In this week's Workstream Webinar, we are joined by brothers Nick and Zach Venzon, owner of 10 Jimmy John's and growing. Learn how they think about expanding to new locations, hiring teams from the ground up, scaling operations, and modernizing operations in response to the pandemic.
Read on for the full transcript:
Lydia: Welcome everyone! Today, we're joined by Nick and Zack from Jimmy John's - two brothers who started the business only two years ago and now 10 locations in Indiana. I'd love to just start off by learning a little bit about your journey and how you got into Jimmy John's.
Getting Started with Jimmy John's
(0:20 - 03:19)
Nick: I'm Nick and I started working with Jimmy John's when I was 17 while in high school, pretty much just a part-time job. My friends all worked there, it seemed like a cool place to work. Over the years as I started needing to have more responsibility, I decided to try to move up, learn as much as possible and over time, fell in love with the brand, the job, the work all the people, the customers and honestly since I felt so at home and loved everything so much about work, that just kept moving up and up. Zack who's four or five years younger than me also worked at Jimmy John's and the two of us decided this would be a really fun thing to do for the rest of our lives together.
Zack: That was the first place I worked too when I was 17, he was actually the GM of the store that we grew up in and he hired me when I was still in high school. Then I went on to college, I got a business degree and we knew basically when I started going to school that when I graduated, we were going to try and purchase our own store since we've been thinking about that from our high school years.
Lydia: So take me through the process of acquiring nine stores. What does that look like when you're starting out, how did you choose the location and were there people that helped you along the way?
Nick: We definitely wanted to have one store. Nine stores or ten stores was definitely like the lifetime goal not how we're going to start out. After looking at some locations and realizing that there was a store that we really wanted to buy in Colorado but it just wasn't going to be feasible for Zack and I to both pay ourselves and pay off a bank loan. We came back to the person that we worked for and who's still a partner and he saw that there was nine stores for sale in South Bend Indiana far away from beautiful Colorado and decided if this is something that you guys feel like he could do he would be nice enough to give us the opportunity, so yeah he definitely helped us out and that's kind of I'd say how we got out here.
Zack: Nick called me when I was coming home from work one day and we had already gone through the idea of Colorado and knew it wasn't feasible and he's like yeah there's these stores in South Bend Indiana and I said where's South Bend?
Nick: Yeah I didn't know where it was either.
Zack: We didn't even know where it was but when an opportunity like that comes up, we felt like we had to definitely take advantage of it and I don't think we could be happier anywhere else.
Opening New Location Versus Purchasing
(03:20 - 06:09)
Lydia: Nice. When you opened up a new location from scratch since I believe that was your 10th location, what is the process for opening up a new location versus purchasing?
Nick: A lot of stress I'd say during the purchase of these stores. Our partner, Jeff, did almost all of it. He owns so many stores in Chicago and he's been through it, we were a lot more hands-off on that. He was helping us out but didn't expect us to take the lead on anything, but when you open a store there's so much construction and deadlines and checklists that I didn't even know existed that we had to sign off on and everything needs to be perfect. I definitely was not ready for that so it was a stressful situation but at the end of the day, once you open the doors and you sell a sandwich, it's one of the best feelings in the world that all your hard work created something that wasn't there before is now there and people are coming there and actually want to buy food from you. It was pretty sweet.
Zack: Yeah it's also really cool to see the development of the construction you buy, this is our smallest location by far so it literally looks like a blank space and you see it week to week, month to month, turn into what you're envisioning as your next Jimmy John's location. This one was super special for us because it was the first one that felt like our own, we built it from the ground up pretty much like the the place was there but everything JJ was all us so that was really cool to see. When it's a finished product and you're in there the night before like scrubbing it clean, so that you can serve sandwiches the next day it just makes it all worth it, it was so cool.
Lydia: Yeah that's amazing and with construction, people always expect they're going to go over budget, over time. What was that for you like in terms of when did you plan to open versus when were you actually able to open?
Nick: I don't really know if we had a firm date of when we were going to open until the last closing months and I feel like we ended up opening on time when we wanted to open, which was July 22nd 2019. It definitely felt fishy for a second. I was looking at how much was left to do and two weeks out and I'm like oh my god like there's no way that we're going to do this but you kind of I did a lot more stuff than I expected to do, I was drilling holes in the walls and the whole time thinking I really hope I don't mess this up like this would be bad. It was kind of scary but thankfully we opened pretty much when we wanted to so that was good.
Coping with Hiring in a Pandemic
(06:10 - 09:15)
Lydia: Yeah and jumping to what's going on right now in the world, when you open to that new location, you've had a lot of hiring shifts of having to scale from being closed for a while to hiring a lot of people. What are you guys doing right now to make sure that you can hire a lot more people and what has shifted for you guys over the past few months?
Nick: When we opened up this most recent location, I had never gone from no staff to a full staff and also you just don't know how many people you're going to need because when you open up you could be super slow and you over hired or you could think you're going to be okay and then you don't have enough. It was really interesting to be making a schedule and having no clue how many people you need so we ended up hiring around 20 people for that location and we started hiring about a month in advance and going from zero to 20 in one month. Thankfully, we had other stores because we could hire these people and then start them in other stores until that store opened which was very nice. I don't really know how we could have done it if like hey it's your first day we're open and here's how to make a sandwich that would've been probably tough but yeah kind of with COVID, we had a hiring freeze for a while, people had hours cut, there was not a lot of money coming in and coming out of it. We were so busy that picking it back up, we've done everything that I could possibly think of to hire people whether it's posting on facebook, texting your friends and family anybody you know in the area hey do you need a job. We put hiring signs inside of all the stores, we posted job ads and took out promoted applications to try to get things going.
Zack: Nick and I have our day-to-day stuff that we do but and the hiring usually falls on the store manager but we are doing everything we can. Nick and I are sitting down with people interviewing them, we're scheduling five six seven interviews a day trying to meet with as many people we can, phone screen as many people as we can and pretty much for a couple weeks, everything was put on halt and the hiring and interviewing and all that stuff was our main focus. We're in a lot better spot than we were a month ago but coming out of that stage from COVID when we saw such a decline in sales, it was like 0 to 100 so quickly and we weren't giving out the service we wanted to. We didn't have as many people on staff that we wanted to but we're finally, I'd say, back to a decent spot a spot where we would like to be and we'll go forward from here.
Hiring with Workstream
(09:16 - 15:03)
Lydia: Yeah and obviously you are using Workstream now for hiring. How many days did it typically take to fill a role before Workstream versus now with Workstream?
Nick: Well, I will say that this is the first time that we've ever had to hire like right now so before, it may have taken two to three days to hire someone, but that may have been because there wasn't as much of a sense of urgency to hire someone. Either way, there was physical paperwork involved, multiple visits, some would come in and then they'd leave, and then you'd have to reach out to them again, and have them come back to the store, and there's just so much more coming and going right now. If we got an application at this very second, we could call the person, screen them over the phone, meet with them hopefully this day if not tomorrow and then if we like them, literally they could be hired 30 minutes later so that's so great. There's no paper involved which I love, and they can do everything either from their phone or laptop so it takes out like coming and going and all that stuff.
Zack: Something that Workstream does for us that is super helpful is with the text-to-apply application, we send them a link, they text-to-apply. Before we even did anything, we set up our schedules and all the store managers set up their schedules so that as soon as someone applies they're choosing from our availability when they want to come into the store and meet with us. Sometimes we don't have to call them because they can see our availability online and they are already scheduling an interview maybe before we even spoke on the phone so that's something that Workstream is super helpful with and that was a game changer as far as contacting the employee and getting something set up to meet in person.
Lydia: Yeah how would you say that applicants feel about the overall application experience?
Zack: It's much more fitting for who we're trying to hire - people out of college, people in college. A lot of these people nowadays are on their phones and it's very frictionless as far as the application goes, they can text to apply, they can fill out the application on their phone, they can do basically all of the onboarding on their phone and they don't have to log into a desktop or anything like that.
Nick: Yeah I definitely think it's like the future. I should say the present but people might not be there yet but I definitely think there's probably applicants before that. It may have been easier to onboard somewhere else so we may have lost them and kind of having that leg up where you could interview someone and hire them on the same day and leave no room for them to go somewhere else or find another job. They're employed with us and they're done looking and it gets us more people in the long run too.
Lydia: Are you seeing a surge in people ghosting or have you been using reminders or anything else to reduce that?
Nick: People have been ghosting since ghosting became a thing. It stinks but I'd say it's probably on par. I think that's where Workstream comes in. If things are delayed and take longer time, I think the applicant has a more chance of not showing up or just losing interest or finding something else that would hire them on the spot. I wouldn't say it's gone down, it still exists every once in a while.
(15:04 - 16:26)
Lydia: Just in general, when you think about hiring, obviously the best way not to hire as much is to reduce turnover. Are there anything that you guys are doing to really make sure people stay at your Jimmy John's locations and incentivize like milestones?
Zack: I would say our biggest hiring tool and retention tool is just like our culture. This is the reason why Nick and I are here in the first place. It's such a great environment to work in. The vibe is great, you get a bi-weekly check and the culture that we've built, I feel like people know who they're working for. We're in the stores every day, very hands-on owners and I just feel like we've built a team around us that makes people want to stick around.
Nick: We have like a fantastic team, our general managers are incredible, and I think they're the reason why each store has their own culture. We have our own company culture that sits on top, but each store has a different vibe to it. I think that the general managers have the freedom to set the tone and to create the vibe that they want in the store. You might go to one store in the morning, one store in the afternoon., and everyone's having a good time enjoying their job. At the same time, there's different kinds of vibes going on other places and I think it's really fun and nice that we can have that.
Management Structure Across Multiple Locations
(16:27 - 18:23)
Lydia: That's awesome! Tell me a little bit more about the structure, I know you guys are 40 minutes between your farthest locations but then you have an office in Chicago, that's two hours away, so how does the management structure work with that?
Nick: The company that we came from, they have an office in the suburbs of Chicago and our HR, payroll, all that stuff happens out of that office and we know all those people because we've worked with them all before. Most of them have worked in a Jimmy John's, probably even ran stores before, so it's awesome that they know so much about what we're doing day to day. We're 40 minutes from store to store but we're two hours from our office so there is no office for us. The store is our office and anything that we need done happens either through the computer through email, or we have to mail something. One other thing that I loved about Workstream is that these 20-some page packets when we hire someone don't exist anymore. I don't have to mail anything. Workstream just uploads all that stuff to our office and our office has it like that. Some people couldn't start until paperwork is in the office's hands to make sure that all the documents are filled out correctly. That could be done in five minutes from now if we were hiring someone so that's super great.
Lydia: How many days did it used to be in terms of the delay between hiring and starting?
Nick: It was just like a day or two, two hours - UPS mail, it's not terribly far but it's just you don't know. That's kind of the thing, when you're waiting, you need someone staffed and you need someone to start and you're waiting on the mail person. It's like why don't we just not do this and we can just send stuff to them immediately and not have to worry about that at all so I definitely like that better.
Online Onboarding with Workstream's Mobile App
(18:24 - 19:24)
Lydia: Yeah and are you guys using all the e-signatures and everything so people can just do it through their phones?
Lydia: The mobile app is pretty easy to use and just to see everyone who's coming in.
Nick: Yeah the mobile app is incredible. I think the mobile app has features that you can't get, it's more made for just seeing your interviews for the day and applications on the spot where obviously the desktop has a lot more detail, the platform is pretty detailed and awesome. The one thing I use it for the most is when someone comes in or calls about a job, they're usually calling us from their cell phone. I can go on the app and find which store they want to work at or which position they're applying for and copy that link and send it immediately to their phone and they apply on the spot so they don't have to come in and fill out a paper application. Their application could come through five minutes after that so again it's very nice for that.
Responsibilities of a Jimmy John's Owner
(19:25 - 21:45)
Lydia: That's awesome! It sounds like as an owner of multiple Jimmy John's locations, a lot of what you guys are doing is the HR, the hiring. Are there any other aspects with Jimmy John's that you were surprised at all, the things you have to take on from snow removal to when things break? I'm curious just what are the other aspects that come in as an owner of Jimmy John's that you need to take care of?
Zack: Everything. Maintenance, you're handling operations you're helping with HR payroll stuff like that but I feel like nothing that's off limits. We say we fight fires, we wear a lot of hats, and we pretty much just try and solve all the problems we can but it's endless.
Nick: If we can not pay someone to do it and we can do it ourselves that's really ideal. It's kind of weird how much of our day is consumed with not making sandwiches but honestly like 11 to 1 every single day, I get to sling sandwiches. It's the best two hours of the day for sure not having to put off fires.
Adapting in COVID-19
(21:46 - 24:04)
Lydia: What has the vibe been on college campuses as people start to return? Do you think like people are going to stick around or switch to remote?
Nick: Notre Dame unfortunately had to switch to remote classes for undergraduate students for two weeks, today they went back and I honestly think all media aside, the campus and this college are taking it like extremely serious. There's signs of everywhere we're like off campus but still close enough on campus to where we feel in touch with the university. I feel like they're doing everything in their power to make this as safe as possible. Unfortunately, we have seen like a slight decline in sales because of that. There's just not as many people coming in, people are staying home. I wish they all ordered delivery but they don't, but either way they're doing a lot for it.
Lydia: Yeah and besides what's going on with Notre Dame, how have you seen sales for the past few weeks?
Zack: Since pretty much four weeks when COVID first hit, we like plummeted and they've just been rising ever since. Our busiest time of the year is summer and we're now hitting fall so we're seeing a bit of a plateau but our drive-thru stores especially our delivery percentage has just been increasing exponentially.
Nick: Yeah we actually had a record week. We had multiple record weeks, we continued to like break our records on top of it and it's funny because it has been the most short staffed we've ever been. Our GM's are like that's great I'm glad we're so busy but we're dying.
Lydia: You need to hire more and do your GM's do the hiring as well or is it all you guys?
Nick: No they do most of it which is another reason why I like this so much. Beforehand, you're forced to be a part of the hiring process where if you train them how to use Workstream, which it is pretty straightforward, they can do it all on their own. It's pretty nice. I can just sit and watch the email notifications come through and not have to do much about it.
1. Do you use any of the screening quizzes and questions in the Workstream platform?
- Zack: As soon as we hired Workstream, we sat down with someone and we basically went through all that stuff and all the questions that they would be asked. When they did the text-to-apply, they would hit the link and it would immediately ask them our requirements for a team member or our requirements for a delivery driver. That way if they didn't meet something that was a deal breaker for us, their name wouldn't even come up on our dashboard. They would just be put in a section to where we would know for some reason they're just not going to work out with us and we don't have to spend our time getting down to that and then like wasting our time and figuring out.
- Nick: You bring someone in for an interview, you take time away from customers, from training, from actually making sandwiches and then this person doesn't work out and it's basically 30 or 40 minutes that you'll never get back. With this, our delivery drivers need to have two years of driving experience. If they click no, they don't make it to us so it saves us that time.
2. Are there any aspects of hiring that have become more difficult right now as a result of the pandemic?
- Zack: Probably just quantity. There are so many jobs especially with the hourly wage employees that we're most likely hiring, there's just a lot out there and we have to do everything we can to have that edge just because there's so many people to choose from.
- Nick: I think a lot of people were in a very similar situation as us. No one was hiring for a while and now, I wouldn't say things are even close to back to normal, but as we move forward and people are now looking to staff up again, people can pick and choose where they want to work right now. It's just a little bit tougher for us to actually secure applicants than it has been in the past.
3. Being in South Bend, have you guys embraced the Notre Dame culture and have events helped you guys establish your brand and let the community get to know you?
- Zack: Yeah we've been pretty in touch with the community. We worked with companies like Habitat for Humanity which was really cool. They do some awesome stuff out in South Bend but Notre Dame lifestyle is definitely something hard not to get into because everyone here is down for that but the events on campus and stuff like that, we sponsor a race every year called Sunburst that we hand out ten thousand dollars worth of samples.
- Nick: We also did one called Storm the Stadium which is at Notre Dame stadium where U think there was like 2500 people that did it last year. This year was cancelled but you go and you walk all the steps up and down Notre Dame stadium and we would hand out samples to everyone at the end as well. Notre Dame's a pretty easy culture to embrace, it's so fun and everybody is so diehard that I don't think I was here for a week before I started buying Notre Dame stuff and I was like this is my life now this is who I am.
4. Is there anything you guys are doing to promote equality and create opportunities for advancement?
- Yeah. We have been hiring people in and pretty much telling them at the interview that like the sky's the limit here. We explain how you start out as an in shop, as a driver, but you can move into manager and training which we call an MIT up to a PIC which is a person in charge then a second assistant, first assistant, general manager, area manager. I think most people in the company know that there's lots of room to move up and that we are that story. We came in and we got hired in as in shops and drivers and worked our way as far up as we could possibly go and that's weird because like it only took like 10 years to do that for us. I don't know if that's normal or not but other people could 100% do the same stuff that we're doing.
5. What were three things that you learned from your business partner (Jeff) in Chicago and how do you use those lessons to help motivate and retain your staff today?
- Nick: First off, I still learned from Jeff pretty much daily. I like to rely on him a lot. Sometimes I call him and he's like you know what to do or you got this and I'm like can you just tell me what to do that'd be sweet if we could just do it that way. But he has always shown a lot of trust in me specifically, which in turn all those things I felt when I was trying to learn and move up the ladder and all the mistakes I made he was there to totally support me through all of it. He literally is in stores when I've run out of bread before and he's like we can get through this, it's going to be okay at my lowest points. Now, being on the other end of it, I see some of our people land in the same situations and you just gotta be there for them, support them and trust them and people learn from their mistakes and I think that's something that everyone got to do.
- Zack: I feel like the biggest thing that I took away from him was just the whole aspect of like building a culture - attract the people that you attract based on the way you run a company. We've been super fortunate to learn a lot from him but I mean being there when we're 17 as in shops and drivers and being where we're at now. Nick said the trust that you get from him is just like insurmountable and the month-to-month meetings that we would go to when we were GM's like everyone is treated the same and everyone can talk to Jeff and he put so much trust and changes so many people's lives. It's hard not to be like such a fan of him and stuff like that.
6. How do you guys stay up to date on what's going on in your industry? Are there magazines, newsletters, podcasts, forums that you try to follow?
- Zack: Yeah definitely. Surfing the web for sure, checking out what the competition is doing. Jimmy John's is specifically inspired to do a good job of sending out updates - what we should know, what we should be up to date on, and stuff like that and as long as we're doing our due diligence, it's all there for us. It's really good content.
- Nick: I'm more concerned about what's going on locally more than I am about what's going on everywhere else, but I try to keep tabs just the South Bend tribune. They're always posting articles about other restaurants in the area and just things that are going on locally and I like to have an idea of everything that's going on but I don't want to get too outside of myself and just try to focus on local so we can handle this. Jimmy John's does send out newsletters and emails and they keep us in the loop with what they're up to and any changes that are going to happen but yeah I think that's pretty much it.
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Lydia Fayal Hall is Head of Marketing at Workstream. She previously held leadership roles at OneSignal and Chalkup, acquired by Microsoft. Lydia has written for publications including The Wall Street Journal and Forbes. She is an alum of UPenn, Johns Hopkins, and YCombinator IK12. Originally from Stonington, CT, Lydia now resides in San Francisco, CA with her Australian Shepherd, Indy.