Gwynn Up To Bat At Church’s Plate

Padres' outfielder opens 100 chicken restaurants

At bat, Tony Gwynn is famous for being able to hit whatever ball the pitcher throws at him. As he takes his first swings at a follow-up career, the San Diego Padres outfielder hopes to slam into similar success with the entrepreneurial opportunities that are speeding his way.

Over the next 15 years, Gwynn Sports, the company solely owned by Tony Gwynn and his wife, Alicia, will build 100 new Church’s Chicken restaurants from San Diego to Bakersfield, California. Ramping up to build about seven stores per year, five locations will be up and running by the end of 2001.

Fewer than 10 individual black sports figures or entertainers are Church’s franchisees, but the company’s radar is now focused on these celebrities. “We’re aggressively looking for [celebrities and sports figures] to expose them to this opportunity,” says Hannibal Myers, Church’s vice president of new business development.

Church’s prepares these newcomers to the restaurant industry with its “Turnkey Program.” For a fee, Church’s works with the franchisee to locate ideal restaurant sites. Then Church’s obtains permits, acts as general contractor, and equips the facility. In a closing similar to that held when a home is bought, the franchisee then receives the keys to the restaurant.

“I’ve seen several cases where former or current professional athletes become franchisees and do really well because they know how to work on a team,” says Lea Davis, editor of QSR Magazine, a nationwide business journal for fast-food executives.

That team faces stiff competition. “It’s not the easiest of markets; it is fairly saturated,” she notes. “There are a lot of strong brands in Southern California, like Jack in the Box, In and Out, KFC, and Taco Bell, but the bright side is that it’s a very active market.”

Access to capital might be an issue in any franchise agreement this large, says Marcel R. Portmann, vice president of emerging markets and global development for the International Franchise Association.

Development and franchise fees for a Church’s restaurant start at $15,000, plus royalty and advertising fees. Construction and other costs for one unit could total as much as $750,000.

According to Portmann, the average annual revenue of a single Church’s restaurant is about $650,000. At that rate, Gwynn Sports should gross over $3.25 million by 2002 with the first five restaurants. Within the next decade, the Gwynns would hit the be industrial/service 100 list somewhere in the top 10.

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