Villa Enterprises Management is on to something. In the past several years, the company has grown its brand portfolio to better position itself for master lease agreements in multi-site food courts. With almost 400 restaurants and 10 brands in their portfolio, Villa continues to grow, thanks to the company’s ability to meet high-level design expectations from the landlords with which they partner.
Recently, Villa completed two entire food courts that used all of the company’s concepts in the Arizona Mills Mall in Phoenix, Leesburg Premium Outlets in Virginia, and three units in Gloucester Premium Outlets in Massachusetts. In addition, the company partnered with Smart Design Group to win the bid for the entire Southwest Terminal of Orlando International Airport. Villa partnered with Ideation Design Group to execute both the architectural and MEP plans for the project, which, at press time, was scheduled to open in February 2016.
“Even with 10 brands of our own, we needed to franchise two brands, and sublet one space to get the right brand mix for what the airport was looking for to do a master lease,” says Jim Howard, senior director of construction and store planning at Villa.
Howard says that building restaurants in airports is more challenging than building them in more common locations, as working “post security” adds many difficulties and additional costs. The projects often are monitored, regulated and controlled by several entities, including Airport Authority, airport concessions management, the architect, and ownership.
“Many larger companies fall into the systems trap by creating too many steps and initiatives that slow down the overall timelines.”
Jim Howard, Senior Director of Construction and Store Planning
“The trick is finding experienced general contractors that know how to navigate through the system,” Howard says. “Although this is our largest airport venture to date, we have had many locations in airports over the years, and continue to build solid relationships in those venues for future growth. Without airport experience, a simple project can easily get away from you and cause dramatic increases in cost and time.”
In his time with Villa, Howard created the company’s systematic approach and is responsible for the development of new locations and remodels from the time a letter of intent is signed to the date of turning over the space to the operations team, which typically falls within a few days of opening. Howard manages initial concept creation, proposed floor plan layouts, internal review, design/architectural/engineering plans development, landlord review, permitting, bidding, FF&E purchasing, project execution, store set up, and turnover to operations.
“Villa offers a fast-paced atmosphere. We never have a slow day here, as we are always planning and looking ahead,” Howard says. “And those of us who thrive under pressure love the game.”
As a private company, when the Villa team thinks about growth, they don’t think in terms of commitments to stockholders, and how many projects they have to build each year.
“It’s more about taking advantage of opportunities, and sometimes even creating those opportunities ourselves,” Howard says. “With several brands to choose from, it opens up opportunities in locations where we already have a presence. We also maintain a small infrastructure and are a debt-free company, using our own capital to re-invest, so we can make things happen fast, which is why we always end up doing a lot more each year then we plan to.”
Typically, from the time a single food-court-style space is awarded to Villa, they can have it open and operating within just six months.
“Many larger companies fall into the systems trap by creating too many steps and initiatives that slow down the overall timelines,” Howard says. “We also attribute our growth to delivering a consistently good product and excellent service to our guests in clean, freshly designed restaurants.”
Howard has worked for larger companies in the past, but he says what he enjoys most about Villa is the small, private-company infrastructure that affords it the capability to make quick decisions without multiple layers of management.
“I also like that if a step or a process needs to be changed or revised, we can do it without a committee decision,” he says. “As we continue to grow, the trick will be to not allow this growth to change who we are and what makes us great. What’s most exciting is that we are always building something different and new.”
A big advantage Villa has over other franchisors is that they not only have multiple concepts to choose from, but the project management team builds them all day, every day, offering all of this experience to franchise partners as advisors to their projects.
“In the franchise world, money is the key motivator,” Howard says. “Often times, it all comes down to convincing the franchisee that following what we do every day, will get them open faster and making money sooner. When the franchisee starts going outside seeking alternative equipment, vendors, or lower prices, they inevitably hurt themselves and look to us to help fix it. We would rather never get to that level, so we try to set the expectations up front by identifying all of our vendors, processes and providing approved layouts, colored renderings and some simple tools.”
When it comes to creating a multi-store rollout program, Howard says it’s fundamental to eliminate redundancy in the system and create repetition through identifying brand and development standards in a written format. With multiple brands to manage, it’s important to be organized in managing specifications.
“Of course there is accurate reporting, budgeting, strong vendor partners, and good interdepartmental communications, but if you don’t properly identify standards, it slows down the process,” Howard says. “In our world, we need to always be ahead of it, moving things as fast as possible, so when necessary changes occur, we can manage it without missing the end date.”