Dan DiZio: The Accidental Entrepreneur

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I did not start out my career thinking I was going to be an entrepreneur. In fact, I’m not sure that I even knew what an entrepreneur was when I got started.

My career started selling five pretzels for a dollar on the street corners of Philadelphia.  In one full day from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m., I would typically sell 1,000 pretzels. Of course, I didn’t pocket all the money, but I made a fair share of profits. I absolutely loved it. Like most Philadelphians, I love pretzels. I grew up with them as a kid at my birthday parties, at school events — they were a part of my everyday life.

When I opened my first pretzel bakery in 1998 without a business plan, undercapitalized and without any employees, I realized pretty quickly that I was on a journey that would change my life forever. My partner and I spent the first six months in our new business working every day from open to close without any help. My partner was ready to hand over the keys and leave the business if we did not change the way we operated.

It was at this point that I learned a very important lesson that has guided the way I operate the business to this day: You must hire good people and train them to run the business so you as the owner can focus on growing the business. After I discovered this rather rudimentary business concept, I was on my way to being a true entrepreneur. Over the next five years, I opened five additional retail locations to allow me to perfect the business model.

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As Philly Pretzel Factory turned into a franchise and then expanded to 100 locations in eight states along the East Coast, I was faced with many new challenges that apply across many different types of businesses. Every day as business owners and leaders, we are confronted with new options to expand our businesses, but does that mean we should?  When new companies come to me to talk about partnerships or new products, when franchisees ask to add new menu items, I ask myself is this the core of Philly Pretzel Factory? Can we make this product or offer this service better than the competition?  Oftentimes the answer is no, but I believe that by saying no we are doing what’s right for the long-term success of the business.

When I first got started and when most people start a business, it does start simple. You have a vision for one clear product or service and everything ties into that. I started with the pretzel and opened the very first Philly Pretzel Factory selling nothing but pretzels – thousands of them a day. That is the core of my business. Day to day, you will be faced with difficult decisions, ones that even have huge profit potential, but in the end, you have to understand what your core business is and make each decision with that in mind.

Now years later, there is one core principle I come back to over and over that I used when I first started to keep Philly Pretzel Factory in line with my vision: Keep focused on what you do well and do better than your competition. What my business has taught me about entrepreneurship is that staying focused is the best way to success.

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_________________________________________________________________________________________ Dan DiZio is the co-founder and president of Philly Pretzel Factory, growing the company from a single bakery in 1998 to more than 100 franchised locations in eight states. Reach him at ddizio@spfsinc.com.

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