Franchise Development Players: Gene Savage of Johnny Rockets
Franchise Development Players: Gene Savage of Johnny Rockets

The Director of Franchise Development & Real Estate answers our questions

How did you fall into franchising? 

I’ve been in franchising since the mid-80’s. Right out of college I started working with Mobil as a sales representative and worked with them for eight years until I decided I didn’t want to be in the oil/gas business and wanted to expand to other opportunities.  

My first job in franchising was with Winchell’s based in California. Since then, I’ve been with brands like Jiffy Lube, Togo’s, Baskin-Robbins, Dunkin Donuts, Maggie Moo’s, Baja Fresh, Beef ‘O’ Brady’s, and now with Johnny Rockets.

I’ve always loved to be around food, I love to cook – but I didn’t want to do that as a career. When I left Mobil there was a strong buzz about the success of the franchise model and knew I wanted to be involved with franchising. I had a strong desire and passion for what I saw evolving in franchising and wanted to be a part of it. I’ve been in the franchise industry for four decades selling franchises and the last ten years in franchise real estate development.

It’s always been very satisfying to see the transformation and evolution of the franchise industry over the years.

What makes you love franchising? 

What excites me and motivates me is that I really enjoy the people that I work with and the brands associated with them. I don’t think of it as selling franchises. It’s more helping people get into business for themselves. Helping them make that choice has been gratifying, exciting and challenging.

I can look back on a full career of people buying franchises and see a lot of people making a profitable livelihood from their decision to join franchising. It’s nice traveling the country, visiting those who you have helped join the various franchises, seeing those who have become successful in business. I’ve sold between 12-18 franchises for the last 35 or so years, so that’s a lot of friends I’ve helped.

I enjoy what I’m doing today, and my responsibility has grown to include franchise retail real estate development as an integral part of the industry. That’s added another whole new dimension to my portfolio.

What do you wish would change in franchising? 

I can’t think of anything that’s been a deterrent to the franchise industry from a development perspective, or that I would necessarily change. There can be problems with some of the regulations that impact how franchisees are able to operate. But it’s such a rich and diverse industry. There are so many different types of people from different walks of life that come together in franchising to embrace the opportunities. Food is only a segment of the franchise industry, which covers many industries and models and provides many opportunities for both franchisors and franchisees.

What makes a great franchisee? 

If you lack the drive and determination, you won’t be successful in a franchise model. It is not an 8-to-5 job. You’re running your own business and franchisees need to have the fire in their belly to be successful. You must be someone who will get up in the morning and make things happen. Someone with a passion to succeed. You also need to have good “business sense”.

What’s the No. 1 thing that sells franchisees?

It starts with a financially successful business model which will draw the interest of those looking to succeed. Then with a franchise prospect having interest and passions that align with your brand concept. There must be a magnetic field to draw interested prospects, then it’s the proof of performance that validates your brand and their decision to invest. You must perform to sell the brand concept.

You have to love the restaurant industry and have a magnetic draw to be a part of it. If you love the food at Johnny Rockets and really enjoy the experience – that creates a draw to look at the opportunity. The brand culture and identity provide the magnet. But then, it’s the validation based on the performance of the brand’s promise that will sell the brand concept investment.