Developers aren’t known for looking backwards. For those responsible for creating something new, there often isn’t a great deal of time to spend on yesterday—only the present and the possibilities of the future. That’s what makes Inspire Brands VP of Real Estate Russ Holland special. He can pinpoint the two moments in his life when his faith seemed to give him a heads up about his future.
Holland’s personal journey is as important as his professional one for a litany of reasons. The VP’s focus on servant leadership, transparency, and communication have been essential to his success at Arby’s and Sonic, beloved American dining institutions under the Inspire Brands umbrella. Holland’s dedication to his faith provides the foundation for his approach to his work, but also the growth of his own family.
Holland joined Inspire Brands in 2019, and soon after, his family went through through its own evolution. The Hollands, who’d already adopted their first child, added a second to their home in 2020—the biological sibling of their first.
The same openness, transparency, and kindness the VP brings to his professional life has helped his family unit to flourish. In fact, Holland credits his personal journey as what has helped make his career so successful. “It taught me a lot about empathy and underscored the importance of recognizing how someone’s personal experiences influences their professional approach,” he says. The parents who were open to the idea of building a family in a slightly different way are now helping strangers and friends alike in their own adoption journeys.
The VP with development in his DNA is finding a way to build something new on every front.
“[My own journey] taught me a lot about empathy and underscored the importance of recognizing how someone’s personal experiences influences their professional approach.”
Who Builds All of This?
Holland speaks about the “seeds” of inspiration being planted for major moments of his life. The first came when he and his father were enjoying a meal together at the VP’s first employer, Waffle House. His own family had a background in construction, and Holland remembers wondering out loud, “Who gets to develop all of these?”
Holland would spend nearly 13 years at the restaurant, rising through the ranks, gaining development experience, and at one point setting a record for individual performance. He would also lead the department in which he cut his teeth to close 150 real estate deals in three years.
“Speaking from a faith-based perspective, I believe that God plants seeds in our life along the way,” Holland says. “For me, it’s important for me to be aware of those little nudges that you get, because you never really know where they’re going to lead.”
Despite taking on his new role at Inspire Brands just months before the pandemic, Holland says that the brands under his purview have been able to continue expansion, development, and pushing forward. “Even during a pandemic when virtually all development activity ceased for three months, we were able to help our franchisees identify and act upon opportunities that may not have otherwise existed. As a result, we were able to put forth aggressive and achievable growth objectives for 2021 and beyond,” Holland says.
When it came to the Sonic brand, Holland says the chain was poised better than most for the chaotic year of 2020. “Especially for Sonic, I like to joke with people that this was a brand unknowingly built for how guests shifted their habits in the last year,” Holland says. “It was a contactless experience before the concept became necessary. For example, the Sonic leadership team invested in mobile ordering technology over the past few years, and it was well established, making it even easier for guests to order and pick up their meals.”
The same forward-thinking approach applies to Holland’s focus on other brands. “The grit and fortitude that our franchisees show has allowed them to not just survive but thrive despite some big hurdles. That’s thanks in part to the vast majority of Arby’s having drive-thrus.”
Holland’s team has also looked to pick up retail space from other businesses that haven’t been able to weather the pandemic. Conversion real estate offers the opportunity to get new restaurants open more quickly and potentially at a lower price point. “We knew that there would be a wave of real estate opportunities resulting from the pandemic, and with the help of a lot of folks both at Inspire and from the outside, we’ve been at the forefront of identifying opportunities and quickly assessing them for suitability,” Holland says.
The real estate team is also focused on its brand development plan, engaging with its franchisee base and working on plans to grow and develop. In-house, existing, and new incentive plans are in place to promote new openings and help expand Inspire Brands from the inside out. “The Brand Development Plan is something we talk a lot about with our franchisees, especially at events like our QSR Summit, Growth Webinars, and Brand Conferences,” the VP says. “It’s an amazing mix of both art and science that I think gives us a distinct advantage with respect to understanding headroom and strategic growth markets.”
“For me, it’s important for me to be aware of those little nudges that you get, because you never really know where they’re going to lead.”
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The same seed of inspiration goes for Holland, his wife, and their family. Holland attended preschool with his future wife and would later find out that their mothers were sorority sisters in college.
After college, the two married and started talking about their future family, including the possibility of adoption. At that moment, Holland’s phone rang and went to voicemail. It was an adoption agency, calling the wrong number, but the timing just seemed too specific to be a coincidence.
The couple would eventually find their own family through adoption, and it’s a process the Hollands have been willing to help others through on their own journeys. They’ve been contacted by dozens of people, both in person and online, reaching out to them for guidance in their own adoption processes. “It even applies to people in the business,” Holland says. “It’s helped me build relationships just by virtue of being open about it. It’s a blessing to be able to be a part of people’s adoption story.”
Holland says adoption isn’t for everyone, but that’s entirely the point. “There’s a massive opportunity out there for engagement,” Holland says. “If you feel like something has been put in your heart, and you have a little extra time, resources, and capacity. I think you’re capable of doing some really amazing things.”
It doesn’t need to be much, just a seed will do.
Russ Holland has helped Inspire Brands continue expansion even in a pandemic. Part of that is blood and sweat, but technology partnerships haven’t hurt. “SiteZeus is one of the vendors I’ve been particularly excited to work with right now,” Holland says. “They offer us a very dynamic, data-driven way to make fair and objective decisions about new locations. I think their approach is the way of the future.”
Congratulations Russ Holland and Inspire Brands for the well-deserved recognition you are receiving as leaders and innovators in the restaurant industry. SiteZeus is proud of its partnership with Inspire Brands and looks forward to continuing to provide location intelligence across the portfolio brands. To learn more visit: sitezeus.com.