The Domino’s Pizza dream: Deliveryman to store owner
Rob Cookston went from Domino’s Pizza deliveryman (left) to manager in 1989. Today, he owns 18 Domino’s franchises.
Twenty-five years ago, Rob Cookston got his start delivering Domino’s pizzas from his cherry red Volkswagen Beetle. Today, he owns 18 of the chain’s franchises.
“I was 19, not in college and looking for money,” he said. “I worked my way up the Domino’s system. That’s the American dream.”
It’s a common story among Domino’s Pizza ( workers: 90% of its franchises are owned by former deliverymen or entry-level workers, according to Tim McIntyre, a Domino’s spokesman. About 4,500 of the pizza chain’s U.S. stores are run by franchisees, while the company operates nearly 400. )
Right off the bat, Cookston was bringing home about $500 a month as a deliveryman — pretty good money for a teenager in 1987 still living at home with his parents in Virginia.
Still, Cookston was drawn by the potential of doing a lot better. Just seven months into the job, he heard that store managers got paid upwards of $100,000 a year.
But it was when he saw his franchise’s owner driving a yellow Ferrari — a similar model to the one featured in the popular television show “Magnum P.I.” — that he enrolled in the manager training program.
He learned how it’s done at a Domino’s Pizza store — from basic restaurant skills like saucing 50 pizzas in an hour and massaging dough so it doesn’t harden into “hockey pucks,” to accounting tasks like managing payroll.
After two years, he moved out of his parent’s house and started as a manager-in-training at a Domino’s in Reston, Va. He made $89,000 in his first year.
The store had five phone lines, each of which had to be answered every time it rang. All orders had to be delivered within a half hour.
“It was a big challenge. I wanted to quit at times,” he said. “We’d take turns giving each other shoulder massages we were so wiped out.”
Soon, Cookston was managing six stores. But it wasn’t enough. He was desperate to become an owner and run his own Domino’s Pizza franchise.
According to Domino’s spokesman McIntyre, managers are eligible to go through specialized training called franchise management school after a year in the position.
Five years after he became a manager, Cookston borrowed money from his parents and grandparents and bought his first Domino’s franchise on 23rd Street in New York City in 1994.
For the next five years, the newly-minted store owner lived in the basement of another Domino’s branch in the city and saved enough to buy two more locations. At the time, he was making about $200,000 a year.
By 2000, he expanded into Connecticut and Long Island, buying and selling stores along the way. All told, he has owned and operated 32 stores, including some of the busiest Domino’s locations.
He’s been able to pay it forward, too: Seven of his own deliverymen have gone on to become store managers.
Cookston said he now lives “insanely comfortably” with his wife and two daughters in Connecticut.
He never did get that yellow Ferrari. He settled for a 1967 blue Corvette.
“Domino’s taught me everything about hard work and what it takes to run a business,” he said. “I believe if you can make it at Domino’s, you can make it anywhere.”
I started a business after 60
Six months after Ed DeSoto retired, he had a a stark realization: “I had mastered the TV remote control,” he said. But, “I couldn’t be like this any more. I needed to be in contact with people,” he said.
So in 2007, DeSoto and his wife opened a specialty store that sells a variety of premium olive oils, balsamic vinegars and coconut oil. “I’ve always been a salesman,” he said. “I’ve never owned my own business before but everything fell right into place.”
DeSoto said he enjoys the daily chitchat with his customers, and the challenge of growing his business. “It’s hard work. But at my age I don’t want to work too hard,” he said. “I have to remember to take some time off, too.”
NEXT: Not ready to slow down
Government Goes after Instant Tax Service Franchisees for Fraudulent Returns
LOS ANGELES – As the deadline for filing tax returns is fast approaching, tax preparation companies are busy advertising their services to beat the competition. One company, self-proclaimed as one of the fastest growing tax services in the nation, is having to work a little harder than others. Last year the tax preparation firm was sued by the U.S. government on claims of violating federal tax laws through its franchisees.
After complaints were filed last March against Instant Tax Service and franchisees in five different states alleging store owners were intentionally filing fraudulent tax returns to maximize customer refunds, a district court in California took its own action. The court order permanently barred a husband and wife team out of Rancho Palos Verdes from engaging in certain abusive practices in their multiple Los Angeles offices.
Central District Judge Michael Fitzgerald signed a permanent injunction order stating the franchise owners are now barred from preparing tax forms with unsubstantiated business income, falsely claiming education credits, improperly claiming false filing status and reporting false dependents. They are also prohibited from selling deceptive loan products, and preparing tax returns based on information from employee paystubs rather than employer-issued W-2 forms.
Henock Teferi and wife Ruth Berhane, operating under their Plover Financial Services company, have been shut down since 2011. The court order issued last month requires them to select an outside monitor to review a sample of tax returns that they prepare in connection with their tax preparation business. The franchisees must also report to a designated representative of the United States government to ensure compliance with the injunction. In addition, the order states that they are barred from marketing abusive loan products, including holiday or instant cash loans or advance loan products offered to customers based on information obtained from customers’ paystubs.
The California franchisees have consented to the permanent injunction without admitting the allegation brought against them. If they violate the injunction, they may be subject to civil and criminal sanctions for contempt of court.
The Department of Justice is attempting to permanently shut down Instant Tax Service. The franchisor operates under parent company ITS Financial LLC in Dayton, Ohio. The five civil injunction suits allege Instant Tax has been “deliberately ignoring systemic and pervasive fraud through its franchisees.” Also named in the government’s lawsuit against the franchisor is owner Fesum Ogbazion. The court has entered a preliminary injunction, and trial is scheduled for May 2013.
Business as usual?
On its website today, Instant Tax Service advertises its services as usual—its beautiful offices, a 2013 loan program and opportunities to buy franchises. It also advertises its high ratings in franchise publications. In 2009 it was ranked 93rd in Inc. Magazine’s Top 500 fastest growing private businesses, showing its three-year growth at 1,658 percent, up from 2008 revenue of $27.2 million. The tax preparation franchisor also promotes its success in Entrepreneur magazine’s Franchise 500, listed as No. 1 in 2007.
Now, right at tax season, those accolades at the bottom of its web page are marred by the required posting of the Department of Justice complaint, the lawsuit that is trying to shut its business down permanently: United States of America v. Fesum Ogbazion, ITS Financial, and Tax Tree, issued on October 29, 2012.
- Federal Court Enjoins Former Los Angeles Instant Tax Service Franchisee
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