In 1971, the first Togo’s restaurant opened in San Jose. In 1977, the company began franchising. In the six years in between, Dan Pearson, then a college student in the Bay Area, discovered the sandwich brand, became a loyal customer, and in 1974, became an employee. Pearson worked at Togo’s for three years before opening his own in 1977. His was the 11th restaurant in operation.
Few people in the Togo’s franchise system have been with the brand as long as Pearson has. Pearson has owned or co-owned 16 different Togo’s locations over the years, and he’s worked closely with hundreds of franchisees and corporate team members, making him uniquely suited to represent the interests of franchisees to the corporate team, which he does as a member of Togo’s Brand Advisory Council.
“I’ve been around for a long time,” said Pearson. “I’ve always been in leadership positions in one form or another. My role on the BAC is in some ways the culmination of that experience.”
The Brand Advisory Council is an organization that works to gather the concerns of franchisees and work through them with the corporate team. Its members are franchisees, each elected by the network of Togo’s owners. According to Pearson, the BAC creates a level playing field for partnership between the corporate team and the franchisees.
“It’s not a unidirectional process,” Pearson said. “Most avenues for franchisees to connect with the corporate team are through corporate-led events such as town-hall meetings and the annual convention. Those are great ways for us all to connect, but they are organized around agendas set by the corporate team. The BAC gives franchisees an avenue to communicate with the corporate team according to our own agenda.”
That level playing field is a key component of the Togo’s franchise strategy, which seeks out and utilizes franchisee input wherever possible. Pearson says that the advisory council is an extension of a larger philosophy espoused by Togo’s President, Glenn Lunde.
“Glenn always talks about Team Togo’s,” Pearson said. “That idea frames every aspect of our operations. We are constantly working to make sure that franchisees, vendors, and the corporate team are working as partners toward the same goals.”
For Pearson, who has worked at different locations across northern California throughout his career, that partnership is essential for a franchise system, which operates with great physical distance between team members.
“It’s not like any other business where most people work in the same building and you can hold meetings regularly,” Pearson said. “If we don’t actively promote open lines of communication, franchisees can feel isolated. The BAC is one of our mechanisms to make sure that never happens. All the franchisees are connected to each-other, and we are all connected to corporate. That’s what makes a business strong.”
In addition to setting up meetings with franchisees and corporate team members, the Brand Advisory Council works on a number of programs to help establish and refine best practices, create mentorship opportunities, and schedule working forums. One of the BAC’s most recent initiatives was spearheading a program to create leadership opportunities for Togo’s franchisees.
“Glenn suggested the leadership program, and we’ve been working together closely on it,” said Pearson. “We brought together 20 of the newer, more engaged franchisees to help mentor and set them up for leadership positions. We’re trying to empower these folks so they can do big things with Togo’s.”
The opportunity to work with young franchisees to help support their careers was what drew Pearson to the Brand Advisory Council in the first place, and it’s one of the reasons he continues to serve. Because every member of the council is also a full-time Togo’s owner, Pearson says the position is duty served out of love for the brand and fellow franchisees.
“We’ve had great people on the BAC over the years, people who are extremely dedicated to what they do,” said Pearson. “Everyone on the council is running their business at the same time, so you have to really love and take a personal stake in the brand. I’m extremely proud of the work we do, and I enjoy doing it. I enjoy working with the franchisees, and I enjoy working with the corporate team. Glenn has worked hard to build a team of smart, passionate people on both sides of the business, and he continues to work hard to improve the system. He takes advice as well as anyone I’ve known, and that attitude extends to the entire corporate team. I feel that the entire franchise system is in really good hands."