The owners of Mario's Pizza House in Arlington, a family-owned business which had sales of $1 million last year, announced recently that it will soon begin selling the secrets of its success in the form of franchise carry-outs called Marino's.
The franchising of the local pizza place that is an institution to many Arlingtonians is being spearheaded by Alan Levine, the 24-year-old son of Mario's original owners, who says he has dreamed of going national with the business since he was 10 years old.
Levine could hardly be more optimistic about his entrepreneurial venture, even in the face of the prevailing recessionary blues. He says he has offers from 60 potential franchisees, some of them corporations "interested in multi-unit territorial development." Mario's sales figures help shore up his enthusiasm, with 1981 sales showing a 15 percent increase over the previous year and a pattern of yearly increases of 10 to 25 percent since the business opened in 1958.
"We couldn't have picked a better time in terms of the economy," Levine said. "The demand for our product is higher than it's ever been. We're getting more and more white collar customers. We pull from all demographics."
Levine believes that Marino's carry-outs will succeed when other franchised pizza shops will fail because they will sell pizza, by the slice, in less time for the customer than most of their competitors. He also points out that the Marino's plan is tailored to the individual, who would order one or two slices for himself when he wouldn't purchase an entire pizza.
"Pizza Hut and Shakey's don't bother me at all--I'd love to have a place next to every one of them," Levine said. "Their concept is more of a sit-down dinner. They don't do well with lunch because they don't get people out fast enough. Our whole concept is to get people in and out within three minutes."
Another important part of Levine's plan is to locate Marino's franchises in small, existing buildings.
"Locations are readily available because of the economy and hard times," said Levine. "Places that are going out of business we hope to take over and convert to Marino's . . . By acquiring places that are already zoned for fast food carry-outs, we fall under grandfather clauses. We're going for conversions rather than constructing from the ground up. That's a factor that relates to the low cost of getting into this business."
The fact that the pizza toppings will be made on the premises can't hurt, a point driven home by the success of Mario's in Arlington. Franchisees will be taught to make sausage and other ingredients at the northern Virginia location by Levine's mother, Norma; Joe Williams, and Willie "Lefty" Lindsay, who have "over 100 years combined experience behind the counter," Levine says.
Levine says the Marino's endeavor is being financed through the "blood, sweat and tears" required to raise $100,000 in capital, with no loans of any kind. He also says he has no interest in selling stock.
"Lots of people want to buy stock. I don't want to sell it. I don't have to. We don't need the capital."
If all goes according to Levine's schedule, the corporation will be licensed to sell franchises in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia by early spring. Then the plan is to concentrate on setting up Marino's carry-outs in territories south of here, especially in the Atlanta area, where interest from potential owners has been the greatest.