The 300-location mark is a fairly big deal in franchising; it’s a milestone that few concepts ever reach. Just 108 franchised brands have grown past the 300 mark. It was a nice milestone at Blaze, however, when the company ticked over 300 in November 2018, CEO Jim Mizes didn’t spend a long time patting his back.
“I can be guilty of not celebrating where our company is, but really it’s what comes next within the evolution from the blaze pizza menu to obtain us from 300 to 700 or whatever is next,” said Mizes.
Founders Rick and Elise Wetzel built that growth mindset right into the brand DNA. So even at 176 percent sales growth and 121 percent location growth from 2015 through 2017, it’s all area of the plan.
“We always said from the beginning, let’s think and act like we’re a 1,000-restaurant organization,” said co-founder Rick Wetzel. “That meant everything we did from day one, through the numbering systems for the store design, everything was built so that we could get to one thousand.”
And when anyone could practice it, it’s Rick and Elise, the dynamic Southern California duo behind Wetzel’s Pretzels who had been both former brand managers at Nestle.
Because the story goes, they wanted pizza to get a quick lunch, which just wasn’t available. So they visited Chipotle instead for a burrito and got a hearty part of inspiration, too.
“Just watching that ordering format, we went, ‘Now that is the way you would get pizza at lunch,’” said Elise. “That was the gaping hole. Literally we left that Chipotle and that i knew. I looked at Rick and said, ‘We’re likely to open blaze pizza holiday hours aren’t we?’ He explained, ‘Yes we are.’”
The 2 have been pondering their next act after selling Wetzel’s Pretzels to your private equity firm in 2007, with Wetzel’s again changing hands in 2016. Though with that cash inside the bank as well as the experience of growing to fsdlws than 300 locations, they knew they had to go fast. Rick is the archetypal idea man who simply can’t sit still while the zen-like Elise charts the brand’s north star. They got to work before their burritos had even digested.
“We happened to be qualified to create a run at it, so we said, ‘Lets go,’” said Rick.
From your first conversation, they designed the manufacturer to develop at a rapid clip. “We knew it would be competitive and that we knew it was going to go very, very fast. If anyone was going to own the market, they would have to move quickly and execute extremely, extremely well,” said Rick.
Keeping that growth from being a chaotic mess, however, meant an earlier investment in people, systems, processes along with other growth investments well ahead of the actual restaurant count. Mizes, a seasoned franchise executive, came on as CEO when there were just two restaurants. Executive chef Brad Kent was there before the first store opened this year, as was the store design team.