This summer, SoBol grew from two franchise locations to 11 and signed an additional 20-some contracts with new franchisees, including a number of multi-unit agreements. Just weeks before that large-scale development push, which kicked off at the International Franchisee Expo in June, SoBol reached another landmark in their growth as a franchise by hiring Paul Gucciardo as the brand’s first vice president of franchise operations.
Before Gucciardo joined the brand, SoBol did not have a director of operations, and according to Gucciardo, they weren’t looking for one.
“I’d been hearing a lot about SoBol, and I knew that it started in Long Island, where I’m from, so I reached out to Jason [Mazzarone, CEO of SoBo] and told him I was interested in what he was doing,” said Gucciardo. “We quickly hit it off, and we both wanted to find a way for me to get involved.”
Before joining SoBol, Gucciardo worked in operations for multi-brand franchise organizations TruFoods and United Franchise Group, but Gucciardo’s interest in franchising extends back even further to his time in the restaurant industry.
“I worked at a take-out restaurant called Zorns, which was iconic in Long Island. I worked my way up from stocking shelves at 16 years old to becoming the director of operations in my early 30s. Eventually, I’d built up the experience and capital to become a silent partner with several other local restaurants. We had looked into franchising one of those businesses, but it didn’t work out. Still, I learned a lot about the franchise industry from that experience, and I became adamant about getting involved.”
In 2014, Gucciardo still had franchising on his mind when he decided he needed a lifestyle change. That’s when he discovered TruFoods.
“I had always enjoyed the food industry, but I became captivated by the franchise industry,” Gucciardo said. “I loved the idea of helping people grow their businesses. TruFoods was a great introduction to that side of the industry.”
Three years later, Gucciardo was still excited by his work with franchisees, but he wanted to find a brand that he was personally passionate about, one he could grow with. SoBol’s Long Island roots and rising buzz fit the bill, and Gucciardo was eager to get on board.
“I thought the brand and the culture were really exciting,” Gucciardo said. “It’s not just about serving a great product, there’s this amazing customer experience that’s built into the model. That’s what I saw when I was looking into SoBol, and that’s the most important thing I try to impart to the franchisees I work with now."
Gucciardo works with franchisees on a daily basis in his role as VP of franchise operations, splitting his time between new and existing owners.
“Much of my day-to-day work revolves around new-store openings. We’ll set up camp at the new location and work to educate and share the culture with new employees before the opening. I also spend a lot of my time traveling around to the franchisees that are already open, making sure they have everything they need and that they are taking advantage of all the resources that we have to offer—marketing, training, etcetera.”
According to Gucciardo, SoBol’s culture allows him to approach his role in a more effective way than he was able to approach his operations roles in the past.
“For other brands, someone in my position does a lot of policing, but SoBol allows me to be more of a coach. I’m not checking in on franchisees to make sure they are up to snuff, we are working together closely to make sure they have everything they need to thrive. And it goes both ways. Franchisees have a direct line to me and the corporate team. That’s all part of the culture that Jason and Jim [Kalomiris, SoBol’s co-founder] have built.”
That focus on the franchisee informs SoBol’s entire operational model, which Gucciardo says is designed to grow by promoting happy and successful store owners.
“The entire system is built to put franchisees first. We are franchisee-centric rather than sales-centric. That’s not just a nice thing to say, it’s a strong business model. I’ve worked with a lot of development teams, and whatever the brand, your number one selling tool is your system of franchisees. When they are successful, the brand is going to grow. So whatever you can do to help the franchisee is going to pay off for the corporate team.”
To help support franchisees wherever possible, Gucciardo sees listening as a key aspect of his job, soliciting feedback from franchisees and working with the corporate team to make operational adjustments based on what he hears.
“I rely on franchisee feedback for every area of our operations,” Gucciardo said. “We never discourage honest negative feedback, though we’re thrilled to find that the vast majority of our feedback is positive. Everything we do is evolving. We are always looking for ways to refine and improve our model.”
One of the many ways SoBol is currently working on improving its model is an ongoing assessment of the store-level operations that affect overhead and sales.
“We are visiting new vendors, finding new products, and looking at any ways in which we can improve the guest experience, all in an effort to make every store more profitable.”
Gucciardo attributes SoBol’s summer of rapid growth to the high-level of franchisee satisfaction he sees every day.
“We really catapulted forward this summer, and it was almost entirely organic growth. We saw leads coming in from friends and family of existing owners, we saw consumers wanting to become owners, and we saw existing franchisees taking on new units. That’s exactly the type of growth you expect to see when you are putting the franchisee first.”
For Gucciardo, the close relationship between franchisees and the corporate team is personal, something the father of three does not take for granted.
“SoBol feels like a family. That’s been very important to me. I’ve got young kids of my own, and I want to work for a company that shares my values and is growing in the kind of supportive, nurturing way that a strong family grows."