It’s not unusual for an executive of a franchise brand to have gotten their start as a franchisee, nor is it uncommon for an executive to have discovered the brand as a consumer. But not many people can say they fell in love with a brand after experiencing the product, bought into the franchise as a.....
The saga began in the late 90s at the University of Idaho – Moscow. Riggs was still a student when a Canadian concept called Pita Pit opened its second U.S. location near campus. The fresh concept was an instant success and Riggs liked the idea of bringing customization to pitas.
Riggs’ involvement with Pita Pit was only as a customer as he finished his degree and gained experience managing an Italian restaurant in town. It wasn’t until a couple friends asked him to lend a hand with a Pita Pit in California that he got involved with the organization at a deeper level.
“I said I’d love to,” Riggs recalls. “I was helping them out and it became one of those things where the more I helped them, the more involved I got and the more I enjoyed working on it.”
Riggs liked the concept so much that he opened his own Pita Pit franchise at the University of California – Santa Barbara with his brother-in-law. Between his success there and the success of his friends’ location, the group began discussing ways to expand their territory.
[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Pita Pit has become a student favorite on campuses across the country."][/caption]
“At that point I’d gotten to know [Pita Pit founders] Nelson Lang and John Sotiriadis pretty well so we were kind of casually chatting with them about expanding our development territory in California,” Riggs says. “They offered us the development rights to the state of California, but said if we were interested they would sell us the entire U.S. company.”
The proposal came as a shock, so Riggs brought the offer to his father Jack, who had helped in the development of the California locations.
“We started making some phone calls, talking to some people that were interested and, long story short, we put together a group and purchased the U.S company nine months later.”
The transition from franchisee to franchisor wasn’t always a smooth one. Unit-level economics had to be scaled up to consider the impact on the entire franchise system and a unified approach had to be developed and applied across all locations.
“One of the biggest difficulties in the transition was changing our mindset from something that was good for a store to something that was good for the entire system.”
More challenges came as Riggs and his team took on a role of leadership over former friends and colleagues.
“There was an awkward transitional phase when we were saying ‘we’re not better than you, we just have to look at this from a different standpoint.’”
In the end, Riggs says the challenges and experiences have made him a better franchisor.
“It’s a huge benefit to have the frame of reference of a customer, franchisee and franchisor. It gives me perspective to not just assume I know what franchisees or customers are going through,” he says. “Because of that, I’m able to have a greater level of confidence in my decisions.”