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 liable for not celebrating where we have been, but really it’s what comes next in the evolution of the blaze to get us from 300 to 700 or whatever is next,” said Mizes.
Founders Rick and Elise Wetzel built that growth mindset right to 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 right away, let’s think and act like we’re a one thousand-restaurant organization,” said co-founder Rick Wetzel. “That meant everything we did from day one, through the numbering systems to the store design, everything was built so we could easily get to one thousand.”
And if 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.
Since the story goes, they wanted pizza to get a quick lunch, which just wasn’t available. So that they went to Chipotle instead for any burrito and got a hearty part of inspiration, too.
“Just watching that ordering format, we went, ‘Now that is certainly how you would get pizza at lunch,’” said Elise. “That was the gaping hole. Literally we left that Chipotle and I knew. I checked out Rick and said, ‘We’re planning to open blaze aren’t we?’ He stated, ‘Yes we have been.’”
The two 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. But with that cash within the bank and also the experience with growing to fsdlws than 300 locations, they knew they had to travel fast. Rick will be the archetypal idea man who simply can’t sit still as the zen-like Elise charts the brand’s north star. They reached work before their burritos had even digested.
“We happened to be qualified to create a run at it, therefore we said, ‘Lets go,’” said Rick.
From your first conversation, they designed the manufacturer to develop in a rapid clip. “We knew it would be competitive so we knew it would go very, very fast. If someone was going to own the current market, they will have to move quickly and execute extremely, extremely well,” said Rick.
Keeping that growth from as 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 skilled franchise executive, came on as CEO when there were just two restaurants. Executive chef Brad Kent was there before the first store opened in 2011, as was a store design team.