Top Players in Franchise Development: Mike Mettler
Top Players in Franchise Development: Mike Mettler

Mike Mettler, the director of national franchise sales for Dairy Queen, is breathing new life into a 76-year-old brand’s franchise development strategy.

When the average person hears the words “Dairy Queen,” immediate memories of celebratory ice cream trips flood their minds. But the Director of National Franchise Sales, Mike Mettler, is changing that perception by working diligently to develop DQ Grill & Chill stores in untapped markets across the U.S. In fact, one of the main reasons Mettler joined the Dairy Queen team was the ability to find franchise candidates in some of the largest cities across the U.S., and to devise a plan for them to develop those cities location by location.

Mettler’s goal is to bring the brand’s QSR model to cities across the U.S., where a lot of potential customers are, but there is no brand presence—all while increasing the number of store openings in a year. Mettler explained to 1851 how he left the automotive industry to join Domino’s Pizza, how he launched a franchise sales program to target candidates outside of the system for the very first time, and how he is breathing new life into a 76-year-old brand’s franchise development strategy.

What brought you to franchising?

My background was in the automotives and electronics, but the auto industry was experiencing a down turn in Michigan, so I got the chance to develop and run franchise sales at Domino’s Pizza. It is a great company in Michigan and it’s filled with good people, strong management, and great performance. At that time, they had only sold to internal managers, so I got the opportunity to work for a well known company in franchising and use the business development skills that I had developed in other industries.

What brought you to Dairy Queen?

A lot of things—the brand itself was appealing, and so was the ability to sell some of the best markets in the country, like Los Angeles, New York City, Orlando, and Dallas. It’s a great, large franchise company, but it also has great markets available. Other reasons why I wanted to come to Dairy Queen include the strong ownership of Berkshire Hathaway, the people on the corporate team, and I liked the capability and growth concept for a mature brand, offering a lot of opportunity for me personally and for selling franchises.

What makes your brand’s franchise development process tick?

Just hard work—it’s a lot of blocking and tackling. It’s understanding the markets, it’s finding great people, It’s supporting franchisees in the system and finding new ones to enter the system, and it’s about recognizing opportunities and making them a reality with the right franchise group and the right location. There really is a lot of detail and work that goes into every new store.

What have been some of your brand’s major milestones?

Well, when you talk about a 76-year history, there are a lot of major milestones along the way. Recently, I think some great moments to highlight include the DQ Grill & Chill concept being developed 15 years ago in 2002, and that really changed the direction of the brand in terms of the type of store we’re developing today. It has taken 15 years to prove out that concept, optimize it, and move our system in that direction. Recently, the menu innovation and roll out of DQ Orange Julius in all our stores, the launch of DQ Bakes, the launch and roll out of the $5 Buck Lunch—all important strategic expansions for product lines for food and treats. We also recently launched the Royal Blizzard.

What are you most proud of?

Really, I’m very proud every time I work with an outstanding franchise group and we open a new market. When I look at the number of new market areas we have opened over the last five years, I’m really very proud of all of them and the efforts of the DQ team. I’m also proud every time I go to meet a franchisee that is new to our system or has expanded, and I get to tour their store and see that it operates great. Last week, I was in a new DQ Grill & Chill in Southern California, and the store is beautiful, the manager was fantastic, the food was hot, the service was fast—I’m proud of that. That’s what we all work toward.

What specific steps do your most successful franchisees take in order to build and grow their respective businesses? And what do you do to set them up for success?

I think the most important thing in the franchising and restaurant business is to focus on creating a great culture and developing the people on staff. The franchisees that set themselves and DQ up for success have really taken a long term view on the people and culture within their restaurants, and they invest in their people who are operating the stores and serving customers.

What are your goals for your brand in the next few years and how do you plan to grow the brand?

Our goal from a development perspective is to grow from opening approximately 85 new stores in a year to 100, and to develop stores in targeted markets where there are not many DQs in the U.S. We want to put our stores where a lot of customers are and don’t currently have access to the DQ brand.