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8:00pm EDT June 25, 2008

John Parlet doesn’t waste any time spreading the word about what he expects of his employees. They know it before they are hired and even before they fill out an application to work at John’s Incredible Pizza Co. Inc.

Parlet has each applicant answer seven questions. He wants to know if they feel they are honest and punctual, and he looks for people who are clean, which includes being free of body art and facial hair.

“Some people look at that and say, ‘Well, that’s stupid. If I want tattoos, I want tattoos,’” says Parlet, the company’s founder. “I think it just helps weed out some people that probably wouldn’t fit in with us.”

Parlet, who is also owner, president and CEO, appears to have found a recipe for success at the restaurant chain, which grew to 2007 revenue of $35 million with 1,300 employees at eight locations.

Smart Business spoke with Parlet about the keys to managing a strong company culture.

Q. How do you build a strong culture?

I’m a hands-on guy. I’m in the stores on a regular basis. I talk with the management team in that restaurant and coach them and critique them and hopefully compliment them. I always look for something good to say about them.

But I also go into the dining rooms and talk to our guests and touch the tables, as well. One of the ways I get the respect of other people is by being a hands-on sort of person and being willing to go in and give a hand in a rush and do whatever else is needed.

The more stores you open, the less time you’re at any given stores talking to a guest. Be sure that you have picked a management team that shares in your philosophy and has the passion that I have for the business to make up for that.

Q. How do you find people who fit your culture?

We look for people that are excitable and that are high energy and that love what they do. That’s the kind of people that I want representing my business.

Our thought was, let’s get the message out early on before they even apply. Let’s let them know what some of our basic beliefs and requirements are so we don’t waste their time and they don’t waste our time.

It helps us to the extent that at least if they read that section [of the application] and if there is anything on there they find to be kind of a turnoff — and I’m sure a lot of them do — they don’t proceed on further.

It helps us in the interview process. If people have read that ahead of time and they are still interested in coming to work for our company, they are one leg up the ladder when they start.

Q. What factors do you consider when making a hire?

I truly believe that a lot of it is gut instinct. Did the person come to the interview with a clean fresh shirt and no body art? You do get a feel for, ‘Yeah, I think that he or she would fit in here or wouldn’t.’

Part of that is gut instinct. You can only ask so many questions, and after that, based upon the type of answer and your gut feel, a lot of it is based upon that.

Don’t lower your standards. Don’t hire the guy who has two earrings and slouches down in the chair.

It clearly starts with the belief from my position as the leader of this company that I will not lower my standards as we open more of these stores. I will do everything I can to convince the management team in each store how very important it is to have the right people talking to our guests on a daily basis.

Q. How do you help your managers be effective?

All of our managers wear shirts and ties. We start that way. We never ask a single employee to do anything that we as managers wouldn’t do ourselves. It’s something you work at every day.

People are pretty bright nowadays. They can sense if they are liked and respected or [if] they are just treated like a number.

You have to show dignity and genuine respect for everybody and genuinely try to include them and explain why it’s important. Not just giving orders, but explain yourself in detail.

They want to understand, ‘Why am I doing this?’ They don’t want to just be told to do something. They want to know why.

There’s a lot of bright young kids out there that come up with ideas, and we don’t have all the answers. So we are always looking for a better way of doing something. I’ve encouraged my store-level managers to talk to their employees on an ongoing basis and listen to their ideas and their complaints. If you don’t, you’re going to lose them anyway.

HOW TO REACH: John’s Incredible Pizza Co. Inc., (949) 916-2000 or www.johnspizza.com