday with my daughters' babysitter. She's from Alabama, and when I mentioned that we were opening a Five Guys nearby, she went off on a 5-minute tirade about how much she loves Five Guys and that everyone from her high school goes there after basketball games. That said, we will be working closely with the Marlborough Chamber of Commerce, getting involved in local charities and with the schools, and plugging ourselves into the local business community.
  • Banking/lending: this one has also turned out to be easy, which I know is unusual in these times. Our bankers at BB&T (out of Virgina - 13 out of 13 lenders in Mass. turned us down) fund requests the same day, always get back to us quickly, and have been fantastic partners.
Did I mention that we are simultaneously developing pipeline for up to 19 more stores? We actually have a "letter-of-intent" for the second one, which is a description of high-level lease terms but is not legally binding until we sign the actual lease. Of course, before then, we have to form the organization, negotiate the lease, fund a new bank account...

We love what we're doing and are very excited about the first store. But there are definitely days that are excited to run the business, not just build the foundation.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

First New York, then the nation

I am back from Five Guys' corporate training and wanted to pass along an amazing story about buns. More on the training experience in a later post.

First of all, 5 Guys' buns are great, which I did not expect. I spent a decent time behind the grill over the past couple of days and can tell you that the smell as they're grilled is pretty intoxicating. They hold up well to the patties and toppings, and actually stay more solid than you would think after being wrapped with meat and toppings in foil for 10 minutes or more. They are also expensive; how expensive they are is apparently a trade secret, but I will say that it's more than you pay at the grocery store. 5 Guys is about a great burger and fries experience, not low price, so it makes sense for franchisees to pay a little extra for a better quality product.

The buns are 100% trans-fat free. The interesting story for me is that this is true because Five Guys expanded into New York City, which restricts "trans fats" in restaurants. This regulation forced Five Guys to alter their recipe to gain entry to that very lucrative market. It's not really feasible to have one recipe for NYC and another for the nation, so as a result, the bun recipe changed everywhere. So, now every Five Guys in the nation has trans-fat free buns.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Five Guys is not health food and shouldn't be confused for that. That said, I found it amazing that New York passing a law changes how buns are served in Colorado, Utah, South Carolina, Virginia, and everywhere else.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

First Lady at 5 Guys, Off to Burger U

Michelle Obama went with her "staff" to Five Guys - no picture, but a nice mention in the New York Times. Regardless of your politics, you have to admit it's a good sign when she could probably have taken them anywhere and ended up at Five Guys, especially since as a Chicago person she couldn't have known about them UNLESS SOMEONE REALLY RECOMMENDED IT TO HER. On top of that, she ordered a cheeseburger, fries and a soda, so she at least knows something about economic stimulus that works.

Tonight I am heading off to Lorton, VA for a couple of days at Five Guys Burger University (my words, not theirs.) I am ready with my red t-shirts and baseball cap. The red shirts connote that I will be a crew member, not a manager, and the main thing the cap will show people is that I have a small head and look ridiculous in a one-size-fits-all hat. That's entrepreneurship. My partner Marc is taking the 2nd half of the week; since we aren't going to be working in the stores ourselves, we don't have to complete the whole week of 8am-11pm days and the certification test on Friday. That said, our feeling is that if we are going to be owners, we need to have some basic understanding of what it's like to actually work in the business. I have done similar things in my tech business life (sitting on the customer support desk, etc.) I didn't have to buy work shoes for those gigs though.

I'm heading down with our manager (Rich Lanza) and our assistant manager (Doug Oelbaum). This past week was huge as we got them introduced and starting to talk about running the store, which we are very confident in their ability to do. Also, demolition started on our site, we had a big architectural breakthrough for our next site, we finalized our construction contract, and are generally working our way down the "punchlist"; the punchlist is the 5 Guys project plan, if you will, on how to open a store. It is OK and ever-changing, so we have had to figure out a lot on our own. Yet another reason to attend burger school to find out how these restaurants actually run.

More from Virginia after the first long day.