A woman in the Midwest got her start answering phones at Domino's — now she owns 11 locations. Here's how she built and runs her multi-state empire.
- Emily Elwell and her husband Dan own 11 Domino's locations across Oklahoma, Kansas, and Missouri, with more on the way.
- She started out answering phones for a local Domino's in 2000 and bought her first location with her husband 10 years later.
- Elwell told Business Insider the key to her success has been finding areas that have low population density and a central feature like a popular store to pull people in from the surrounding region.
- Promoting from within ensures that her managers are equipped to handle the mental and physical grind of working at a Domino's. Maintaining upward mobility also helps attract talent.
- Domino's said that over 95% of its franchisees started off as part-time workers.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
When Emily Elwell started answering phones at Domino's in college, she figured she would stick around just long enough to get enough money to buy her family Christmas presents.
"And then I'm gonna quit, because who works at Domino's their whole life?" Elwell told Business Insider.
But Elwell stuck around for nine more years, climbing her way up to become a shift manager, then an area supervisor, bouncing from one managing position at Missouri Domino's to another as it fit her life. She met her husband Dan, who was helping run another nearby Domino's, at a corporate event. The whole time, she never thought of it as a career.
On Christmas day of 2009, Dan had to leave Elwell at home with their infant son to help open the location he worked at.
"We've to do something," Elwell recalls her husband telling her. "We can't continue to have these types of Christmases." She decided it was time to stop working at Domino's and start owning one.
The Elwells shared their tips with Business Inisider on how to grow and run a multi-state franchise empire.
Raise money from your personal network to fund your first purchase
Like other chains, Domino's requires potential franchise owners to have a certain amount of liquid capital available in addition to the franchise fee. The Elwells only were $10,000 short.
"We started making phone calls to friends and family," Elwell said. "And by the end of the day, we had raised the $10,000."
Their success snowballed. Since purchasing their first franchise in Webb City, Missouri, in July 2010, they've addded about a store a year. They now own 11 locations across Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Missouri, with more on the way.
"We have a saying inside our brand that we're not normal," Elwell said. "We have pizza sauce in our veins."
The Elwells would like to reach 15 locations in the next five years, though the exact number is not important.
"We're more interested in, do they run correctly? Do they operate well?" Elwell said. "So if we can operate 50 stores really, really well, then we'll operate 50 stores really, really well."
Promote from within
Running as many stores as the Elwells do requires a lot of trust in their managers. They've found that the best way to find exceptional talent is to promote from within.
"We don't have a lot of success with outside management candidates," Elwell said. "We're not normal. This job isn't for everyone."
Working at Domino's is physically and mentally taxing, they said. Promoting from within works well because it ensures that workers already know and like the work. And it proves to other workers that working at Domino's isn't a dead-end job.
"It makes it more real to our other managers that are coming up through the system, or maybe that driver who's considering management but isn't sure that there is a future with Domino's," Elwell said.
The best places to open a new business may not be where you think
The Elwells avoid expanding into dense urban areas, despite the large pool of potential customers.
The biggest city they operate in is Joplin, Missouri, which, with a population of 50,000 "isn't considered big by any means if you're comparing to Kansas City, St. Louis, and all the major cities across the United States," Elwell said.
Elwell estimates her potential customers by how many live in a 10- to 20-mile radius of her possible location.
She asks: "How many people are going to be looking to eat dinner, lunch? Within those distances?"
Then she looks to see if they have a central feature that pulls in people from the surrounding area.
"Is there a Walmart? Is there something that's going to pull a lot of people from the outskirts of town into town?" Elwell said.
Towns that are county seats are typically good locations. She also looks for whether they have any colleges in the area, including smaller community colleges. She also looks to see if there are institutions that provide a large number of jobs like factories and school districts.
If so, that might be the perfect place for the next store in her empire.
Got tips about entrepreneurship? Email Max Jungreis at firstname.lastname@example.org, DM him on Twitter @MaxJungreis, or contact him on encrypted messaging app Signal at (907) 947-0299.
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