CiCi’s Pizza opened its first restaurant in Plano, Texas in 1985 and is now one of the nation’s fastest growing pizza chains. The family-oriented restaurant, known for its pizza, pasta, salad, soup, and dessert buffet, has about 600 restaurants in 35 states. In 2011, Zagat recognized CiCi’s on its list of most child-friendly fast-food chains, and Entrepreneur named CiCi’s first in its category on the Franchise 500 list.
Bill Spae joined CiCi’s Pizza in August of 2010 and serves as its Chief Development Officer. He is responsible for the business development of the brand and also leads the real estate, franchise sales, design, construction, and international development departments.
Prior to his tenure at CiCi’s Pizza, Bill was the CEO and owner of Lakeview Partners, a consulting group focused on providing support for commercial development, operations, and acquisitions for the restaurant and retail industries. In addition, he has served as president of Steak and Ale Restaurants, president of Bennigan’s Grill & Tavern, CEO of Palm Beach Tan, division vice president of Wendy’s, and vice president of development for TGI Fridays, among other executive positions across the franchise, foodservice, and retail sectors. Furthermore, Bill has experience as a franchisee of two different established brands throughout his almost 40 year career.
Franchise Chatter (FC): Please tell us about CiCi’s “Build the Brand” initiative? What are your growth targets for 2012? What regions of the country are you targeting for expansion this year?
Bill Spae (BS): We launched our “Build the Brand” growth initiative in 2010 to help reach our goal of opening 500 new restaurants by 2020. Despite the challenging economy, we have a strong brand that is well positioned for expansion across the country. Our commitment to value is what continues to resonate with guests and enables us to own the dine-in pizza buffet segment. We are actively seeking qualified multi-unit and single-unit operators to help grow the brand in Southern California, the Mid-Atlantic, the Northeast, and South Florida, as well as select Texas cities and other regions across the nation.
FC: More than 80 percent of your system is now up to date with CiCi’s new look and feel. How difficult was it convincing your franchisees to make the investment to update their stores?
BS: Guest satisfaction is always top priority and our franchisees appreciate that. Customers have choices when deciding where to dine out and expect CiCi’s to deliver a best-in-class family-friendly atmosphere and quality food. Our franchisees were excited for the upgrades and recognized the value in strengthening our brand with a consistent look and feel.
FC: Can you tell us about the new features of the 4,000 square foot test restaurant that you opened in Murphy, Texas last year? How has the customer response been to this test restaurant?
BS: The 4,000-square-foot test restaurant in Murphy, Texas, is equipped with features that may be incorporated into future restaurants such as an extended buffet line, redesigned salad bar, expanded menu boards, new carryout options, and new color scheme and decor. The customer response to the new restaurant has been fantastic. Local residents have come to rely on the restaurant as a family destination for quality meals and unmatched value pricing.
BS: As the CiCi’s brand continues to evolve, a smaller footprint will allow us to be competitive and expand into non-traditional venues such as airports, universities, and military facilities with our fresh made-to-order express platform that can bake a pizza in less than five minutes. Additionally, as our to-go business has increased, we plan to make it a larger priority in 2012. Families appreciate the convenience of CiCi’s To Go, not to mention the incredible price value.
FC: Are there any changes to your product strategy in 2012?
BS: We recently brought on Rebecca Stone to serve as our senior director of food and beverage. Rebecca will oversee the development of new menu items. We are planning to introduce new products to the CiCi’s custom buffet every quarter. Guests can enjoy classic favorites like Pepperoni or try one of our latest additions, such as the recently introduced Hog Fest pizza, which is loaded with crisp bacon, Italian sausage, sliced ham, and pepperoni.
FC: What can you share with us about the new franchisee incentive programs scheduled to be rolled out this month?
BS: To address the weakening economy, we have created the Franchisee Investment Program, which provides select qualified franchisees the necessary funds to develop and grow. CiCi’s has allocated a minimum of $5 million and is now seeking qualified franchisees to develop 5-10 restaurants. For select multi-unit developers new to the system, we will invest $100,000 per restaurant and become a minority, non-voting partner.
If the operator meets certain milestones, we will reinvest the $100,000 to allow the operator to continue to open additional restaurants despite the challenging economy.
We have also established additional development incentives to help both new and existing franchisees open new restaurants. These incentives focus on accelerating new openings within the current year or increasing a multi-unit operator’s annual development schedule. Benefits include reduced franchise and royalty fees, as well as the potential to receive a franchise fee refund for those that meet the specific program guidelines.
Furthermore, we launched the CiCi’s Patriot Program to increase business ownership and job opportunities for veterans and address the nearly 30 percent veteran unemployment rate. We set out to develop one of the industry’s best, most comprehensive veteran’s franchise incentive programs. For qualified and honorably discharged veterans, CiCi’s will waive the franchise fee for the first restaurant and offer 50 percent off royalty fees for the first full year of operation. Through the CiCi’s Patriot Program, veterans can save approximately $58,000.
We also partnered with Boefly, an online marketplace designed to simplify the execution of commercial transactions, including all loan origination and sales, to offer new financing options to franchisees.
FC: What are the new interactive features that we can expect from your re-designed website?
BS: This month, we launched a redesigned website at www.cicispizza.com. The new site incorporates an interactive feature called “parallax scrolling” in which visitors move the scroll bar at the bottom of the screen to take a virtual trip down our custom buffet. We’ve also added enhanced allergen and nutrition information, as well as a complete visual menu of all buffet items. The new site is also equipped with geo location detection so that we can easily direct guests to their nearest CiCi’s restaurant. The next phase is a 2.0 launch to the website which will include a fully mobile-optimized experience for smart phone and tablet users, as well as include social media integration.
FC: Why should someone interested in getting into the pizza business consider a CiCi’s Pizza franchise?
BS: CiCi’s Pizza is a predictable, measurable, and sustainable investment opportunity. The average new restaurant investment ranges from $461,343 to $714,912 and the average sales volume of new restaurants opened in 2011 was between $950,000 and $1 million. Prospective franchisees benefit from an approximate 2-to-1 sales-to-investment ratio and four distinct revenue streams: the custom buffet, catering, to-go orders, and a game room.
Additionally, CiCi’s Pizza offers a unique brand position. We have no significant direct competitors in the pizza buffet segment, and we serve over 80 million guests and produce more than 75 million pizzas per year.
FC: Is there anything else you wish to share about CiCi’s Pizza?
BS: CiCi’s Pizza is dedicated to the long-term viability of its restaurants. Through JMC, the exclusive purchasing and distribution company for CiCi’s Pizza, franchisees benefit from competitively priced goods and equipment, unmatched customer service, and orders filled on schedule.
Furthermore, our brand is passionate about creating a family-friendly environment and exceeding guests’ expectations with our high-quality service and endless buffet at a great price value. Throughout our 26-year history, the company has applied this same approach to franchisees — providing tremendous service and support levels to assist in their success.