The family is first at Cousins Maine Lobster, where the team really is is family, or just wants everyone to feel like family.
The brand started a decade ago, when Jim Tselikis, who lived in Boston, went to visit his cousin Sabin Lomac in Los Angeles to catch up. “When we were remembering,” says Tselikis, “we realized that every time we were with our family, we would have lobster: live lobster, lobster buns, lobster mac and cheese.” Tselikis was in sales and had no previous food or restaurant experience. Lomac had worked in more than 20 restaurants, but at the time was in real estate. However, they began to imagine a business in which they would bring their esteemed experience to people across the country.
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From this, Cousins Maine Lobster was born. The brand was founded in 2012, it landed Shark tank (where they reached an agreement with Barbara Corcoran) and now serves seafood from more than 30 trucks and nearly 10 restaurants in 18 states. But, as Tselikis says, the family still drives that brand.
You’ve never run your own business. How did you get started?
It was about taking out a food truck. One important thing was to manage the money, find out what to put in the business to give it a real chance of success. It’s also how much you’ll work for it. Instead of going out for a beer on a Friday night, spend that time making sure every piece of your business is tight, buttoned, and protected.
When we started the franchise, we did our best to understand how to succeed here. We were learning a whole new business in addition to our food truck business, and that doesn’t happen overnight. You’re not an expert the first year, but you learn a lot over time. This is the biggest piece of it all. We need to use learning experiences and make them potential for the future. That way, when the next round comes, you say, “What have I learned? How am I adjusting?” It is continuous.
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How has being family-centered affected your business?
We didn’t go to business school. We just wanted to create a business that was fun and meaningful. Our theory is, “If we grow up with people we trust are blood, or as close to blood as possible, they will not let us down and we will not let them down, because we are all on this mission. Together.”
When it comes to franchises specifically, we had 2,000 requests later Shark tank, but we only awarded 10. We wanted to make sure we chose the right people and really called them family members. We chose people we knew would have great business, but also people whose lives we would like to know. Our relationship with franchisees is like, “Your son just graduated from high school? Did your daughter just get married? Let’s have a drink and talk about it.” For me, this is how a very solid foundation is built, when everyone just invests in each other.
After working with so many franchisees, what advice would you give to others who are considering buying a franchise?
To be a franchisee of a brand, you have to buy, not only literally with your dollars, but also because this franchisor has done so. They have this model and toolbox and the support to succeed, and it’s buying this route instead of doing it on your own.
It’s also about having an open mind. We listen to our franchisees. We are not against them. It is very harmonious. We know we’re not perfect, so if they have an idea, or if they see something in the field and want to bring it to us, we’re all heard, because we know we can always improve. So if a franchisee comes in and says they don’t know everything, but are willing to learn and we can train them, they will succeed.
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