In more than three decades of franchising, Penn Station East Coast Subs has worked with more than 100 franchisees to grow a system with more than 315 restaurants across 15 states. Many of those franchisees have been with Penn Station for years, and some have built small empires with the brand, positioning their Penn Station restaurants as the cornerstone of even larger, multi-brand operations.
As Penn Station continues to expand into new markets and approve new franchise partners, the brand is taking full advantage of the decades’ worth of experience, knowledge and best practices cultivated by their long-time owners. Penn Station has a number of mentorship, training, and support programs designed to connect new franchisees with more experienced ones, and the franchise’s corporate team is working closely with its top performers to implement the keys to their success across the board.
We asked three of those top performers, T.W. Wright, Don Robinson and Bernie Marconi, to share their best tips for success with Penn Station. Here’s what they had to say.
In T.W. Wright’s 16 years with Penn Station, he’s opened four locations in West Virginia and Kentucky. Wright also owns four Moe’s Cantinas, two Slim Chickens and one Sbarro. Penn Station, he says, is the foundation of that entire operation.
Wright: Of all of my restaurants, Penn Station is the most profitable. It’s designed that way. The footprint is smaller than my other restaurants, the operations are simpler and the franchisor doesn’t nickel and dime you; they are very conservative and work hard to keep ROI up and monthly costs down. But it’s up to you to make that system work. Some people get into franchising thinking the work is already done and they can sit back and let the money roll in. That’s not how it works. Penn Station has a strong model, but you’ve got to apply it. And you’ve got to listen to the corporate team. Sometimes it's a little like listening to your parents; they tell you things you may not agree with or may not want to hear, but you’ve got to trust them and know that they are working to support you.
With 18 Penn Station restaurants under his ownership, Don Robinson is one of the largest franchisees in the entire franchise system. All of those locations are in the metropolitan Louisville, Kentucky market, making Robinson one of the few Penn Station owners to essentially run and control an entire market by himself.
Robinson: To be a successful Penn Station owner, you’ve got to concentrate on your people and work to cultivate a great culture from the very beginning. This can take a lot of time and discipline from every member on your team, and it’s got to come from the top — from you. We spend 90 minutes with each new team member before they even step foot in the store. That allows us the opportunity to explain our expectations and build a strong relationship from day one. We want to show them that they are going to be essential to our team and that we care about them, whether they’ve been with us for 15 years or 15 minutes. That gives people a sense of pride and responsibility, which is essential to any successful operation. Invest in your people. It pays off.
Bernie Marconi has been with the franchise for 16 years, and though his two Penn Stations in Michigan represent a smaller unit-count than Wright’s or Robinson’s, they are consistently among the highest performing restaurants in the system. That’s no surprise given that Marconi arrived at the franchise with nearly three decades of experience in the industry, having run more than 100 KFC stores in three states for Yum! brands before signing on with Penn Station.
Marconi: Penn Station has an incredible support system. Take advantage of it. In my 16 years, there have only been a few times when I really needed the support of the corporate team, but each time, the president of the company was right there for us. I really believe he walks in the shoes of the franchisees. Penn Station does not bring on just anybody as a franchisee, so if you join the system, know that they are invested in your success. The other franchisees are also an incredible support system. We help each other out. I’ve even traveled to different cities just to lend hand to other owners who needed help. That support system is invaluable.