Your Best Self: Building success by building his team
Name: Jason Day
Title: Managing owner
Company: NV Ventures
No. of units: 12 open, 4 under construction, signed for 8 more
Family: Wife and two sons
Years in franchising: 16
Years in current position: 1
Jason Day believes people should be comfortable with who they are and strive to become the best version of themselves they can.
“It seems simple, but the moment you stop trying to fit yourself within a mold and allow yourself to be the best version of you is when you can truly succeed and focus on the goals ahead,” says the Penn Station East Coast Subs multi-unit franchisee.
The 38-year-old started his career with Penn Station in 2005 as an assistant manager. Two years later, at 24, he stepped up into the role of multi-unit manager. Day says that challenge created a lasting love for both Penn Station and the restaurant industry.
After that, he spent time as an area supervisor for Arby’s and as an area director for Salsarita’s Fresh Mexican Grill before rejoining Penn Station. In 2020, he became managing owner of NV Ventures, which operates 12 Penn Station restaurants in the Greater Nashville area. The company has four more under construction and a development agreement for another eight.
Covid doesn’t seem to have slowed him down any. He opened four stores in four consecutive months to end 2020 and begin 2021. And he’s quick to give credit to the brand for all its support in making that happen.
If you ask Day about his passion as a business owner, he’d say, “People!” He wants to help his team members grow and achieve success. “We focus on developing our team and helping them become the best version of themselves. The results of quality product and customer service will take care of themselves.” After all, he says, “What business wouldn’t want 100% of their employees trying to be the best version of themselves taking care of their customers?”
What’s next for Day and NV Ventures is adding another four to five new locations this year. “Creating brand awareness in the area will not only help our stores, it will bring more national recognition to an amazing concept,” he says.
First job: Walmart cart pusher.
Formative influences/events: Time spent as an area supervisor at Arby’s taught me, a young multi-unit manager, how to be successful in the role. When I returned to Penn Station, I was able to take what I learned there to excel in my career.
Key accomplishments: Seeing the people I have worked with succeed. There is no bigger accomplishment in my life than seeing the successes of those individuals. These successes have come with Penn Station, and some have come from individuals seeking out their own dreams outside of Penn Station. Having someone say they are thankful that I was a part of their journey has had as much impact on me as any accomplishment can ever have.
Biggest current challenge: Adjusting to the next challenge is what becomes the biggest challenge in today’s environment. Over the past 2 years, something is constantly being thrown in our direction to adjust to—and as soon as you adjust, here comes the next.
Next big goal: Become the largest Penn Station franchisee.
First turning point in your career: Given the opportunity to be a multi-unit manager with Penn Station at the age of 24. It challenged me and allowed me to fall in love not only with the Penn Station brand, but with the restaurant industry as a whole.
Best business decision: Moving to the Nashville area.
Hardest lesson learned: Not everyone will be me. Early in my career I tried to hold people accountable to doing things as if they were me. I learned quickly that was a poor way to lead. I adapted to change and now understand that both myself and the team are better served by helping them become the best versions of themselves.
Work week: Early to bed and early to rise.
Exercise/workout: I try to get in a workout at home two to three times a week in the mornings.
Best advice you ever got: “Be you.” When you become comfortable with who you are, your strengths as well as your weaknesses, then you can truly work on improvement. People comfortable with who they are can help others become better versions of themselves.
What’s your passion in business? People! Helping those on my team be the best versions of themselves. You build your brand and business through people. If I wake up every day knowing our team’s goal is to help improve the person next to them, it will ultimately improve our business. Improve your people and improve your business.
How do you balance life and work? I look at my career as part of who I am, just as I am a husband, a father, and a friend. I prioritize my time to make sure I fill the needs of all those roles. I love what I do, so I never feel like I work a certain number of hours or times during a week.
Guilty pleasure: Sweets.
Favorite book: It’s Not About the Coffee: Leadership Principles from a Life at Starbucks by Howard Behar.
Favorite movie: Any movie based on real-life events.
What do most people not know about you? My taste in music is all over the place.
Pet peeve: Repeating myself.
What did you want to be when you grew up? Science teacher.
Last vacation: Gulf Shores, Alabama.
Person I’d most like to have lunch with: Gary Vaynerchuk.
Business philosophy: People First. The most important person in the building is the team. Without a team there are no customers and there is no business.
Management method or style: Servant leadership is how I describe my management style. My goal is to lead my team by setting the example and giving them the tools to be successful. We are in this together, and my role with our company is to not get in their way of being successful and to give them the tools to meet and exceed their goals.
Greatest challenge: Since the start of 2020, this has been a moving target for most in this country. The greatest challenge I feel now is staying proactive to what may happen next. I try to stay one step ahead of the trends or what may be coming our way. Since the start of the pandemic, the industry has been forced to be reactive or to wait and see what may change next.
How do others describe you? Confident would be the number-one word I would expect most to say when describing me. No matter the situation, most would feel I have the answer or suggestion to help them or the situation.
One thing I’m looking to do better: Continue to help develop my operations directors, allowing them to become great multi-unit leaders within our organization. Working through them will help us grow a great team culture.
How I give my team room to innovate and experiment: I let my team be themselves. As a franchise system, we have certain rules or procedures we must follow to be operationally compliant with the franchisor, leaving us to allow our team to be themselves within those confines. I let the team explain the “why” to their innovations or thoughts. Not every idea will get implemented, but there should be a place everyone feels their idea will at least be heard.
How close are you to operations? As someone who started from a cart pusher at Walmart to the role I am in now, being hands-on will never stop. I will always have a presence within our stores to allow our team to feel comfortable in approaching me with ideas or concerns. Being present within the operation is very important to me. It allows me to give my opinions when talking through situations with our operations directors, general managers, or corporate representatives. As someone who has held every role within our company, I am always willing to help or point our team in the right direction to help them succeed.
What are the two most important things you rely on from your franchisor? As the fastest-growing Penn Station franchisee, I found the support from our franchisor to have been very helpful. Without their help, opening four stores in four consecutive months to end 2020 and start 2021 would not have been possible. The franchisor also does a great job negotiating product pricing for the franchisees to help keep our product cost reasonable, even in current times.
What I need from vendors: Communication, especially today when we all have challenges. Communicate your challenges so I’m not holding you to a standard you can’t meet.
Have you changed your marketing strategy in response to the economy? How? Our marketing strategy hasn’t changed much for what we traditionally try to do. Knowing that our products exceed other, comparable products, our goal is to get people to try ours. We have continued to do this through local schools, digital media, and print. I feel confident that if we can get you to try one of our sandwiches you will find yourself hooked.
How is social media affecting your business? Social media has made the world a much smaller place and allowed us to communicate more easily. When trying to grow a brand in a newer or unaware market, it allows our brand to become much more present in everyone’s daily life.
How do you hire and fire? Today’s labor market is tough, and the old saying “Hire slow, fire fast” isn’t quite as correct as it used to be. Several years ago, I would preach two interviews and have a set orientation date for our team on new employee start dates. In today’s environment, hire slow is out the window as companies are spending more money to recruit employees than customers. To find employees today, it’s a game of who gets to them first. If you aren’t hiring at the interview, then someone else is, and they won’t be back. When a general manager says a job candidate “ghosted” them on the interview, I remind them, “Nope, someone just beat you to the job offer.” It’s still key to be selective and not add someone to your team who will create problems. This leads to the second part of that phrase. “Fire fast” is still as true as ever. A good team will continue to work hard if they feel they are appreciated and rewarded for it. But if you allow someone who isn’t pulling their weight to stay, it will cost morale, productivity, and employees.
How do you train and retain? Retaining is about providing a work environment that people can feel proud of and feel they are making a difference. Today, employees want to be part of something bigger than themselves and feel they are helping to accomplish something. We are growing a brand in the Greater Nashville area, and every member of our team is helping. They are all part of something bigger than themselves. One day they can tell others they worked in that store when it first opened, or when no one knew Penn Station. We educate the individuals in our company to the significance of what they are doing as we build a brand in this region. Another way we help accomplish this is explaining the “why” in our training process. If our team better understands why we do what we do, it will allow them to buy into our brand. We don’t approach our training as executing a task, but more as executing a culture.
How do you deal with problem employees? Employees who aren’t providing the work environment we expect for our team simply don’t need to be a part of our team.
Fastest way into my doghouse: Making me repeat something that has already been asked.
How has Covid-19 affected your business? Covid presented many challenges throughout the past 2 years. We have experienced closed dining rooms, product shortages, staffing shortages, government mandates, and everything that has come with that.
How have you responded? Penn Station stayed true to what we do. Subtle changes were made from a corporate level to help franchisees adjust to what was happening. We did not get away from what we do. This allowed me, as the franchisee, to effectively operate my business through the uncertainty.
What changes do you think will be permanent? The use of third-party services. Penn Station had not entered this realm before Covid. With consumer trends changing, I believe the idea of third-party services for our concept is here to stay.
Annual revenue: $8 million.
2022 goals: Continue people development in our current locations. We plan on adding four to five new locations in the coming year. Both of these goals will lead to the main goal of building brand awareness in our region.
Growth meter: How do you measure your growth? In our rapid development plan in the Middle Tennessee area, we are measuring our growth by how many additional locations and jobs we create. Through both of these means we are creating brand awareness for Penn Station that will lead to the success not only for the brand, but also for our employees.
Vision meter: Where do you want to be in 5 years? 10 years? Our goal in the next 5 to 10 years is to become the largest Penn Station franchisee in the system.
Do you have brands in different segments? Why/why not? My focus is on the Penn Station brand and building it within the Greater Nashville area. This brand is special to me and I love everything about it. The privilege I have to be the ambassador of the Penn Station brand to this area deserves my complete focus.
How is the economy in your region affecting you, your employees, your customers? The economy around the Nashville area is booming. That said, it is experiencing issues similar to those all around the country with inflation, staffing, and Covid uncertainty. All these things have led to revisiting employee wages, pricing, and looking for ways to be more efficient.
Are you experiencing economic growth in your market? The Greater Nashville market is one of fastest-growing markets in the country.
How do changes in the economy affect the way you do business? Penn Station does a great job of knowing who they are and staying within themselves during changes. This allows me as a franchisee to know that any changes are well thought out and meant to improve my operation as a franchisee.
How do you forecast for your business? For stores already open, we look at trends from previous years. With new stores, we look at the area and compare them to stores with similar demographics and how they are performing.
What are the best sources for capital expansion? We have a great long-term relationship with a smaller regional bank that has been great to work with. We have used them for many years, and they have been a wonderful partner to help with our current expansion and the development growth plan within the brand.
Experience with private equity, local banks, national banks, other institutions? Why/why not? We have found a perfect partner for our company: a small regional bank that totally believes in our group and our brand. They have helped us along the way more as a partner than as a typical banking relationship. We haven’t had any experience with private equity or much larger banks.
What are you doing to take care of your employees? Employee retention is a big deal in today’s world, especially when so many companies are spending money on signing bonuses and other promotions to recruit new employees. What has been forgotten is the people who already work for you. We have approached this through flexible scheduling and pay rates that allow employees to make more money if they work more hours. We also try to allow our employees to be themselves through ordering and wearing Penn Station merchandise while working—and by providing support for our employees to not feel like what they are doing is just a job, but more of a team environment that has us all working to the same goals.
How are you handling rising employee costs (payroll, minimum wage, healthcare, etc.)? We are addressing these through a pay structure that rewards those who want to work more with higher pay rates. Typically, team members who want to work more are better trained and more experienced. Hopefully, this pay structure allows us to be more efficient with fewer team members on staff for a given shift because of the higher quality of people working that shift. Pay better people more and need maybe one less person on a shift to create the same level of production. Also, an increase in web ordering and third-party ordering has freed up employees’ time taking orders at registers, allowing us to be more efficient when making the product.
What laws and regulations are affecting your business and how are you dealing with them? With Covid, many regulations have been (or attempted to be) put in place over the past 2 years. We adjust to them accordingly to make sure we are meeting any requirement asked of us. We haven’t tried to deviate from what we do that has made our brand successful. We adjust these rules to meet requirements without compromising what we do as a brand.
How do you reward/recognize top-performing employees? We do employee of the month programs for our in-store employees and choose one overall employee of the month and share that with the team. We place this in our newsletter that we send to all stores and share other wins we have as a team as well. We want all our employees to share in everyone’s success.
What kind of exit strategy do you have in place? The exit strategy hasn’t been a thought as I am early in the market development to hopefully bring 30 to 40 Penn Station locations to the Greater Nashville area. As we build this brand in the area we will see where it leads us.
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