It is very rare for franchisors to publicly talk about their troubles when things have gone wrong, but previous Pie Face boss Kevin Waite did just that at a Forum in 2015.
Given his honesty and frankness in opening up to his industry peers on the Pie Face chain’s fight for survival, it was no surprise then that transparency and trust were at the heart of his message.
Kevin, who joined Pie Face as MD a year before and assumed the position of CEO this year, detailed “the very painful experience” of the company’s efforts to emerge from administration and rebuild its brand.
He said the business was at times literally days from closing its doors for good but was now “slowly, slowly, slowly” turning things around. “We are paying our way on time and in full and it is a beautiful feeling,” he said.
Transparency with all stakeholders, from franchisees and staff to investors and suppliers, was the first step in the rebuilding process. Pie Face was previously “suffering from a severe trust deficit” in every aspect of the business and had to come clean in order to start again.
“Trust is built on integrity and competence and we had neither,” Kevin said. “It is one of the hardest issues in business but you have to deal with the facts, don’t run and hide. We had a front and centre talk with our franchisees, warts and all.”
Once you open up on the black and white of financials and margins, with “no grey areas”, the mystery begins to fade away and it starts to clear mistrust and get rid of the toxic culture, he said.
From that position, you can then start thinking and operating in a new way to break from the past. “We have worked hard to build ourselves back up and maybe in the next few months we can get off our knees.”
Kevin said his overriding goal was to make Pie Face franchisees “less unhappy” through a relentless focus on franchisee profitability. “We are in the business of getting franchisees in and successfully making money.”
This has included cutting the costs of entry, reducing key product costs to franchisees, and driving new product innovation and marketing. “The way to drive the business is marketing and innovation, everything else is cost,” he said.
Pie Face had also made the decision to sell company-owned stores. Kevin said franchisors needed to be clear on whether they were in the business of franchise stores or company stores, as the two rarely mixed well because company stores consumed a disproportionate amount of time.