"I thought our concept was too complicated and expensive for a franchisee to get into business," Chairman and CEO Todd Barnum says.
Then about five years, ago the company teamed one of its best employees, Rob Lindeman, with a consultant who worked with Wendy's International. But the company didn't rush to open a franchise location.
"We wanted to get a great franchisee that we'd be proud of and that would do the brand justice," Barnum says.
Enter Port Columbus International Airport. While an airport didn't fit the usual market requirements for a corporate location, Barnum felt it was a great opportunity for a franchise operation.
"We stuck our toe in the water at the Columbus airport, and that franchise has been enormously successful," he says.
Max & Erma's unique franchise philosophy has evolved since that first franchised store opened in 1998.
"We started out with all kinds of rules, and we've broken them all," says Barnum.
The company looks at several factors when considering a franchise: the applicant's financial wherewithal and experience in the restaurant business, and a full analysis of the proposed site.
"We don't franchise to a group of lawyers or doctors," Barnum says.
Franchising has been an effective way for Max & Erma's to penetrate markets that would not be targeted for corporate stores.
"We never would have invested in a corporate store in Sandusky," Barnum says. "The business is seasonal and the market small. But our franchisee, Steve Schuster,already owned a Perkins there and even though the store didn't meet our demographic standards, Steve has done very well there."
Nevertheless, franchising is not Max & Erma's top growth strategy.
"We approach franchising as just an additional business opportunity instead of our primary means of growth," Barnum says. "But we may have more franchised stores than corporate one day." How to reach: Max and Erma's, 431-5800. For information about the company's franchise program, visit www.maxandermas.com and click on "Franchise."