Jim states that he’s only had two jobs…selling Slurpees® and renting movies. Responsible for giving a whole generation of teens and tweens “brain-freeze” with his iconic 7-Eleven® commercials, Jim has established a permanent place in the upper echelons of advertising fame. We’ll get to the horse farm. So how does his diverse background lay the groundwork for a successful future for Brix Holdings, multi-brand franchising company for notable ‘better-for-you’ brands Red Mango® and RedBrick Pizza, that’s striving for 100% clean ingredients as the cornerstone of their path to success? We spoke with Jim about his career path from corporate, to franchisee, to managing partner.
CMOO: Give us a sense of your history. It’s unconventional to say the least.
JN: Sure thing. My brother managed a local 7-Eleven® so I learned that business from my earliest working days. In the late seventies, I entered the Management Training program at 7-Eleven where I proved myself in operations and quickly grew into sales, then into higher operational roles. When I stepped into the VP of Advertising role, I was well rounded in all areas of operations at 7-Eleven and that brought a great perspective to the marketing strategies my team and I developed. I prided myself on being the CMO that could work with the Executive Team. After a successful run at 7-Eleven, I was then recruited to Blockbuster where I was tasked with turning around that brand and was able to double revenues against the 800lb gorilla at the time, Hollywood Videos.
CMOO: So the natural career progression is to buy a horse farm in Virginia, correct?
JN: Well for me it was. I took some time and reflected over my career and enjoyed the ride but it was good to slow down a bit. So we moved back to the Virginia area and started the next phase of my professional career…it just happened to look alot like a horse farm.
CMOO: But that didn’t last long, did it?
JN: Right, it was about this time when me and a few of my ex 7-Eleven colleagues formed a partnership to buy some restaurants on Long Island of all places. In 2007, we were interested in getting into the frozen yogurt space, saw an opportunity in that category so bought the development rights for Red Mango on Long Island and built six stores that did exceptionally well. Red Mango was a South Korean concept and at the time it was relatively new to the United States with few locations and had to be ‘re-concepted’ for the western hemisphere. We eventually sold those stores which allowed us to buy controlling interest in the Red Mango brand in the US and we built that to almost 400 locations.
CMOO: We haven’t talked a lot about marketing, but as Managing Partner and CMO, what do you attribute this success to?
JN: We have a strong executive team, I can’t stress how important that is. We have executives from KB Toys, CVS as well as a former attorney at Blockbuster. They are really strong in all the areas important to franchised brands…scale and operational experience.
We also have very strong franchisees, and being a former franchisee myself with my own money invested, I know how important that role is. Franchisees are experts in their market, period. If we don’t feel a person or group are experts in their market, we don’t award a franchise. So to your point about marketing, choosing the right franchisee IS our marketing, because we know that person can take our tools, breathe the brand, and win their territories. There is no substitute for that.
CMOO: So which concept are you most excited about?
JN: Well, after we acquired controlling interest in Red Mango, we started acquiring and building a portfolio of ‘better-for-you’ brands. There is so much energy in the clean ingredient and ‘better-for-you’ space so philosophically we started looking for brands that fit with this overarching concept. We bought Smoothie Factory® (now 30 locations and 25 co-branded Red Mango locations) then Souper Salad® (now 27 locations) and Greenz®. All our concepts are 100% franchised and we essentially re-package them for operational efficiency and scale. To answer your question I would have to say we are most excited about RedBrick Pizza® Kitchen Cafe as the ‘better-for-you’ pizza market is enormous.
CMOO: What makes the RedBrick Pizza market potential so great?
JN: Pizza is an enormous category and the pressure for ‘better-for-you’ options from customers is growing without sacrificing exciting tastes. We acquired RedBrick for its fire-roasted pizzas and innovative recipes and to compete with similar concepts that are doing well in the category. To create a better fast casual customer experience, we redesigned the stores in 2015 and are creating innovative opportunities like working with the Celiac Foundation to set standards for eliminating cross-contamination in our dough production. We are also the only pizza with a proprietary, organic, non-GMO sauce. At the Red Mango brand we are evolving into a healthy café and are working to source all organic dairy-based products, which is challenging to scale, but we are determined to get there.
CMOO: You are our last CMO Outlook feature for 2016. If you had to leave our readers with one last thought to bring with them into 2017 what would that be?
JN: I would say there are two things that have served me well. First, understand that franchisees are your primary customers. They are 100% of your distribution and brand experience. Pay close attention to who you allow on your team, support them fully but not to the point where you are doing it for them. And second, for any senior marketing executive or marketer that aspires to get there, I would advise them to get operational experience…that will give you a far greater understanding of how marketing’s role fits better with the system.