Through three unexpected events, Papa Murphy’s has been the answer for Jeff Rode.
As a franchise owner who has been with the brand for nearly 25 years, Jeff Rode first became involved with Papa Murphy’s in 1993 after he was suddenly let go from his job of 16 years. While searching for a new opportunity, he made a choice to pursue only the things he truly felt passionate about.
“I knew I liked cooking and I liked being around people, but I didn’t have the resources to open a full restaurant,” Rode said. “Like just about everyone in America, I liked pizza, and when I discovered Papa Murphy’s for the first time, I knew I’d found something great.”
Rode did his due diligence and found strong backing, a solid Average Unit Volume (AUV) and an exciting opportunity for future growth. He opened his first store in Yuba City, California in 1993.
“To be candid, it was a miserable failure for the first few years,” Rode said. “But, I believed in the brand, and I stuck with it and created marketing opportunities. We went out every day and pushed Papa Murphy’s to school programs. We pushed local store marketing efforts. We went out every day and put our pizza in peoples’ mouths. Once the community discovered that taste, momentum started shifting our way.”
The second event that truly tied Papa Murphy’s to Jeff Rode’s life was a big flood in 1994. The flood ended up shuttering many local businesses for weeks, and Rode’s location was one of the only places to reopen quickly. Rode redoubled his commitment to his community, holding a fundraiser for the American Red Cross, and earning many new, loyal customers in the process.
“The Yuba City location became the top selling store in the system by 2002,” Rode said. “It was the first $1 million unit in the system, and we were really proud of that. We worked really hard, putting in the time and the sweat equity to make it happen. By then, we had opened three other Papa Murphy’s units in Grass Valley and Auburn, and they were all doing well. So, in 2006, we engineered our exit strategy, sold our stores and then retired.”
Unfortunately, that retirement didn’t last. In 2008, the nation was hit with the biggest economic downturn in a generation as the Great Recession wiped out retirement savings for millions of Americans, including Rode.
“So, I got back into the game as a consultant, and I learned that there were some Papa Murphy’s locations for sale in Illinois. I said ‘no thanks’ initially, but the draw was still there. So, we decided to take them over,” Rode said of the third critical event.
Rode now owns four Papa Murphy’s units, and is as involved as he’s ever been. He knows the importance of being a “hands-on” franchise owner and is still heavily involved in day-to-day decision-making.
“I go into the store every day—the one in Decatur where we live. My wife Maria works daily with all the stores as well from more of an office standpoint. [Our business partner] Ray goes to the other three, and his wife works with them every day handling our LSM calendar. That’s important. The face to face needed to get people in to try our products needs to be done at the store level,” Rode said.
In fact, Rode believes the owner-operator model is superior across just about every facet of franchising.
“It’s critical for the owner to be involved. The owner involvement is part of our six fundamentals. It wasn’t when we started. Now, it’s a huge part. When the company began to grow and move east [from its start in the Pacific Northwest], that became one of the major tenants. I can’t think of an area developer that’s been successful that has been hands off,” Rode said.
However, Rode explains that his daily priorities have changed a bit.
“I don’t open and close anymore. There was a point where I went in and ran the store by myself. That’s because there wasn’t anybody else. I don’t have to do that now, but I do analyze the numbers and I still lend help wherever it’s needed,” he said.
Rode says some days can still be challenging. But, he believes Papa Murphy’s has a unique ability for long-term growth due to positive changes in brand marketing, culture and a focus on what sets the company apart from its competitors: its simple business model, ease of operation and fresh, home-baked product at a low price.
“I still totally believe in the brand,” Rode said. “There are challenges, for sure, but we’ve seen how successful we can be when we’re running on all cylinders. We’re moving in the right direction to be successful again.”
And, a little serendipity plus a lot of his signature dedication may even bring more Papa Murphy’s stores into Rode’s life.
“Knowing how the brand grew, what the potential is, and what sets it apart…the right time could come again,” Rode added with a laugh. “There are definitely places I’d put another store if I thought the investment was a wise one.”