From Local Favorite to National Brand

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Community engagement, a great story and a careful strategy are just some of the elements in successful expansion, according to Ed Yancey

Expanding from a local market favorite into a nationally recognized brand takes strategy and foresight. As a franchise, you need to develop tactics that emphasize your strengths while also allowing the business to evolve in a way that attracts ideal franchise candidates that will help grow the brand into new territories. Our journey began as a favorite neighborhood pizza joint in Southern California, and has brought us into the forefront of the burgeoning fast-casual pizza space. It was not without deliberation and planning.

A brand’s origins are an important component of its values and structure, but looking ahead to national growth requires a balance between striking out into the unknown and establishing processes that allow for incremental growth. 

Establish Differentiators

We got our start in 2012, and by 2014 had attracted an investor to fuel our growth through the development of corporate and franchise stores. But, we also saw competitors in the fast-casual space quickly gaining steam alongside us. We needed to solidify our brand, and also bring in support that would further position us for growth. Many franchises are faced with similar concerns when expanding into new territory. What sets a brand apart from others in the same industry, and how can you use those differentiators to draw in ideal candidates for your franchise system?

A focus on a unique guest experience, community engagement and a compelling origin story can all help the pieces begin to fall together in a way that can firmly set your brand apart from the crowd. These differences will ultimately become the springboard to add new locations across a broader geographic area, while also bringing new fans or loyal customers in new markets. Whether it’s becoming the top healthier pizza alternative or the most trusted name in auto care, the intention is the same – isolate the core values and attributes that sets your brand apart in order to leverage those qualities as the foundation for national growth.

Listen to the experts

Ideally, companies should scrupulously build geographic and market knowledge before expanding across the country. This should include a comprehensive review of the economic and market concerns, regional competitors and any possible barriers to entry. In addition, a franchise growing its national reach has additional concerns, not least of which is how that growth impacts the relative attractiveness of the franchise opportunity – how will the business continue to improve its value proposition, and how can this be prioritized alongside growth initiatives?

The fastest way to grow this market knowledge, and to maintain an attractive investment opportunity for prospective franchisees in the meantime, is to lean on experts. Turning to experts can accelerate expansion efforts while also helping a brand to stand out, especially in otherwise crowded market concepts.

Accessing this expertise will take on necessarily different shapes. It may mean bringing in the support of industry investors—in our case, we drew the attention of Cleveland Avenue, a major restaurant incubator that became a majority partner and strategic investor in our national expansion. The team is comprised of experts in real estate, marketing and restaurant design; they gained their experience with two of the world’s leading restaurant brands, McDonalds and Chipotle.

In other cases, this may mean partnering with a local or complimentary business in the same industry, or investing in a third-party logistical provider that can ease entry into local markets. At the very least, it means acquiring comprehensive market research on potential growth markets, and shaping your timeline and entry strategy accordingly.

Find brand ambassadors

Part of national expansion may include establishing corporate locations in new markets and so paving the way for eventual franchise offices. Or, a brand may prefer to rely on franchise owners as the key to unlocking a new territory for the brand. In the second case, it is vitally important to find entrepreneurs who will make it their mission to be known as the gateway to your brand in a growth market.

But who is a brand ambassador? As a franchisee, this is usually someone who is embedded in his or her local community, and has a finger to the pulse of what the local consumer wants in a new brand, no matter the service or product being provided. Ideally, he or she has experience in the industry, especially as a multi-unit operator or owner, since this often gives expertise that can help a new brand gain traction with an uninitiated audience. And, of course it is imperative that the franchisee has a personal connection or commitment to the brand’s product or services and core values.

In terms of long-game brand awareness, oftentimes customers will also become brand ambassadors of their own, and can be a valuable market entry expansion strategy. Especially for food and beverage concepts or other brands that may have sprung from loyal locals, incentivizing word-of-mouth can help a brand get a foothold in a new market. This can mean loyalty programs, social media contests or campaigns, community giveback or other efforts to reward local tastemakers for giving a new thing a try. 

Establish a playbook

National expansion is the ideal for many brands on the rise, and it’s an admirable goal. However, without a targeted strategy, it will either remain a dream or worse, end in complications for a growing brand. A key method for a brand to realize these expansion plans is to approach each market or territory with individualized attention. Write a playbook specific to each territory or market targeted for growth. This should be a collaborative document, one that allows the corporate team to manage a market from afar. Most importantly, update it on a regular basis, as strategy and targets change, to make sure communication between all members of the team is on target.

Bring your outside experts into the creation of this document, and use it as a tool to guide your brand ambassadors as they prepare to bring your product or service to a market in a new territory of the country. In our case, we found the most effective way to utilize this playbook is by keeping our growth goals rooted to our origin as a brand. Every new market is an opportunity to revolutionize locals’ views on pizza, and we build our expansion tactics on that core premise. With a similar focus on your brand’s core beliefs and values, and a commitment to expertise, bringing on passionate ambassadors and utilizing a playbook will help bring your franchise to new markets as a growing national brand.


Ed Yancey, director of franchising for Cleveland Avenue, parent company of PizzaRev, brings more than 20 years of franchising experience to PizzaRev. PizzaRev is a “build-your-own” fast-casual pizza concept that has revolutionized the way America eats its favorite food. They accomplish this by allowing guests to watch their personal-sized pizza being crafted right before their eyes, then firing it in their custom-built 900 degree, stone-bed oven.

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