My Week: Subway's Fred De Luca

The US-based founder of Subway tells MT about a visit to check up on his European franchise empire...

Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012

Thursday morning I went to work in our office in Connecticut. My wife picked me up at around two, when we drove to Newark airport and took a flight to Berlin for our German convention on Friday. There I met with our development agents for all over Germany, and in the evening had a welcome event for all the franchisees.

European franchisees have largely the same interests and concerns as those in the US - they're individuals who are looking for a way to do a little better for themselves. Most are builder types, who like the idea of having a store to develop. The big difference is simple: country size. In the US when you get a company going, you have a lot of running room, because the country is big. You can build up that head of steam and soon your project is going 100 miles an hour. Build up a head of steam in Belgium and you're not going very far.

In the US, when we were going through our big growth phase in the 80s, franchisees would say ‘this is great, I think I'm going to move to Oregon or California and take the concept there'. In Europe if you do want to expand further, you have to start a new language, which means building a new team. So you can't easily move anywhere - even though there's freedom to work.

The convention ran all weekend and closed on Sunday evening. There are 10 different area development managers for Europe, one for UK and Ireland, one for France - they do the main strategy and run the regions for Europe. We had meetings on Sunday night and Monday as a group. We wrapped up around 4pm. The thrust of the session was: ‘what do we need to do to make Europe even better?'

Tuesday I went to see some stores, and that night I flew to Amsterdam, to our European office. I stayed on a houseboat - I decided I'd never rented one before, and that was nice, even if it was the wrong season. The big learning I had was: ‘gee, when you live on a houseboat you hear all the street noise'. But it was a great location. I loved the idea that I had a little house and there's these boats going by. I'd do it again:

On Friday I flew out to Madrid. I don't really know the Spanish market so well. That's one we're struggling in a little bit - it's a slow-growth market for us, so I wanted to learn about that. Then on Monday I flew to the UK. 

I'm heading back to the US on Saturday. I both like and dislike the travelling. I like it because it's different, and you get to meet people and see places, with a load of new challenges. And I'm very aware most people don't get the chance to do it. But it's tiring to keep packing up and moving from hotel to hotel. That can get pretty old.

Maybe because I have certain fixed responsibilities, I'm drawn back and have to resettle. I couldn't be on the road three months at a time, so no joining the rock band yet. Periodically I need to get back to a home base where I can do what I have to do in familiar surroundings - it gets my batteries charged up. And when that's done, I'm ready to go again.

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