Brian Arnold got his first job in the food service industry when he was just 13 years old, washing dishes in a Detroit-area Coney Island. Today, he’s executing an aggressive growth plan at GPS Hospitality. The veteran development executive is a founding partner of the company, which began in 2012 with 42 Burger King restaurants in Atlanta and has grown to 231 restaurants.
Arnold started his career as a GC and built restaurants before making the leap to ownership in 1997 as construction manager for RTM Restaurant Group. RTM’s sale to Arby’s led to another leap for Arnold, as he became the vice president of construction. When he came to GPS four years ago, the company had just seven employees—but CEO Tom Garrett was in the midst of a people-oriented and customer-centric growth strategy.
GPS Hospitality started as a franchisee of Burger King and recently added Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen restaurants to its growing portfolio. The group expands through organic growth and acquisition, building new restaurants or remodeling restaurants along the way.
“We acquire stores and get ahead of license commitments to the brand,” Arnold says. “We remodel often because we want to exceed our customers’ expectations. We’re driven to achieve our vision to be our guests’ favorite fast-food destination.”
Quality is the foundational secret Arnold and his colleagues have relied upon to anchor their reputation during their high-speed growth phase. The company’s initial seven employees planned for expansion from the beginning. Every process and system was designed to support future growth. The team also selected capable vendors that were ready to support high volume, and eventually settled on the best of the best of Burger King-approved partners.
“Many franchise owners are looking to get out of the industry, and we’re providing them a perfect exit strategy,” Arnold says of GPS Hospitality’s acquisition activities. Thanks to that strategy, the company now has a solid reputation among other franchisees. Owners looking to sell are often lured to GPS by the company’s history of offering fair prices and treating operations employees well as it folds new acquisitions into an existing portfolio.
As chief development officer, Arnold plans and evaluates each opportunity to ensure it fits GPS Hospitality’s growth strategy. Although the group is interested in further expansion, he’s prepared to pass on deals that stray from the business plan.
“We succeed in growth because we’re careful to accept deals that [are a] fit for us, whether it be consolidation of existing markets or expansion into new markets,” he says.
Moreover, GPS takes pride in its loyalty. Arnold says he often takes phone calls from new companies looking to provide everything from LEDs to signage to fixtures. He prefers to keep GPS’s business with established and trusted business partners who share the company’s high standard for quality. Not many franchisees can do what GPS has been doing for the last several years. Arnold explains that his group succeeds because of their deep well of experience.
“We’re a hand-selected leadership team that has worked together for many years, and we’ve never wavered from the clear strategy set at the beginning,” he says.
That approach brings the advantage of speed. Although other organizations can take 18 months to open the doors of a new fast-food restaurant (from site selection to store opening), GPS Hospitality accomplishes the task in less than a year.
In April 2016, the Atlanta-based franchisee announced the acquisition of seven Popeyes locations in Georgia and plans to build new restaurants in Georgia and West Virginia. After four intense years, the company shows no signs of letting up. Arnold expects to see about 25 remodels and 15 new stores come online each year.
The impressive era has earned GPS many accolades. In 2016, the franchisee was named Atlanta’s fastest growing private company by the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Later that year, GPS received a Georgia Fast 40 award from the Atlanta chapter of the Association for Corporate Growth. It marked the second straight year GPS found itself named among the state’s top growth companies, and from GPS’s current growth rate, it doesn’t look to be the last.