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Why 'Papa' John Schnatter Still Runs His Pizza Empire Like a Small Business

The right ingredients for success don't change as your company scales.
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John Schnatter--better known as "Papa John"--might be the face of a multimillion-dollar pizza empire, but even with a chain of 4,500 global locations, he still operates within a small-business mindset.

Schnatter, the founder and CEO of Papa John's International, spoke at Inc.'s 17th annual GrowCo event in Nashville about the importance of valuing people over profit and how to grow a company without sacrificing quality--and why those two concepts go hand-in-hand.

"Getting big is just a byproduct of getting better," he said.

Here are Papa John's best tips for business growth.

1. Think like a small business. Schnatter doesn't think of his company as 4,500 stores--he thinks of it as one store, 4,500 times. A small-company mindset, to him, is being "nimble, quick, scrappy." The ability to change quickly and be responsive to new data is a key factor for successful growth.

2. Think long-term. Since founding Papa John's, Schnatter has always tried to look 20 years ahead. "We just had our first grandson and I want him to be proud of what we built," he said, emphasizing the importance of having a business strategy that focuses on building a foundation that will last, as opposed to just trying for short-term profits.

3. "Nothing sells like the truth." The only way to compete, according to Schnatter, to make sure your brand delivers on what it promises its customers. Customers will be won over by companies that treat them well. "Better ingredients, better pizza--it's not a slogan. It's a way of life," he said.

4. Put quality first. Schnatter says all business comes down to a choice between minimizing cost or maximizing quality. For him, the obvious answer was quality. "You got to make that sacrifice," he said. Profit margins might be tight--Papa John's makes only 18 cents on one $9 pizza--but a quality product is essential to lasting growth.

5. Do what you love. Why did Schnatter go into the pizza-delivery business? Because he loves making pizzas. "Find something you love to do," he told the audience, "Work it to the bone. And you'll be successful."

IMAGE: Lonnie C. Major
Last updated: May 22, 2014

AMY WHYTE

Amy Whyte is an editorial intern for Inc. magazine. Previously, she worked as a Web intern at WAAY TV.




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