When Toppers Pizza receives the first order at their brand new location in the Ballantyne neighborhood of Charlotte, it will mark the official kick off of the fourth Toppers location in the state of North Carolina. But even with a strong foothold in the state already, the brand is just getting started.
With three additional locations scheduled to open in the Raleigh area behind franchisee Wayne Byers, as well as plans to further develop in the greater Charlotte DMA, Toppers Pizza is continuing to take slices out of the Tar Heel State. In all, the brand expects to open more than 10 locations in North Carolina in the coming years.
“The Charlotte market is just a hotbed of growth right now in the southeast,” said Mark Cairns, Director of Franchise Development for Toppers Pizza. “Additionally, we are seeing incredible opportunity throughout the entire state of North Carolina with strong franchise prospects and markets perfect for Toppers in cities like Fayetteville, Greensboro, Winston-Salem, Jacksonville, and Wilmington. The success of our operations in North Carolina is, and will be, due to the solid franchisees that are leading the charge there.”
Spearheading growth in Charlotte with the opening of the Ballantyne location are franchisees Mike Wielechowski and Nate Fuller, Charlotte area attorneys who specialize in corporate finance law and own the Toppers Pizza location in nearby Fort Mill, South Carolina. After Wielechowski moved to Charlotte in 2005, the two met professionally, and for years, talked about bringing their respective practices together. They finally combined forces in 2012 with the formation of Wielechowski & Fuller, PC. After focusing on their newly combined practice, they started discussing diversifying and owning a business with room to grow and thrive in their hometown. A friend who had enjoyed his Toppers Pizza experience suggested it to them as a potential business opportunity and after looking into Toppers and meeting with the corporate team, Wielechowski and Fuller signed to open six locations across Charlotte, with an opportunity to open more in the future. They opened their first location in Fort Mill in the fall of 2016 while beginning work on the Ballantyne location, which is set to open in March 2017.
This development comes as Toppers Pizza comes off of a successful 2016 where the brand experienced tremendous growth including climbing sales and three signed multi-unit development deals that will ultimately add 41 new locations to Toppers’ ever-growing network. In the first half of 2017, Toppers Pizza will surpass 80 stores as it drives toward a national franchise footprint. The brand has enjoyed recognition from top industry publications and entities such as landing on Entrepreneur Magazine's ranking of the top 500 franchises in the U.S for the third year in a row in 2017 and landing on QSR Magazine's listing of the Best Franchise Deals.
“We knew that pizza was a strong segment because families are busy and will always order it out of convenience,” said Wielechowski. “We wanted to get into the pizza business and the franchise business. I really liked the product at Toppers and there is a lot of opportunity, especially in the southeast, that doesn’t exist with a Papa John's or Domino’s. We met with the Toppers team and liked what we heard, so decided to take it from there.”
Charlotte seemed like a perfect fit to Wielechowski and Fuller, who both saw the opportunity in available real estate in dense areas like Ballantyne—a city that’s home to many professionals and located in an area near several hotels and corporate centers. While the two plan to continue their law practice while owning their Toppers Pizza franchise locations, they also understand the need to play an active role in the business.
“We are very much hands on but the managing of the business that we're doing doesn't require us to be inside of the store every day. We check the metrics, check the schedules, and are very active in the decisions made at our stores. To run a successful business, you can’t just put money in and see how it goes. With the Toppers franchise model though, we are able to maximize the chances for success and hire quality employees to keep our business running,” Fuller said.
Ahead of the opening of the Ballantyne location, the two owners have been busy preparing and making sure that all elements are in place for a successful introduction to the community. Additionally, in the Toppers spirit of taking care of Team Members, Wielechowski and Fuller have worked to implement several things to enhance the positive experience for employees, including market research to offer competitive pay and instituting a health care plan. During the whole process, the Toppers corporate team has been there to help.
“The support has really exceeded my expectations,” Wielechowski said. “Toppers has some really excellent people who are always available to answer questions or offer some recommended guidance for us. With the grand opening coming up, there is a lot of support from people who are working to make it successful. From a training standpoint, we'll have members of the corporate team available to make sure that our team is in place when the grand opening hits. The assistance we've been getting has really been fantastic.”
Toppers Pizza was founded on the principle of “respecting pizza,” and the dream of Founder and President Scott Gittrich was to create a brand that always put quality first and lived by a “never settle” motto. Since opening the first Toppers Pizza location in Wisconsin in 1993, the company has focused on finding and partnering with franchisees who reflect that culture.
“Mike and Nate understand business and the importance of building a great team,” said Cairns. “They are active owners in the business – meaning they are going to work on the business and not in the business. They are committed to hiring the best talent, train them appropriately, and use the tools that Toppers has laid out to run a successful operation.”
As the brand continues to grow in North Carolina and throughout the southeast, they are focused on increasing awareness of Toppers Pizza. Charlotte is a destination city in the southeast, which will serve as an important hub for the brand as it looks to introduce its product to visitors from additional southeastern cities like Atlanta, Jacksonville, Charleston and more. But for now, Toppers is focused on saturating the Charlotte market and providing a quality product alongside unmatched customer while simultaneously continuing their growth across the Carolinas.
The investment in a Toppers Pizza franchise ranges between $291,666 and $527,152. Franchisees fees start at $30,000 for the first unit and decrease to $20,000 for the second and third units, $15,000 for the fourth and fifth, and only $10,000 for six and above. The brand also rolled out a new prototype to kick off 2017 which increases transparency and creates a more welcoming environment for guests, while enhancing the flexibility of the real estate footprint which can range from 1,200 to 1,500 square feet - making it easier for franchisees to locate existing real estate in community inline centers.
“We are excited about having the opportunity to be successful in our new venture with Toppers Pizza while continuing our existing law firm. Toppers gave us that opportunity,” said Fuller.