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Small Business Person of the Year Featured

8:16am EDT April 30, 2002
On a Thursday in March 1971, Jim Fox scraped up $500 and cobbled together a few pieces of used equipment culled from a Pittsburgh scrap yard to open a pizza shop in a rented storefront in Pitcairn.

Six hours later, his shop was out of pizzas. By the following Monday, he had paid off the start-up loan granted personally by his former boss, a bank branch manager.

Thirty-one years later, Fox attributes much of his success to working hard at a business he loves, and jokes that he's made nearly every mistake there is to make in business. After getting the mistakes behind him, he heads a franchising and distribution operation that produces estimated sales of $65 million system-wide.

Fox figures that over the years, he's helped at least 400 entrepreneurs launch their own businesses.

Fox's Pizza Den comprises 215 franchises in 19 states and provides employment for nearly 2,000 people. The stores sell more than 6 million pizzas and 5.5 million sandwiches annually.

Fox says that simplicity of operation and low start-up costs are the chief reasons for the success of Fox's Pizza Den. He has built his business around a relatively low franchise fee of $8,000 and a flat $200 monthly royalty fee rather than a percentage of the franchisee's sales, which Fox contends penalizes the aggressive shop owner.

"I honestly feel we give the best bang for the buck," says Fox.

Fox also introduced innovations to marketing the business, launching direct mail campaigns and delivery services in the 1970s. In the 1980s, he entered the distribution business to supply his franchisees with products and supplies.

His latest venture is to lend his franchising expertise to help the owners of local favorites Vincent's Pizza and Rudy's House of Submarines start their own franchising efforts.

Ray Marano