9-unit Marco’s owner shares how he grew the brand in new markets

Marco’s Pizza franchise review: Eric Bueter offers advice, perspective on the Marco’s Pizza franchise opportunity

Eric Bueter holds a sliced pepperoni pizza on cardboard, tilted toward the camera.

Eric Bueter

When Eric Bueter and his wife, Scottye, bought their first Marco’s franchise in 1986, there were only 30 or so in the system altogether. Founder Pasquale “Pat” Giammarco was still at the helm, and the franchise system, as beloved as it was regionally, wasn’t really known on a national level. This year marks his 33rd year in the business, and he and his wife now own nine Marco’s locations. Bueter talks about the challenges and rewards of opening an established brand in a new market in this Marco’s Pizza franchise review.

What were you doing before Marco’s?
Actually I was in a partnership and I owned some fitness centers. I was turning 22 years old and I had two of them and sold them. And then my partners didn’t want to be partners with me anymore. They wanted me to just come and work for them. We had some money from where we sold the club. So, I was thinking about pizza.

How did you find out about Marco’s?
Well, I was living in Sylvania, Ohio, with my wife of one year, and Marco’s was our pizza of choice. I was sitting in the car one day with a friend of mine that was a doctor, and we were talking about what I should do. I had $36,000 and I was 23 years old at the time. And he goes, “You know, did you think about pizza? And I said, “You know, I thought about that ” And he goes, “Why don’t you look into it, maybe we’ll do it together.”

Marco’s was the pizza place that I would want to own because I always ate it. So, we met with Pat (Giammarco)’s people, and then my doctor friend ended up getting cold feet. I wondered if I could get the financing myself, and I thought I could get the loan through the SBA. Three months later, I was in Wauseon, Ohio, making pizzas.

And how many units do you have now and where are they located?
I have nine units now, all in west Ohio: Wauseon, Archbold, Bryan, Montpelier, Paulding. Defiance, Findlay, Delta and Napoleon. They’re all about 15 to 30 minutes away from each other, and from corner to corner, from Wauseon we are about an hour to the farthest one.

Marco’s started in Toledo, Ohio. So which of these towns would have been the least familiar with Marco’s? And what was it like to build Marco’s in a town that wasn’t necessarily familiar with the brand?
When I started, you’ve got to understand there were only 30 stores in the chain. So, every store we did, we were the new guy on the block. There might have been a Domino’s in town or Little Caesars or Pizza Hut or whatever, they all knew those. And they may have kind of known Marco’s was a Toledo brand. Sometimes I get calls from people talking about how they don’t know Marco’s in Texas or Nebraska, and I tell them, look, for the most part nobody had ever heard of Marco’s 30 years ago where I was either, you know?

How did you spread the word about your brand?
Knowing what I know now, it’s really all about great location, great signage. And for the new stores that I’ve opened in the last five years, I bought the centers, and they’re really good locations. When you go into a new market, you have to have a great location and great signage. You can’t be in a B-minus or a C location and think you’re gonna do great. It’s a negative.

What other tactics are effective at penetrating new markets?
We’ve had stores that have been slow and what we’ve been successful at is just getting our pizzas out. Even if we’ve gotta give our pizzas away. We donate a lot of pizzas, at schools and community events. If they eat our pizza, they like our pizza.

Two fresh Marco’s pizzas are pictured atop wooden pizza paddles. One is topped with pepperoni and mushroom; the other is topped with pepperoni and sausage. Along the wooden table in the background are a head of garlic, four fresh tomatoes and a sprig of basil. A dusting of flour can be seen in the foreground on the bottom right of the photo.

Are there any advantages to opening in a new market?
I don’t think there’s any advantage to being an unknown. Now, Marco’s is going to a national advertising fund, which is great for new markets. People have to see your name, they have to hear your name and see your signs, and you have to give them a consistently great product and service. The more that happens, the more likely you’ve got a good combination to be successful.

So, you mentioned about the stores that you opened in the last five years. How many have you opened in the last five? And do you have plans for further expansion?
I’ve opened two. And if locations came available that fit in our area, yeah, I would add more stores. But really, geographically, we’re a little bit out on an island. I think it’s always good when you have multiple locations that any new locations fit into that geographic pattern so you can go from one store to the next store to the next store. If you’ve got one in Toledo and one in Columbus and one in Cleveland, it creates more work and I think it’s a disadvantage. It’s another obstacle for you.

What does your management team look like?
We have about 40 total managers in our group. I have a vice president of operations, two area supervisors and myself. And I still go to stores six days a week. We’re all there. I may be a little old school, but we’re in our stores during the busy times. Then when you run into the real low unemployment, you need to make sure you’re supporting those stores. I mean, you’re busy, you’ve got high-volume stores. You know, you need to be able to help your people out. Historically, our turnover has been under 50%, which is a pretty good number considering a lot of restaurants are 150%-200%.

What’s the best advice you could give to someone who wanted to open multiple Marco’s Pizza locations?
You’ve got to have the right people, and you’ve got to develop that management team. I have two supervisors, a vice president of operations, a comptroller in the back office. That’s very important, too. If you’re going to have multiple locations, you’d better have a full office. You’re not going to develop multiple units with turnover rates of 150%, 200%.

The other thing is to open one store at a time, make sure it’s successful, get your management team in place then go to the next one. Also, to be successful you really have to be in the stores and watch the details and help your managers catch the details that maybe they might otherwise miss. And if you don’t enjoy being there, it’s probably not the right business for you.

Why should someone choose Marco’s as opposed to another brand?
First of all, we have great pizzas; our ingredients are great. We do the dough fresh. We’re cutting the green peppers, we’re cutting the onions fresh. And that’s got to be the core of why you’re getting into it, because you love the product.

Why else? The cost of the stores. Marco’s is trying to hold down the cost of the stores, which is hard to do in today’s building environment. So they’re sensitive to those needs. Pat (Giammarco) was a phenomenal leader and he sold it to a great guy, Jack Butorac, who really is committed to the brand. Pat did all the foundation work that was what you needed to build something to be a national brand, and he’s still very involved as a franchisee himself. Jack is really sophisticated at growing the brand; we have almost 1,000 locations. It’s a great combination.

Learn more about our business opportunity

Download our franchise report for in-depth details about our business opportunity. You can also learn more by exploring our research pages, and read our blog to discover more franchise reviews.