Ronald Hankamer Featured

8:00pm EDT August 29, 2006
 To grow, you have to be willing to change. That’s the philosophy Ronald Hankamer has employed to grow Marble Slab Creamery from a small chain of neighborhood ice cream parlors to an $80 million worldwide brand with more than 350 stores in the United States, Canada and Dubai. Hankamer, one of Marble Slab’s original franchisees in 1984, bought the company when it was a 12-store chain in 1986. Since then, he has led an overhaul of the organization, from updating legal documents to remodeling the look of the company’s stores and logo. Smart Business spoke with Hankamer about the wisdom of being honest and persistent and the importance of delegating.

Be persistent and honest.
Persistence is extremely important. Looking back over the years of growing this company, the determination to lay the groundwork in the proper way was extremely important.

Even back in the early days, when it looked like this franchise system was not going to take off, it was just the persistence of doing it in the right way, not taking any shortcuts on the quality of the product and continuing to tough it out over the course of the years.

It’s also critical to be honest with those around you. Being honest is extremely important in dealing with your employees.

You must be truthful and carry through on the promises you originally made. To do that, you must get to know your employees and have an open-door policy.

Select the right employees.
A business leader needs to be good at selecting employees and then allowing them to do their job without getting too involved in what they’re doing. It important that they have goals set for them and make sure that they do meet those goals.

The people you select to represent you are extremely important and probably the most important thing to consider on a day-to-day basis.

We have just been able to build over the years a tremendous team that is enthusiastic and excited about the product and the concept, whether in development or operations or marketing. That comes from the top. Our employees are enthusiastic about the fact that we are growing.

It’s not just me as the president; it’s the teamwork and cooperation of every employee here in the corporate office, and our franchise system, to continue to build and grow this company.

Learn when to delegate.
We have two vice presidents that report to me directly, and I believe in delegating responsibility to those vice presidents in development and operations. I let them run their part of the company. We’re small enough that their offices basically adjoin mine, and we all pretty well know what is going on by communicating through e-mail and just casual conversation.

We don’t believe in a lot of meetings just for meetings’ sake. We do have some from time to time, but it’s more of an informal e-mail or stop in my office and discuss a particular challenge that we might have.

But while I do delegate, I am still aware of what is going on within the departments. There is enough paperwork that comes across my desk that I feel like I know what is going on.

I probably get more involved with the legal challenges that present themselves from time to time. I’m very involved in reviewing the income statements as they are being produced each month. I also spend a lot of time on profit and loss statements to make sure the numbers are in line with what they should be.

Have a quality product.
Having a quality product and being proud of that product is extremely important. There are temptations we have had through the years to reduce the quality or use other types of ingredients that might save you some money, but that product and marketing it in the correct way is what it’s all about.

We have an extremely high-quality product, and it is easy to get behind that simply because we believe it. The quality of our product is what is what we stress in all of our marketing and advertising.

Balance your life.
I enjoy going to the office more now than I ever have. But while I feel that way, I still think it is important to put your business career in its place, and certainly family comes first. It’s something I’ve tried to do over the years and something I think I’ve finally become proficient at.

In the early days of this concept, I was determined to make it a success, and it required some seven-day weeks to get this company where it needed to be so it could franchise properly. Now, I know I have an obligation to the bottom line of this company and to the shareholders, but I don’t lay awake nights worrying about it anymore.

It is important to set your priorities and make sure your family comes first, before business matters.

Look for areas to improve on.
When I purchased the company initially, there were a lot of challenges and improvements that needed to be made. It included everything from selecting a law firm that was experienced in the franchise sector of law to upgrade our documents and make sure they were being prepared correctly, to redoing our logo itself.

We selected some interior design people to come up with two designs our franchisees could select from so our stores would be uniform. I hired experienced food and beverage people. I negotiated with our suppliers to get volume discounts in the early days.

It was all about building a foundation so that we could continue to grow this franchise system.

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