Jeff Sinelli | Crain's Pittsburgh

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Jeff Sinelli

Background:  

Jeff Sinelli is the founder and chief vibe officer of Which Wich, a chain sandwich shop that is known for its endless variety of customizable sandwiches and a fast-growing franchise system. Sinelli started with one restaurant in Dallas 14 years ago and now boasts 500 locations in 39 states and 12 countries.

Which Wich has also become known for giving back by providing food to the The Bridge, a homeless shelter in Dallas.

 
 

The Mistake:

Anytime you start franchises, you’ll have your share of slick businessmen approaching you waving a lot of money. [In our case,] the dollar amounts were huge and so were the promises because they were excited to do business with Which Wich. At the time, I was just starting out and this was very attractive to me. But I quickly realized their philosophy differed greatly from mine.

I started Which Wich with the intention of having this company for the long-haul. I cared about providing great, quality food and building relationships with my franchise owners.

The franchise owners with the biggest checks cared more about getting the restaurants built out quickly so they could make a quick buck, flip them and move on to the next investment.

One such owner in particular caused a lot of bad juju in our office because it was so different from how we wanted to run things. We ended up with all kinds of problems.

The short-term vision is focused on costs. The long-term vision focuses on guests and having a generational experience. The costs are important if you run a business. But guests don’t care about that. They care about experience, value and branding.

If you worry about the money, it will never come. If you put the relationship first, the money will come with the success. If you treat it like a stock on Wall Street, you won’t succeed.

This is a generational business and I play a long game.

The Lesson:

I’ve been a part of several winning teams in my lifetime.

In 1991, I won a world championship in lacrosse. Our team was full of characters but it was built on respect and positivity. There was no infighting, jealousy or complaining. Everyone got along and we were pulling towards the same goal. I’m also married and my wife and I make a great team. Both of us are in this for the long-term, through the highs and lows.

I view Which Wich and its franchises the same way. This is a generational business and I play a long game. I’ve been in this 14 years now and I’m starting to see the fruits of my labor. We have the ability to give back to our communities now.

The young customers we had in our early days are now married with children of their own and continue to expect the same great Which Wich experience.

I purposely look for franchise owners who have the same philosophy as me, who want to own their business for a long time.

Just like my lacrosse team and my marriage, I want franchisees who won’t run if the economy dips or things get tough. Our best employees have been with us for five to 10 years, a real testament to the character and competence of our business.

As Which Wich starts its international expansion, we are continuing this approach around the globe.

 

Jeff Sinelli is on Twitter at @JeffSinelli.

Photo courtesy of Which Wich.

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