Huddle House franchisee review: Robert Wiggins Jr., Hazlehurst, Georgia
Experienced multi-unit franchisee diversifies with Huddle House, embraces our brand mission
When Robert Wiggins Jr. opened his new Huddle House in Hazlehurst, Georgia, in September 2015, he was filling a gap that had been left there ever since the original Huddle House restaurant closed down three years before. The small town of about 4,300 people, situated roughly 100 miles west of Savannah, Georgia, still needed that community gathering place that Huddle House could provide. As an experienced restaurant operator who owns several other franchise concepts, including Hardee’s, Pizza Inn and Dick’s Wings, Wiggins knew what a gathering spot means to a community. As it happens, he had some experience with Huddle House. He and his father had built the original Huddle House and had sold the business years ago. He’s excited to see that the brand has stayed true to our mission while implementing many positive changes over the years. He and his wife, Pam, who is his partner in the business, have two sons, Trey, a United States Naval Academy Graduate, now serving as a pilot in the Navy, and Kyle, a Valdosta State University graduate who is pursuing a career in business management.
What stood out to you about the Huddle House concept? Why did that appeal as opposed to other concepts out there? The good quality food, fresh cooked to order, is one thing that stood out. I didn’t really know what kind of support I would get from Huddle House and I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I’ve gotten great support on everything, from my marketing to help from my Franchise Area Director, Jamil Spencer. He has helped tremendously with operations and anything else I’ve needed.
My father and I built the first Huddle House that was in Hazlehurst 20 years ago and then sold the business. So, I was familiar with the old Huddle House concept but it’s changed a lot over the years. The actual layout of the building itself is different, and the quality of food is definitely better. They really stress the quality now. Also, the advertising is different. Twenty years ago we didn’t have advertising at all!
What kind of advertising? They chose us as a test market for TV, radio, Facebook and electronic ads. That’s worked. They keep us updated on POP and inserts.
Your Hazlehurst Huddle House is performing stronger than the system average. Why is that? We’re normally in the top 10 for sales. Some days we might be first, others we might be second or third. I think it’s the new version of the Huddle House, the way it’s laid out, the colors and the decor. And basically, the town needed a Huddle House. They’d had one go out of business 3 years before. It has done very well, and I’ve been very pleased.
Of all the brands I’m associated with, Huddle House has the lowest food costs of any of the brands. We do a good lunch and dinner here; that’s our shift. We are a big 2-10 store; that’s when we do 60% of our business. People are looking for a place to sit down and enjoy their meal.
What is your growth strategy? I would like to open 1 or 2 more as soon as I find the right locations. It needs to be the right piece of property, near a major highway with easy accessibility. And land where you can have truck parking really helps. At times, I’ve counted 9 or 10 trucks in the parking lot. That really helps.
I do buy the real estate and build my own buildings, but it’s not really a real estate play. Operations is what counts.
How do you feel about the support at HQ? What are the most valuable tools they offer you in terms of helping you grow your business? I mentioned the operations — they are on top of that, always trying to improve the operations. Advertising. The grocery part. They have a one-stop grocery program where we buy all our food from Huddle House. They work constantly at trying to bring down our food costs. And they’re very responsive. If I make a call, they answer me that day. They’ve got a great support team.
What would you say is the genius of Huddle House? What sets it apart from other concepts? I think it’s the quality of food and the fact that it’s cooked to order. It’s not fast food where it’s been fixed and sitting around for 10 or 15 minutes. When you come into Huddle House, your food will be cooked on the grill and it will be cooked the way you like it. Plus, we also have a wide variety of great food on our menu that you can get anytime.
What are your favorite things on the menu at Huddle House? My favorites are the egg omelets and the Huddle Burger.
How long have you been in franchising? 32 years. All have been food concepts, except for a Holiday Inn Express.
Why restaurant franchises? I find them financially rewarding. If you operate them correctly and take care of your customers, the financial success will follow. Plus knowing you’re satisfying your customers and getting that instant feedback gives you a good feeling.
I went to college and then went straight into the food business. At that time, my dad had two Hardee’s. After I started working with him we went from two to 26, then we sold all but the original two. It was at that time that I went into business by myself and started rebuilding my franchise operations.
Learn more about the Huddle House opportunity
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