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John Stetson: Taking a “Bite” Out of the Franchise Industry

Business owners have struggled to adapt to life during COVID, and many have not been able to make it through the other side of the pandemic, especially in the restaurant industry. John Stetson, a successful serial entrepreneur, isn’t one of the lucky ones. John is the CEO of Stoner’s Pizza Joint, a fast-growing pizza, South Carolina-based franchise chain that has been taking over the Southeastern United States. He believes in the concept so much he also owns several of the franchise locations as well.

Stoner’s is dedicated to providing quality and affordable pizza, among other products, to its customers. It has received a lot of attention lately due to its delicious pizza, quirky name, and impressive sudden growth. “We saw a 20-30% increase in same-store sales during the height of the pandemic and opened eight new units,” says John. They went from 11 to 19 thriving locations and intend on doubling their units to 40 by 2023 while expanding to the west, starting with Colorado.

The secret to this franchise’s– and specifically John’s units– sudden boom of success during such a tumultuous time had a lot to do with hopping onto a seemingly good opportunity and excellent timing. “Prior to COVID, Stoner’s had built an app, partnered with all the major 3rd party apps, had in-house delivery, and had recently updated in-house software systems,” explains John. “When dining rooms shut down, and customers were forced to order in, Stoner’s boosted marketing spending on all third-party apps, offered free delivery, and promoted many specials to gain new customers.”

But why be a franchisee with Stoner’s in particular, a franchise that isn’t as widespread as a Dunkin’ Donuts? “Stoner’s motto is to keep it simple and fun,” says John. “This allows new franchisees a lot of flexibility in size, location, and the number of units they want to own. Stoner’s boasts several proprietary recipes, including dough, sauce, and cheese blend, which differentiates the product from competitors.” Not only is the pizza enticing but so are the small number of dollar signs when grabbing your own “piece of the pie.” Stoner’s boasts of being one of the lowest costing pizza franchises. Your initial investment would only cost you between $90,000 to $206,000.

“Easy” isn’t exactly the adjective one would use to describe making a ripple in the franchise industry as a small business franchisee. However, no one ever said it was impossible. John explains four key ingredients in disrupting the industry, even if you’re the little guy: community engagement, customer care, credibility, and hustle.

If a new business engages with its community, it will get the attention of prospective customers. It will gain their trust along with their business. Caring and listening to customers is extremely important, so taking reviews seriously is a key focus for Stoner’s. For credibility, they always come through on their promises, especially giveaways, discounts, and other deals. Hustle is an essential aspect of any successful franchise. “It’s a never-ending game,” says John. “There is always someone else looking for your business!”

It’s critical to note, however, that John heavily focuses on community engagement for his units. During their COVID success, they never lost sight of the less fortunate. “Since we were fortunate enough to grow during this time, we used it as an opportunity to support the local organizations who were hit the hardest and give back through food donations to schools, first responders, and under-privileged families,” humbly notes John.

All of this is easier said than done, of course, but John has some key advice for aspiring franchisees. When shopping around for a franchise, one must be careful about which they select to work with, do their research, and work, work, work. “Franchisors give a franchisee the tools and training to start their business, but the franchisee must be prepared to use those tools to be successful.”

Stoner’s requires its franchisees to have a couple of vital attributes: passion and a shared vision. “We value customer service, the community, and providing the freshest product to our customers,” says John.


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