Pots of gold

It certainly wasn’t an overnight success story for Bob Johnston and The Melting Pot Restaurants Inc.

Sure, with more than 100 restaurants now open around the country and many more in the works, things look great.

However, when Johnston, president and chief operating officer, and his two older brothers, Mark and Mike, bought the Melting Pot fondue concept and its five restaurants in 1985, they were fighting an uphill battle. Aside from the problem of getting banks to loan them money, they were essentially doing everything themselves.

“Our story is not an instant success story,” Bob Johnston says. “The first 10 years we struggled, and we really failed to thrive.”

Yet, even with the challenges, they grew to 19 locations. “But, it wasn’t the growth that we had projected,” Johnston says.

[See Smart Business’ Mike Cottrill interview Bob Johnston
about capturing customer service information.]

That was until 1995 when the trio established their mission, vision and principles as a blueprint on how to achieve their goals.

“We were not certain that this would solve all that ailed us at that time,” he says. “However, we realized that we were rather narrow-minded in how we viewed our business and made decisions.

“We tended to focus on ‘What will this do to the bottom line?’ first, as opposed to considering the impact on our two most important customers: First, our team members and management, and, secondly, our valued guests in the restaurant. The purpose of stating clearly our mission, vision and principles was to help us always put these two groups at the center of our decision-making.”

To create the mission, vision and principles, consultants interviewed team members about what was important to them regarding the business, while Johnston and his brothers discussed ideas for the mission, vision and principles with franchisees and showed them how the changes would help the company grow.

“We felt as, if they had a hand in creating this statement, it would be easier to buy in to it and also teach team members from it as a platform,” Johnston says. “We said, ‘Let’s take a hard look at ourselves. Let’s look at our business practices. Is it a match or is it a mismatch with these things that we say we believe?’ When we found mismatches, we changed things.”

By defining and stating the mission, vision and principles, the company attracts and retains better employees, and it’s easier for Johnston to monitor the company’s progress, which has led to faster growth.

In 2005, the company posted revenue of $160 million, then $194 million in 2006 and $217 million in 2007.

While currently employing approximately 5,000 employees, Johnston and his team continue to grow based on the changes made in 1995 and expect to open 36 additional restaurants by the end of 2009.

“Once we clearly stated mission, vision and principles, the next 10 years kind of tells the rest of the story. We went from 19 to 100 (locations), so you can kind of see what a difference it made,” he says.