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With nearly 30 years in the food-service industry, working for various chains before making the leap to become a franchisee of CiCi’s Pizza, Greg Costley can certainly share his lessons learned with others considering a similar path.
Costley began his career in fast food working at a Taco Bell while in high school. Without the means or opportunity to go to college, he stuck with the company after graduating; and after five years, he was named Manager of the Year. But despite the title and years of experience with the company, Costley, 51, said he felt held back by his lack of formal education at the college level. He began to see others continue to advance within the corporation while he remained stagnant in his position.
He eventually jumped ship and moved to TGI Friday’s, where he felt experience was appreciated over education; but there, too, he got to a certain position in the company and saw no further room for advancement.
In 1994, he went to work as a general manager at CiCi’s Pizza and within two years was promoted to market manager, overseeing units in Oklahoma, Missouri, and Arkansas.
From Manager to Franchisee
“When I came on, there were less than 100 restaurants. They weren’t even outside of Texas yet. It was just a concept that my personality thrived in,” he said.
“At CiCi’s, there was opportunity for upward growth,” he said, and he might have remained an employee with the corporation if he hadn’t received a call from one of his franchisees on Thanksgiving Day 1997.
“He was struggling and wanted out,” Costley remembers of the conversation with his colleague. “He wanted out really bad.”
So, Costley went to his boss and discussed the situation. He began to think about becoming a franchisee with his own store, but he estimated that it would take the income of two stores to reach the same salary he was making as market manager.
He soon made a deal with a friend, who was also a franchisee, to borrow $100,000 and bought two CiCi’s stores in Oklahoma City. He said he was able to pay the loan back in two years.
Learning Lessons Along the Way
Before long, he made a decision to run three CiCi’s stores in Tulsa, Okla., with an agreement to buy the three stores out within five years. Today, he has three stores in Tulsa and one in Oklahoma City, but he has learned some hard lessons along the way. One of his stores struggled and he eventually closed it.
In retrospect, he says his big mistake was not paying attention to the numbers at his disposal when he decided to open a new store. The area just didn’t have the population density to support it. But having had great success with his first two units and an offer of 100 percent financing from his bank, who knew he had a good track record, he went ahead with another store, despite the lacking numbers.