Q&A: For Eyes CEO Jose Costa Talks Franchise Success, Leadership

Jose Costa
For Eyes CEO Jose Costa.

Jose Costa took the reins as CEO of optical retail company For Eyes last September, but his background in marketing, franchising, multi-unit retailing and customer experience have allowed him to hit the ground running in his new role.

Prior to joining For Eyes, which is a part of global optical retail leader GrandVision, Costa served as group president of Driven Brands where he led the company’s MAACO, CARSTAR and Drive N Style brands. Before that he was vice president of marketing, R&D and supply chain at Burger King, where he grew the chain’s Latin America’s EBITDA from $50 million to $80 million in just over two years. Costa also served as President of COSTA IMC, a branding and interactive marketing firm focused on the U.S. Hispanic and Latin American segments.

Chief Executive spoke with Costa about how his experience in his prior roles is helping him as CEO of For Eyes, the keys of running a successful franchise business and the common traits that he looks for in leaders within his own organization.

Q: What are some of the keys to running a successful franchise operation?

A: I think it’s a very analytical approach. We rank the system—and this is both at Burger King, Driven Brands and Grand Vision—we rank the system by quartiles and we take the top quartile and analyze what they’re doing right, what are the key drivers. And it’s usually around five areas. What are they doing around the IT, marketing, operations, training, and then development, development being net unit growth, adding new stores. So those are the five areas across franchising and multi-unit retailing that I’ve looked at over the past 20 years. And we basically go deep into building a framework around each one of those pillars and allowing them to have 90 percent. Ninety percent of the model is strict, controlled, more command from the support center, and then give them some flexibility with maybe 10 percent of the areas.

“on my management team, there are a lot of young people because they delivered, and I continue to challenge them and give them more opportunity.”

And I’ll give you a couple examples: Customization of languages. If you have a high Hispanic DMA or high African American or Indian, allow the franchise owners to have flexibility around marketing, around training, to customize the menu or customize the product offering for those demographics depending on the region where you are.

In other verticals, we just need to have 100 percent compliance and then we need to be very strict, for example, IT. The point of sale system that runs through procurement and runs through payroll and runs through all of supply chain, financials, all of that has to be very bottom-up and there’s no way for you to have any flexibility. So if you’re abiding to a franchise, you’re abiding to our model for a point of sale system and IT support. So those are two examples.

If it’s development, then we’ll work with innovative franchisees, and I’ll give you a great example. We had about 500 restaurants in Mexico and one of our largest franchisees was Althea which is a publicly traded company, and they had other concepts. They owned Domino’s Pizza, Starbucks, P.F. Changs and many other brands so they had a very good relationship with Walmart. And working with that local franchisee, we came up with an idea of doing hot kiosks. Conventionally, in the quick service industry, the kiosks tend to be for cold beverages or ice cream or smoothies. But no one had ever done a hot kiosk.

We tested it with Walmart. It was all finger food, fried finger food. So tenders, fries, onion rings, wings…anything that you could put in a portable container as you were walking into the store or leaving the store and you could take this small food with you. And that innovation came because of an idea with the local franchisee.

Q: Are there any common traits that you look for in leaders within your organization?

A: This is my favorite topic of all. I just finished writing a book. It took me four years to complete it. It’s called “Leading with Edge,” and it’s coming out later this year. But some of the key principles I would say, number one is be someone who’s inquisitive, someone who continuously asks questions and wants to grow, develop and learn. And it doesn’t have to be getting two, three, four master’s degrees, it can be learning from another department. Just being curious. I look for people who are curious.

I look for people who recognize good behavior and want to celebrate both small and big wins. To me recognition is a critical component of who I am and the culture I’m trying to build. Our five values at GrandVision are meritocracy, so we want to promote people based on merit. We have a very transparent score card system that ranks individuals publicly, so everyone knows where they stand every single day. And we do performance reviews every 90 days. I do it with my direct reports and I expect all of them to do it with every single person in the organization. And then fun, fun is also a component of the culture and recognition falls under fun.

So one of our values is around customer service. We call it “Superhero Service”. We want to make everyone feel like a superhero so we give out superhero awards, The Hulk and Iron Man and Superman and Batman and it comes with $500 in cash, it comes with a big recognition card and we take a picture and it goes on our break room wall. So everyone can see that that team member was recognized for great service.

And then last, I would say, I look for individuals that are hungry. Young, smart, aggressive individuals that it may have taken them 20 years to be a director or a senior director at Procter & Gamble or Microsoft, if they can work for me, they’ll have the opportunity to run a P&L to prove themselves and to be vice president in a very short period of time. So, you see, in my management team, there are a lot of young people because they delivered and I continue to challenge them and give them more opportunity.

Q: When you look to the year ahead, what are some of the things that excite you most as CEO of For Eyes?

A: I’m very excited about telemedicine. There’s a lot of new technology coming into the health care space where we’re opening 30 to 40 stores this year and one of the biggest challenges is getting doctors to join our practices. So there’s this new technology called telemedicine where a doctor can be remote. We have opticians doing the basic eye exams and then the data gets transferred to a doctor who may not be onsite, but they can review all the files and they can communicate with the patient via sort of like a Skype call that is set up within the doctor’s office. So that allows us to have more coverage during more hours of the day in different locations.

I’m excited about adding at least 40 new stores this year. I’m very excited about launching our charitable foundation. We’re going to have a mobile clinic going out to poor neighborhoods and public school systems to do free eye exams. And I will say it’s been seven months but finally my management team is complete. It feels like I was drafting an NFL team, and I finally have it completed and it was great to see people that I’ve worked with in the past. I inherited some from GrandVision and then we recruited some brand new and everything is coming together very nicely. We had a record March. We have never had such a strong March and it’s just evidence to building a great team with great culture.

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