The 300-location mark is a fairly big deal in franchising; it’s a milestone that few concepts ever reach. Just 108 franchised brands have grown past the 300 mark. It was a nice milestone at Blaze, but when the company ticked over 300 in November 2018, CEO Jim Mizes didn’t spend a lot of time patting his back.
“I can be guilty of not celebrating where we are, but really it’s what comes next in the evolution in the blaze pizza menu to get us from 300 to 700 or whatever is next,” said Mizes.
Founders Rick and Elise Wetzel built that growth mindset right to the brand DNA. So even at 176 percent sales growth and 121 percent location growth from 2015 through 2017, it’s all area of the plan.
“We always said right from the start, let’s think and act like we’re a 1,000-restaurant organization,” said co-founder Rick Wetzel. “That meant everything we did from day one, from the numbering systems for the store design, everything was built therefore we could get to 1,000.”
And when anyone could practice it, it’s Rick and Elise, the dynamic Southern California duo behind Wetzel’s Pretzels who were both former brand managers at Nestle.
Because the story goes, they wanted pizza for a quick lunch, which just wasn’t available. Therefore they visited Chipotle instead for any burrito and got a hearty part of inspiration, too.
“Just watching that ordering format, we went, ‘Now that is how you would get pizza at lunch,’” said Elise. “That was the gaping hole. Literally we left that Chipotle and i also knew. I considered Rick and said, ‘We’re planning to open blaze aren’t we?’ He explained, ‘Yes we have been.’”
The two was pondering their next act after selling Wetzel’s Pretzels to your private equity firm in 2007, with Wetzel’s again changing hands in 2016. But with that money within the bank as well as the experience with growing to fsdlws than 300 locations, they knew that they had to travel fast. Rick is the archetypal idea man who simply can’t sit still while the zen-like Elise charts the brand’s north star. They have got to work before their burritos had even digested.
“We happened to become qualified to produce a run at it, so that we said, ‘Lets go,’” said Rick.
Through the first conversation, they designed the manufacturer to develop with a rapid clip. “We knew it will be competitive and that we knew it was going to go very, very fast. If anyone was going to own the marketplace, they would need to move quickly and execute extremely, extremely well,” said Rick.
Keeping that growth from being a chaotic mess, however, meant an early investment in people, systems, processes and other growth investments well in front of the actual restaurant count. Mizes, a seasoned franchise executive, came on as CEO when there was just two restaurants. Executive chef Brad Kent was there before the very first store opened in 2011, as was a store design team.