While Domino’s Pizza transformed itself into an e-commerce and marketing powerhouse, Eric Arntson built a business and a family right along with the company. Eric’s story is a reminder of the wonderful country we live in – one where a lot can happen with one big dose of hard work. Respect!
Be Arntson Strong
Eric Arntson has had a lot of great days. There are the births of his four daughters Abby, Megan, Emma, and Olivia, and many other personal highs. When it comes to professional milestones, one day in 1997 stands out. Eric transferred to a new Domino’s store as an assistant manager. The first weekend was crazy busy, so busy that the manager quit. When Eric handed the store’s keys to the owner delivering the manager’s message, the owner gave those keys right back to Eric. All of a sudden – Eric had a store to run. He was thrilled.
That was not the beginning of Eric’s journey with Domino’s. It started the summer between high school and leaving for Michigan State, simply because he decided to deliver pizzas. When Eric got to college, he just kept delivering. Eric recalled, “I was fortunate that the franchisee let me have as much overtime as I wanted. When the schedule was printed, if I had a day off, I always found someone to give me their day,” gleefully adding “that is probably the reason I’m not a pediatrician.”
Soon enough, Eric realized he was a businessman. Now, he has turned his hard work into a current portfolio of nine Domino’s stores in Michigan, with three more on the way. It’s not just Eric – about 90 percent of Domino’s 799 domestic franchise owners started their careers as delivery drivers or in other in-store positions.
Still, for Eric getting from store manager to franchisee was a two-year family affair. Eric’s wife, Stephanie, worked for him and they saved as much money as possible. “My wife’s grampa believed in me and loaned us part of what we needed, and I was able to get an SBA loan for the difference, which was pretty cool,” said Eric. Once he found a location, his Uncle and dad chipped in sweat equity helping to gut and build the first store, which opened November 2, 1999, when his Abby was eight months old.
A few years later, Eric purchased the store he used to manage in Lansing, amongst others. Remembering the lessons he learned from that franchisee, “If there was even one delivery that was close to being delivered late, he wanted to be paged. He would stop what he was doing and come and deliver. I learned a lot from him.”
Even with his own pager (which he admits he kept way past when technology would dictate), Eric had to adapt. “Now, I was managing people. At the beginning, I learned to never let anything go without being said. If you do, all that does is stew into something bigger. I give a lot of respect and we celebrate the wins, but we have to talk about shortcomings too. I treat my employees like I raised my daughters. I’m firm, I’m fair.”
Eric’s business has survived auto plant closures, recessions, and competitive intrusions. What scared “the crap out of him?” When Domino’s remade its pizza, which consumers had described as “cardboard” and introduced a candid marketing campaign admitting its previous pizza was not tasty. Eric said, “Quite honestly, I didn’t think the pizza sucked that bad. But, I knew we needed to do something.”
That 2009 campaign and a savvy move to invest in digital around the same time, sparked one hell of a turnaround at Domino’s, one that is still running strong. “Without a doubt, technology is the driving factor of where we are today,” said Eric. “It was the best thing we did and it was also the most painful. I had to cough up the capital to make the investment.” He’s glad he did. Today, Domino’s franchisees generate on average $130,000 a year in EBITDA per store. “I do a bad job of celebrating my own successes. I definitely haven’t stopped and I’m certainly not going to slow down because that’s when that EBITDA goes away.”
At least one of his daughters, Abby, has decided to follow her dad’s footsteps. “I started with nothing. She won’t start with nothing.” Even so, Eric beamed recounting how he and Abby had worked 17 hours the day before getting the next store built. And, the time when he did a blowout $3.99 one-topping special at his college campus store, which had Abby folding boxes and stuffing flyers from 9 AM to 1 AM.
Eric keeps it easy – work hard all the time. And by hard work, he means actual hard work. The kind that causes you to break a sweat. Eric’s next goal is to pass it on not only to his daughters but his work family too. He wants to have two employees get their own franchises within the next two years.
Eric says he’s going to slow down. “I decided to bust my ass as hard as I could up front. So that when I turned 50, I wouldn’t have to. I have 10 more years.”
In honor of his great grandfather’s immigration from Norway, Eric Arntson is the Chief Viking Officer of Five Star Pizza Co., Inc.