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The Huts That Pizza Built
Pizza Hut, the world’s largest pizza chain, has 12,000 stores in 84 countries and boasts one of the most successful franchise systems anywhere. But no one unfamiliar with the chain would know that two college students baked the first of what would later become America’s favorite pizza, and used $600 in borrowed money to start selling it in Wichita, Kansas, in 1958. Dan and Frank Carney belonged to a family of 12 children and were always looking for a chance to earn money to pay their way to school. So when a landlord encouraged them to open a pizzeria—having heard of the popularity of pizza in New York—the brother jumped at the chance. They only tried pizza once, so they asked their neighbor John Bender to help them with the pizza recipe. Bender remembered the recipe for the sauce but not the dough, so he just wrapped the bread and accidentally came across the first thin crust. Then the brothers had to choose a name, but they didn’t want to spend more on advertising, so they used the previous store. After scribbling the word Pizza on it, they found they didn’t have more than three letters to fill it, so they added the word Hut. Pizza Hut was born.
Their sales in the first year were dismal. No one had heard of Pizza Hut before, so the brothers invited the Wichita State University football team to eat at Pizza Hut and then gave out prizes. It started with customers lining up every day for a bite of pizza.
The brothers began franchising in 1959, licensing their seventh store to Dick Hassur, the manager of their third store. The brothers lent him money for the franchise, and soon they began to give more franchises to people who already knew the system – a procedure that has been carried out to this day. Many former corporate office employees who have left or retired have become franchisees. One of them was Mike Dart, who worked part-time at Pizza Hut while a student, was offered a position in the corporate office when he graduated, and later became vice president of financial services. After leaving Pizza Hut, Dart founded the Daland Corporation with other former Pizza Hut employees. Daland now owns 154 Pizza Hut stores in Florida, Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana.
When Pizza Hut started franchising, the Carney brothers admitted they simply gave licenses to people with the desire and capital to get started. They didn’t have a system, and during the first five years of franchising, no Pizza Hut store was the same. They wrote offers on napkins and sealed them with a handshake. They only charged a $100 franchise fee and no more than a $50 royalty fee. The brothers began charging higher fees only after their full support system and operating standards were in place.
Soon Pizza Hut was ripe for a public offering. The franchisee suggested that Pizza Hut needed to expand its company-owned units, and to do that it could offer stock to existing franchisees in exchange for their territories and stores. That’s what happened, and the private placement went down in the history of the US Securities and Exchange Commission as the largest for a Class B organization. Pizza Hut went private in 1968. The following year, it made an initial public offering of its shares at a price of $16 per share, and within three days the share price rose to $32.75. All Pizza Hut franchisees became overnight millionaires. (Interestingly, many of the franchisees who changed locations returned to buying franchises for stores in new territories.) To strengthen the business, Dan and Frank Carney sold Pizza Hut to Pepsi Co Inc. in 1977. they were looking for a strategic partner that would let them run Pizza Hut as they saw fit, and Pepsi filled the bill. Eight years later, the company decided to introduce its own delivery service to increase profits. He came up with the idea because half of his sales were done, and although many franchisees balked at first – fearing the risk and change – they soon agreed. “Franchisees make the company better because they have to pay royalties; and if it’s going to give you an opinion on where you’re going,” Frank Carney said early on. “As a result, there will be inherent agreements and a lot of disagreement about direction.” Despite the disagreements, Pizza Hut’s recognition of the role franchisees play in the system has proven to be the most important factor in its growth. Indeed, 40 percent of Pizza Hut stores are owned by franchisees, and the average age of franchisees in the system is 13 years old.
The Carney brothers hardly knew anything about pizza when they started, but their determination and precocious ability to know where their strength lay, and their determination to use it to develop a growth strategy, allowed them to conquer America – where the pizza segment is the main business of 25 billion dollars – and the world. Imagine our loss if they didn’t want the money to finish college!
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