Jordan: Before setting foot into the Jimmy John’s world, you were a teacher. What practices did you bring from your teaching background, and how did those aspects help grow your business?
Dan: First, I brought patience. I taught kids with learning disabilities for six years. And, second, I brought the ability to instruct. Most fast casual, quick-service restaurants are hiring people who are getting their first job, and parents sometimes do a great job of preparing their child for their first job, and sometimes they don’t.
I once had an employee who was 18. I asked him to clean up a mess that a couple of toddlers had made, and he grabbed a broom. But he put his hands next to each other like one would when gripping a baseball bat. I had to go over and teach him—I asked, “Have you ever used a broom before?” And he replied that, no, he hadn’t. So I explained to him that it’s more of a hockey-stick grip than a baseball grip—it helped him.
He was 18 and didn’t know how to use a broom. The experience of being a teacher helped me look at that and not be confused, but to instead see how I could help this kid get what he needs out of the situation and then help him take things to the next level.
Jordan: How many staff you manage across all of your locations?
Dan: I have 1,054 employees
Jordan: And, on the Spin the Planet site [note: Spin the Planet is an internal portal for Dan’s employees. The site serves as an electronic filing cabinet for policies, procedures, and forms], it says that all employees have access to your personal phone number. So, is it true that all 1,054 staff members have your phone number and could call you any time?
Dan: Yes. Absolutely. Every single one of my stores has a poster in it with my picture, my HR manager’s picture, and my director of operations’ picture, and lists our phone numbers and email addresses.
The poster is there to serve as a reminder that, if for any reason, an employee isn’t getting the support or help they need from the people they work with in the store, they should never hesitate to contact these three people.
Employees will reach out for HR issues, for payroll questions, or for pay stubs when buying a house. Sometimes it goes right to HR if it’s an HR issue, or if their manager can’t answer the question. Sometimes it’s simple stuff like that, and sometimes it’s a bigger issue, like if there’s a conflict of interests or if someone’s said something inappropriate. Either way, everybody’s got my phone number.
Jordan: Let’s talk about gathering feedback. You run a very transparent organization. With that many employees, do you have a one-on-one feedback loop or review process in place? How do staff share feedback with you?
Dan: Yes, it’s very transparent. We meet with all the GMs and most of the assistant managers every 28 days. We go over results, policy changes, anything that might be new and up and coming, as well as any changes that the brand has made.
It’s an opportunity for them to let us know how they’re doing, how they’re operating their business, and what their struggles are. It’s also a chance for them to interact with the rest of the GMs. It’s an environment where they can challenge each other and boast a bit about how well sales are going. They can also ask for help if they’re struggling. All of our managers have those highs and lows, so they have the opportunity to share their learnings and experiences with each other.
I have an employee who’s been with me since three months into my first store 16 years ago, and he’s held a number of different roles. He started as a sandwich maker, then became a shift leader, an assistant manager, a general manager, then area manager…and now his official title is the Love, Hugs, And Smiles Guy.
The Love, Hugs, And Smiles Guy goes out into the stores and in some cases, he’s providing support where they’re struggling. But, most of his days he’s going into stores that are doing really, really well, and he’ll literally pat that manager on the back and say, “I’m here to tell you what an awesome job you’re doing, and I’m really proud of you, and I love the results you’re creating.” And then he’ll work with them to ease up the day.
He might do some slicing, he might do some food prep, he might do some cleaning, and he might give them a couple hours off. He’ll run the shop while the manager runs errands or goes to a movie. So, that’s another way where we’re able to collect feedback, while the managers get that positive reinforcement—the company’s recognizing their achievements.
Jordan: Is the Love, Hugs, And Smiles Guy your own creation?
Dan: I follow what Jimmy [note: Jimmy John Liautaud is the owner and founder of Jimmy John’s Sandwiches.] does as closely as I can. So, Jimmy created the Love, Hugs, And Smiles Guy position before I did, so I just copied him—he gets the credit for that!
Jordan: Do your best employees come from internal referrals?
Dan: Yes. Absolutely. About 85 percent of our managers started working for us as Sandwich Makers and Drivers.