Ray Russell grew up in Iran and spent the first 18 years of his life there. Finishing high school in 1987, he decided to leave his home for a place he felt might offer him a brighter future.
He moved to Canada with little knowledge of the Canadian culture and no command of the English or French language. With $8 in his pocket and a third cousin as his only relative in the country he managed to learn English, go to school for Civil Engineering and eventually move to Vancouver where he started his own construction company. He left a construction business he started and founded Freshslice Pizza and started a family. Ray feels that if he can come to this beautiful country with nothing and make a success of himself, anyone who is willing to work hard and not be dissuaded by any major hurdles, can do that too.
BeTheBoss.ca: What’s the story behind The Freshslice name?
Ray Russell: My thoughts behind the name were simple. If I was going to do something, it had to be unique to the marketplace. All the major brands were concentrating on delivering full pizzas. There was no dominant player focused on selling individual slices, slices in combos as well as a variety of proprietary recipe full pizzas that focused on only multigrain dough topped with low-fat mozzarella and sauces. Freshness, quality and value buy the slice of full pizzas. Hence the name Freshslice.
BeTheBoss.ca: What made you decide to franchise?
Ray Russell: Franchisees by definition are responsible for the day-to-day running of their business within our strict guidelines. By expanding with franchise partners we knew that with them having invested their own hard-earned money, we would not need the detailed levels of management which we would have to put in place if all our locations were run by our own employees. We knew that our franchisees would be able to expanded more quickly than a company owned and operated organization. In fact, at one point we grew at a rate of 430% over a three-year period. Also our philosophy was to have all our locations not just as a restaurant in the community but in fact be the community’s restaurant!
BeTheBoss.ca: What was your background prior to forming the company?
Ray Russell: Settling in Montreal, I started to build a life for myself, which included taking classes at both Vanier College and McGill University. Afterwards I moved to Vancouver and enrolled at British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) with an eye on becoming a civil engineer.
In 1990,I started my own construction company, working as a contractor and later as a developer in the Greater Vancouver Area. By the late 1990s, however, the local economy took a dive in the wake of the NDP government’s mismanagement and heavy deficit. The downturn hit the construction industry hard, and I was forced to look for other opportunities in 1999.
BeTheBoss.ca: Tell us a little about the pizza Market?
Ray Russell: The pizza industry today requires companies to offer fresh quality products, be able to deliver consistently in a timely manner, offer more than just pizza products and have curb and dining appeal for those locations situated in high pedestrian traffic areas. In today’s market, which is becoming more and more digitized every day, there is less room for error now that any one at any given time can e-mail, post on Facebook, tweet or blog a criticism or compliment about your company that can be read by thousands in a matter of seconds. We believe in our system and know that we strive to be the best in order to be steps ahead of our competitors and continue to be top-of mind when making an informed healthy dining choice.
BeTheBoss.ca: What have some of the challenges been in growing your franchise?
Ray Russell: One of our biggest challenges is how at home office we could keep growing our franchise system and at the same time continue to maximize efficiency, productivity and consistency without sacrificing quality. I achieved this by inventing a unique dough making system not available anywhere in the world that yields a 800% labour saving costs that is directly passed on to our partners.
BeTheBoss.ca: Who has been your greatest inspiration?
Ray Russell: While building this great leading Franchise concept, I always found inspiration in so many bold innovative leaders like Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Terry Fox, Bill Gates and Jim Pattison. Their trials and tribulations in their own lives resonated with my own and I have always felt very fortunate to have such great examples to learn from whilst living in a beautiful country that offers so much opportunity and success to anyone willing to work hard for it.
BeTheBoss.ca: What are some of the advantages in being a Freshslice franchisee?
Ray Russell: Some of the advantages of being a Freshslice franchise owner is benefiting from the more than 15 years of success of our proven and successful disruptive one of a kind franchise business model in which we charge 0% royalty fees, 0% marketing or advertising fees. NO ONE else does this that I know of in the franchises food business. In addition, we, provide, training, management, site selection, ongoing 24/7 support, and project management and an equipment and small wares system in place for every franchisee to utilize. We call our franchisees “partners” because that’s how we truly treat them and work together.
BeTheBoss.ca: What do you do in your spare time?
Ray Russell: I enjoy working out. It helps me improve my focus. Every Sunday come rain or shine I do the Grouse Grind. I have a great group of friends that join me and even my very young son joins me from time to time! I am very proud of him!
BeTheBoss.ca: What advice do you have for someone looking to acquire a Franchise?
Ray Russell: The advice I would give to someone looking to acquire a franchise would be to encourage them do your homework and know who you are and what you expect from yourself and the franchise that you want to involve yourself in. You need to choose a franchise system that will eventually take you to your desired destination and be something you can afford both financially and emotionally. Take your time and make an apples to apples comparison of each of the franchises you find an interest in. Narrow the field by contacting the franchisor(s) and get the information you are looking for; in other words, do your part. Once you have eliminated all doubt and are ready to take on the challenges and the rewards of becoming a successful business owner you can now take the time to take a good look at the benefits of being involved with a successful fast growing chain like Freshslice.
BeTheBoss.ca: In your opinion, why do you think that Freshslice Pizza would be a great opportunity for someone?
Ray Russell: We are uniquely positioned in the current economic climate and marketing environments in which we do business as well as new markets. We offer our customers a propitiatory more health-conscious version of the fast-food staple. Rather than white dough, Freshslice offers only multigrain pizzas topped with low-fat mozzarella and sauces, and we are constantly innovating not only in the area of our product offerings.
For example, we just introduced a new point of sale system in all our locations to retrieve real-time product mix and sales information for head office analysis and to assist our franchisees partners keep better track of which promotional items are bestsellers and which ones might require tweaking. A new centralized call centre has also been set up, 1-844-FRESHSLICE—and it is North American-wide. Online ordering is another feature introduced recently.
In addition, another example is that, we have recently re-designed our restaurants, complete with built-in, upholstered banquette-style seating in locations where space allows. It’s a new esthetic look meant to make the dine-in experience more comfortable and inviting. It’s a fresher the look taking into account 21st-century tastes, combining some traditional old-world elements, such as a vaulted ceiling feature clad in aged brick with a light, modern colour palette adjacent to a muted mix stone, contemporary floor and wall tile, subtle wood grains and metal accents. The redesign also incorporates high-resolution, panoramic photo wall graphics, an array of more traditional glass pendants, contemporary sculpted glass suspended units and recessed, linear LED fixtures.