Firehouse Subs: 'No plan for status quo'

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  • | 12:00 p.m. July 13, 2011
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by Karen Brune Mathis

Managing Editor

Don Fox has a basic definition of organizational success.

Every day, if you’re not improving, you’re worsening, according to the CEO of Jacksonville-based Firehouse of America LLC.

“There is no business plan for the status quo,” Fox said last week. “There is no business plan for staying stagnant.”

Fox spoke Wednesday to the Southside Business Men’s Club and talked about the chain’s corporate values:

• Stay customer focused. “That’s true of any business,” he said.

• Set high standards. “In our view, we’re never good enough. The difference is the people, especially in retailing with multiple locations.”

• Work hard and learn.

• Treat people fairly.

• Give back to the community. “We do a lot of fundraising in our restaurants,” he said.

Fox said the Firehouse Subs’ mission statement was “to carry on our commitment and passion for hearty and flavorful food, heartfelt service and public safety.”

The company created its Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation to carry through with the public safety focus of its mission statement.

Last week, Consumer Reports, the nationally recognized consumer research magazine, validated the company’s focus on food and service with a No. 1 ranking for sandwiches and subs.

In a survey asking more than 25,000 Consumer Reports subscribers to rate pizza, chicken, subs and Mexican-food chains on a scale of 1-10, “from least delicious to most delicious you’ve ever eaten,” Firehouse Subs topped the list with an “8” in taste on the sandwiches and subs chart.

In another Consumer Reports rating, Firehouse subs and Jason’s Deli tied at the top in sandwiches and subs with reader scores of 83 for food, value, staff and speed. A score of 80 means respondents to a CR survey “were very well satisfied.”

“In your business, if you don’t have a mission statement, create one,” said Fox.

Firehouse Subs was founded in 1994 by firefighter brothers Robin and Chris Sorensen. The chain has grown to 435 restaurants in 24 states.

Fox, who heads the franchising operations, said that 29 of the restaurants are company-owned and 406 are franchised.

Fox said the chain should be in 2-3 more states by the end of the year.

Fox said the company began when the Sorensens opened one restaurant. “They had no aspiration other than open that single restaurant on San Jose Boulevard,” he said.

Those plans changed and the company grew to 59 restaurants by 2002 and to 402 the past year.

“We will open 80 this year,” he said, listing San Diego, Philadelphia, Boston, New York, Minnesota and Michigan as new markets.

He also said the company has been debt-free for 11 years.

Fox said the Jacksonville staff of about 55 people allows the chain to make changes more quickly than the major national food chains.

“We can be a lot more nimble,” he said.

Asked if the company has problems in enforcing standards, Fox talked about the importance of consistency and that the chain has had to “pull the plug” on a franchisee because of a personal matter.

Asked about offers to buy the company, Fox said “we get it all the time.”

“We have no interest in selling,” he said.

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