Leadership Profile: Sebastian Fuschini, Pizza Pizza

Sebastian Fuschini dishes on his role in expanding Pizza Pizza’s presence through franchising

Photo of Sebastian Fuschini, Senior VP of Franchising with Pizza Pizza

For some people, there is only one true love, and it lasts a lifetime. This was clearly the case when Sebastian Fuschini first crossed paths with Pizza Pizza and was offered a job with the iconic brand, just one year out of college.

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Thirty-seven years later, he’s still with the company, and has no intention of leaving anytime soon. “I am completely engrained in this company, and it has treated me with great respect,” says Fuschini, now the brand’s Senior Vice President of Franchising. “In fact, I can’t believe it’s been 37 years – it’s gone by so quickly.”

Fuschini was just 22 years old when a recruiter first spotted him working at Toronto’s Movenpick restaurant in the 1980s. He had just graduated the year before with a business degree from a local college, and was working two jobs to kick-start his career. He was managing the lunch shift at the Swiss-owned restaurant in the city’s downtown core, and then rushing off to manage the night shift at a Burger King in the neighbouring town of Oakville.

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The 12-hour days didn’t faze the young Fuschini, whose contagious enthusiasm caught the attention of a recruiter looking for new talent for the growing Pizza Pizza chain. “He used to come to lunch every day and noticed me,” recalls Fuschini. “When you’re young, you’re aggressive and on top of the world. And I wasn’t shy, to say the least. He told me Pizza Pizza was looking for a store supervisor, and asked if I was interested. I did my homework and checked out the stores, and I saw a great opportunity. And they had that phone number which I thought was genius.”

‘That phone number’ is of course Pizza Pizza’s famed ‘967-1111’ ad jingle, which has gone down in history books as one of the best marketing ploys of modern times. So engrained is the phone number in the minds of Canadians – at least those living within Pizza Pizza’s regions of operation – that rumour has it illegal immigrants trying to sneak into the country are advised to memorize it to pass themselves off as Canadian.

Building on strength

All the dots lined up, and Fuschini willingly took a 25 per cent pay cut to join the Pizza Pizza team as a District Supervisor, managing about 18 locations, mostly corporate owned. It was 1981, and the brand was still a far cry from the behemoth it’s grown into today. Altogether, there were just 37 stores – all in Toronto – and they were only open from 4:00 p.m. till 3:00 a.m., with about 90 per cent of their sales generated by deliveries. “It was a great base to work from, but I saw a lot of opportunity for improvement,” says Fuschini. “It was a relatively young company, and I could see that it was growing very quickly.”

Fuschini played a key role in that growth as he climbed up the company’s corporate ladder. He was initially promoted to Assistant to the Vice President of Sales and Operations, and then became the Director of Franchising in 1984, which is when he started to aggressively expand the company’s franchise operation. “In the first year, I sold 37 stores, and in the second, 33 stores,” he says. “I was the only person in the department at the time.”

Today, the chain has over 750 locations and processes 28 million orders annually. While the Pizza Pizza brand remains strongest in Ontario, it has branched out into other provinces. It has a solid presence in Western Canada, where in 2007, the company bought the Alberta-based Pizza 73 business. After pulling out of Quebec and B.C. in its earlier years, it has re-entered those markets, as well, and is also looking to expand its presence in the Atlantic provinces.

Needless to say, it’s been a long haul for Fuschini, yet he is as energetic as ever, and shows no sign of slowing down. The Senior VP attributes this to Pizza Pizza’s unabated focus on growth and development, which keeps everything fresh. It’s been the engine of the brand’s extraordinary success, and has helped the company transform itself from a small, one-store delivery service to a quick service restaurant chain recognized as one of the best-known brands in the country.

Always looking to keep pace with market trends, Pizza Pizza continues to evolve, and is currently in the process of redesigning its stores, embracing a modern, rustic vibe. This includes trendy wood panelling, painted brick walls, and a massive retro-style ‘Est. 1967’ stamp on the wall. “It’s all part of the evolution,” says Fuschini. “We’re always trying to stay current, competitive, and provide the best atmosphere for our guests. You have to be open to new ideas, to learning about new things and changing things to improve the business. I’m always looking ahead.”

Other initiatives embraced over the years include support for local charities and sports teams. In particular, Pizza Pizza launched novel fundraising efforts like its Slices for Smiles and Slices for Devices campaigns. The former raises money for the Children’s Miracle Network – customers can make a donation with any order placed by phone, online or through a mobile ordering app – while the latter, held every April during Earth Month, allows customers to exchange an electronic device for a slice of pizza. So far, 19,000 devices have been diverted from landfills thanks to this effort.

Focus on franchisees

For his part, Fuschini still gets great pleasure out of helping Pizza Pizza franchisees build and grow their own business. While sales vary from store to store, Toronto locations average about $1 million in annual sales – a strong draw that pulls in professionals from all streams of life. “We have engineers, doctors, politicians, teachers, taxi drivers, business students – you name it,” says Fuschini. “And we have franchisees from all over the world. We’re truly representative of this great country we live in.”

Fuschini flags four qualities that every franchisee needs to succeed. The first is a commitment to brand consistency. If you’re the type who wants to make your own rules, he notes, franchising is not for you. Franchisees also need to commit to developing their people skills in order to inspire and motivate those who work for them, and they need a strong entrepreneurial spirit to be able to innovate and get involved in their community. After that, says Fuschini, it’s all about “hard work, hard work, hard work, and more hard work.”

The franchising VP also advises people to do their due diligence to ensure they’re targeting the right brand. Everything else, he says, can be taught, and education at Pizza Pizza includes an extensive training program that lasts for up to 12 weeks. It’s all about giving new franchisees the confidence to run their own franchise, says Fuschini.

At the end of the day, Fuschini believes that franchising remains a great business opportunity for most people looking to be their own boss, and he loves being part of that process. “With a franchise, you are independent and in business for yourself, but you are not alone,” he says. “You have the support of the franchisor. Whether it’s about standards, recipes, or advertising, we assist in all areas to try to make your business better and provide you with extensive training and then re-training. It’s about all of us coming together to make this work.”

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By Roma Ihnatowycz