Donatos Pizza Uncovered: A Q&A with the Leaders Shaping Its Franchising Future

In franchising, it’s no secret that the guidance and support a franchisor provides to its franchise partners is invaluable in helping them embark on successful entrepreneurial journeys. At Donatos Pizza, the power of leadership and its ability to shape success are key components of its franchise opportunity. Through the guidance and experience of passionate leaders, Donatos Pizza creates an environment for its franchise partners to grow.

Recently, members of the Donatos Pizza leadership team laid out their insights on the brand’s future, featuring insights from Tom Krouse, Chief Executive Officer; Kevin King, President of Donatos Pizza; Jodie Conrad, Chief Marketing Officer; and Christina Jackson, Chief People Officer.

Tom has over three decades in the industry, guiding the restaurant and consumer products divisions as Donatos Pizza’s Chief Executive Officer since 2000. Kevin oversees the brand's growth across Franchising, Operations, Marketing, People Services, and Technology, bringing more than thirty years of experience and a track record of creating over 1,500 restaurants worldwide. Jodie manages Marketing, Culinary, Catering, and Customer Service, leveraging her extensive background from previous roles at companies like Fazoli's and Wendy's. Christina contributes over twenty years of strategic experience, including her significant role at Designer Brands as their first Leader of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, enriching the team with her expertise in fostering inclusivity.

Their insights are more than just reflections; they are a beacon guiding the path forward in an industry marked by strong competition. This conversation reveals how Donatos Pizza is more than a pizza company; it is a brand constantly evolving and embracing change to stay ahead in the competitive market.

Q: How is Donatos Pizza's executive team using technology to improve operational efficiency and franchise success?

Kevin: Decades ago, Donatos Pizza invested in technology and a proprietary system. This choice has resulted in significant savings for our partners and consistently placed us ahead of many competitors in innovation. Leadership in this area combines being forward-thinking, willing to invest, and staying in tune with trends. Donatos Pizza has done this for years and reaps the benefits now because of this decision.

Q: How does Donatos Pizza update its value proposition to attract franchise partners in a competitive market?

Tom: The value proposition for us has always been rooted primarily in the pride of serving the highest quality food. Today, we have evolved to impact the community through our fully aligned Donatos Family Foundation. Our biggest change has been the dramatic improvement in store-level profitability and the expansion of available locations following our decision to open the entire country to franchising.

Q: What actions does Donatos Pizza's leadership take to ensure franchise partner satisfaction and collaboration?

Kevin: Leadership in a franchise organization is critical and complicated. It is imperative to have leadership from both the franchisor and the franchise partners. Donatos Pizza works hard to facilitate open and collaborative conversations with our franchise partners, primarily through our Donatos Advisory Council (DAC). We augment this with transparency, sharing the topics at DAC with all partners and encouraging open conversation through our FBCs (Franchise Business Consultants). Additionally, we have an annual conference that brings us together to further the dialogue and conversations.

Q: How does Donatos Pizza's leadership foster menu innovation to benefit franchise partners?

Jodie: We are constantly watching consumer and menu trends, looking for opportunities to expand the Donatos Pizza menu to appeal to more occasions, those that make sense for our brand, of course. Innovating in the pizza category can be challenging given our primary food item is often shared, so it needs to satisfy multiple people, unlike a burger or other individual entrée. However, items that offer something familiar with a twist, like our Hot Honey Pepperoni Pizza, are very successful because they combine broad appeal with uniqueness. This is the holy grail of new products. We maintain very high standards for product development and introduction because, as a mainstream pizza restaurant, we know we can deliver exceptional food experiences daily.

Q: How does Donatos Pizza's leadership build brand loyalty among franchise partners for growth and reputation?

Kevin: Leadership is a constant activity, not just something you do for a day or a meeting. The best way to develop loyalty among franchise partners is to demonstrate leadership, creativity, innovation, inclusion, and transparency. By embodying these core values, our team will continue to build trust and loyalty with our franchise partners and customers.

Q: What strategies does Donatos Pizza's leadership use to attract and keep top talent at both the corporate and franchise levels?

Christina: In order to attract and retain top-tier talent, the executive leadership team must take several strategic steps once we are all clear and aligned on our corporate and franchise goals for the next three to five years. Goal clarity is key for assessing current talent as well as identifying gaps. We do this by evaluating the performance and potential of current associates through succession planning. Once high-performing associates with potential are identified, the executive leadership team evaluates our total rewards strategy to ensure mechanisms are in place to retain and reward top talent. Besides offering best-in-class compensation and benefits, we are intentional about providing regular and actionable feedback and investing in coaching and leadership development to prepare them for future opportunities.

Q: Can you describe any strategic partnerships Donatos Pizza's leadership initiated to improve market position and benefit franchise partners?

Kevin: The best and most recent example is our partnership with our largest franchise partner, Red Robin. This groundbreaking collaboration demonstrates our innovation and commitment to growth, benefiting our existing owners by dramatically and rapidly expanding Donatos Pizza’s awareness and reach. This expansion of reach lowers costs for partners in guest acquisition and bulk purchasing, providing long-term benefits.

These insights reveal a multi-faceted approach to maintaining and growing a successful franchise network. From leveraging technology and innovating the menu to nurturing franchise relationships and investing in talent, each strategy is carefully crafted to strengthen Donatos Pizza’s market position and enhance the franchise partnership experience. Through foresight, dedication, and an unwavering commitment to quality and community, Donatos Pizza is poised for even greater success, ensuring that every slice served is a testament to our enduring legacy and phenomenal franchise partners.

Discover how you can join the Donatos Pizza franchising family, where innovation meets tradition and every partner’s success is our priority. Contact the brand today to learn how you can create lasting value and make a difference in your community.

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