I’ve told the story before of how Domino’s prepared me for my own business. Let me provide a little more detail.
When I joined the company in 1987, Domino’s Pizza was opening a thousand stores a year. The company was growing insanely. I saw a survey that pointed out that their mascot, the Noid, was the second-most recognized figure in pop culture—right below Santa Clause, and above Jesus Christ. They were exploding. With this growth came a giant push from the company to train managers for all those stores. We didn’t have assistant managers or shift managers. We had MITs (managers-in-training). If you didn’t promote, they pushed you out of the training program.
Each manager-in-training was equipped with a workbook, a heavy work schedule to train through immersion (and earn pay), a regimen of in-person training courses, and regular job performance reviews—all with the goal of taking an employee from filling out a job application to learning how to run a $500,000/year business within six months.
I learned more in those few months in a corporate environment than I did in almost two decades of working for franchisees. Managers I met years later couldn’t tell me what was in the dough, much less do the advanced math. Not that they were necessarily bad managers—they just weren’t trained business owners.
For example, Domino’s divided their fiscal year into 13 4-week periods. This gave us several advantages—one of which was that when we compared sales to last year (which we did daily, weekly, and periodically), we were comparing the same day of the week for a more accurate comparison. Our paperwork each period included
Week 1—a profit projection for the period
Week 2—a “mid-month”, which was short for “mid-month profit projection”
Week 4—a profit and loss statement, using actual figures for rent and utilities sent us by corporate
This was before stores had computers, so we learned how to calculate these things by hand. I could turn over a sheet of paper, figure my contribution margin, and scratch out a break-even analysis (and therefore a profit calculation) by hand. Thirty-nine times a year—more if your trainer insisted you do the work more than once, which mine did.
Part of the motivation behind this intense training was the idea that each of these corporate managers might one day buy their own store or stores. They weren’t just training potential managers; they were training future franchisees. It was an intense training program designed to create business owners (and, incidentally, the managers were incentivized with profit-based bonuses so that the most successful could buy or open their own store).
John and Mike
While I worked for a couple of different managers during that period, I had two primary trainers. The first, John, trained at least 6 people up to their own store. He had a reputation throughout the market for being a strong trainer. People wanted his MITs in their stores. He later went to Subway, where he owned and operated one store and was partial owner of a second. He ran a highly profitable store, made even more impressive by the fact that he always had rookies running the place, and he paid them well. While working for John, I was the highest-paid trainee in the area (wages were standardized, but I got the hours I wanted). Other managers discovered that they could pay me the mandatory overtime required when working for a store other than your own, and their labor costs would still be lower than normal because of how tight I ran a shift. In addition to Domino’s-specific stuff that isn’t the point of this discussion, John taught me the fundamentals of employee management, the benefits of ongoing training, and how to best use my time during a shift or a week.
The second trainer, Mike, had the reputation of running outstanding numbers. He turned a giant profit for the company while ensuring that he earned as much as the system allowed. For example, he discovered an exploit in the system where he and another manager could get paid an additional day by working at each other’s stores one day a week, which gave him and his friend a 20% increase in income for the same number of hours worked.
Later, when he was promoted to area supervisor, Mike’s tasked profit goal for his first period was $14,000. He was disappointed with himself when he “only” reported $56,000 profit, because his personal goal was to quintuple his assigned goal. Under Mike, I learned how to scrutinize costs, maximize the value of labor, and leverage assets for maximum benefit. I really learned how to appreciate the profit benefit of add-on sales.
Interestingly, neither one of these managers was a great salesperson. Neither ran the highest-volume store in the market—but they were always 1st and 2nd in profits (or first and first when John moved to an adjacent market). When John, Mike, and I ran stores simultaneously, our market led the region in profitability, and our region led the company. None of us ran the highest-volume stores in our markets.
The company system taught me the value of standardized training. When I started FLGS, I didn’t need an operations manual. My partner and I did everything ourselves. We didn’t hire anyone for about 6 months. But I had a table of contents and an outline before we even opened. We had the kernels of our content almost immediately—daily checklists for opening and closing tasks. Then I added things like uniform standards as we added employees.
Now it’s a 56-page document available in print for quick reference at the counter or PDF for latest reference and searching ability. It includes intense detail regarding every operation that happens in the store, from opening the front door on entry to sales, receiving, online sales, pricing policies, and closing up at night. If we ever encountered anything not in there, we added it.
The corporate background also prepared me for operating multiple stores. While my 3 stores were in different markets and had some specific differences because they were bought (as opposed to opened from scratch), my plan for the next year was to homogenize methods 100% so that crew and management were wholly interchangeable. That’s a big help with covering shifts, promoting managers as needed, and improving the customer experience overall.
Obviously, we don’t make pizzas at FLGS. There are other differences. For one, I don’t have to worry about delivery (I thought about it as an option, but I did not pursue it for reasons I don’t need to go into right now). But less obviously, the number of SKUs I restock on a regular basis is enormously different. Domino’s had 10 toppings when I started, two sizes of dough patties, one sauce, two sizes of boxes…the entire list fit on a single page and could be counted in 15 minutes.
Another obvious is that I had to do all this work myself instead of having it done for me. On the other hand, having read the procedures and training manuals at Domino’s gave me a broad template that I could repurpose for my own use.
Clearly, a fully-stocked game store with a broad inventory base needs hours of counting. With practice and refinement of methods, I could count my major general restocks in less than 2 hours, but that still leaves lists of less efficiency for several more hours of counting.
Staffing is much simpler in a game store. In almost all cases, I have one person on duty to cover the counter. For high-traffic times, we double up. Shift transfers take a few minutes. In case of a call-out (which was very rare for the first 20 years, very common in the last 2 years), the salaried manager arranges coverage or works the shift himself. If nobody else does it, I do it.
Customers can steal from a game store. In a delivery-based restaurant, there’s almost no theft. Theft on a delivery was a big deal because it was almost always armed robbery. Theft in the store was all done by employees, and the systems in place made that easy to do but difficult to do undetected. I implemented systems to prevent or detect theft.
The methods and systems I learned from the management training program at Domino’s absolutely gave me the background I needed to own my own business. Where the skills didn’t transfer, they gave me a comparison that I could adapt to my needs. The opportunity is lost with the changes in Domino’s over the past several decades, but undoubtedly other situations similar to that are out there now. Maybe you’re in one and haven’t assessed it from this point of view.