When EJ Martinez initially launched Power Pizzeria in 2004, the then-24-year-old University of Miami graduate believed his concept—selling healthier pizza—was good enough to translate into healthy profits. Unfortunately, the former marketing major’s lack of research and experience in the restaurant industry doomed the business, which closed a year after opening. But like the proverbial phoenix rising from the ashes, Martinez used the lessons learned from his mistakes and took over a failing pizzeria at the end of 2005 and spent the next four years fine-tuning the art of running a restaurant. Since then, Power Pizzeria has taken off. In 2011, annual revenue for the company reached $3 million and it employed 80 employees in several locations across South Florida. After recently launching a franchise program for his pizza business, Martinez took some time to speak with writer Iris Dorbian about the importance of learning from failure.
ID: What do you think went wrong the first time?
EJM: From my marketing classes, I knew how to advertise the product; I just didn’t know how to fulfill orders. I never worked in a restaurant before so I kind of went into it blindly, not knowing much about inventory, tracking costs, or providing service. I had a good idea but I rushed into it a little too fast without doing the necessary research. In the restaurant world, once you provide mediocre service to customers, they pretty much lose faith in you and stop ordering. I decided to close that restaurant and take some time to learn the business.
ID: How did you recover from the failure and rebuild your business?
EJM: I went to pizza expos, restaurant shows, read a bunch of books, and learned how to run the business. I knew I had a good product and a good idea. I just needed to know how to execute it. During that time when I was learning how to run a restaurant, I had the opportunity to take over a pizza place here in Miami that was not doing so well. I decided to give it another shot and open another restaurant using everything I had learned, correcting all the mistakes I had made with the first business, and coming in with all new ideas. I was much more organized and prepared.
ID: What did you do differently the second time around?
EJM: We added some items to the menu and just learned how to treat the customers right. I also executed basic restaurant principles better, such as how to get deliveries out on time, how to make sure the product is consistent, how to track your inventory, and how to portion correctly. In our first store, there was no inventory control of portions, so our costs were extremely high. Previously I didn’t know how to manage basic day-to-day operations [such as] how many delivery drivers you need and how to route those deliveries more efficiently.
ID: Can you talk about your expansion and how you got involved with opening a franchise program?
EJM: I took [the period of] 2005 to 2010 to perfect our systems and to open multiple stores—we opened four stores between 2005 and 2009. I wanted to get a grasp of how to run multiple restaurants. I had various franchise requests, but didn’t feel we were ready to franchise until I got a good grasp of [managing the business]. So we spent that time just tweaking everything. Then in 2010 we started to develop our franchise program, which launched earlier this year at the Miami Franchise Expo.
ID: Based on your achieving success the second time around, what’s your advice to other entrepreneurs who may be having a rough time reinventing or rebuilding following failure?
EJM: Learn from your mistakes. And keep at it. There were times when I thought about dropping everything and quitting, but then I thought I had a good idea. I didn’t want to be that person who, looking back, said ‘I should have done this or that.’ It’s really [about] taking a step back to regroup. Learn what you did wrong and talk to as many people as you can. Go and see what other people are doing, right or wrong. Keep trucking along. It’s tough to fail. No one likes to fail, but sometimes it’s good to have a failure before you begin to succeed.
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