For Marco’s Pizza operating chief, ‘Undercover Boss’ appearance was eye-opener

Chain is undergoing massive expansion, including eight new Las Vegas locations

Bryon Stephens, president and COO of Marco’s Pizza, stands in Marco’s Pizza at 3400 S. Hualapai Way on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016. Stephens recently appeared on CBS’ “Undercover Boss.” The franchise has nearly 700 locations in 35 states and plans to open eight more in the Las Vegas Valley, Stephens said.

When he was featured on the CBS reality-TV series “Undercover Boss,” Bryon Stephens got a boots-on-the-ground look at some of the shortcomings of his business.

Now Stephens, the president and chief operating officer of Marco’s Pizza, is out to incorporate his findings into an aggressive growth plan.

Stephens’ goal is to enlarge the Marco’s chain by 800 locations in the next five years, including bringing eight new restaurants to the Las Vegas Valley by 2020.

Bryon Stephens at Marco’s Pizza

Bryon Stephens, president and COO of Marco’s Pizza, stands in Marco’s Pizza at 3400 S. Hualapai Way on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016. Stephens recently appeared on CBS’ “Undercover Boss.” The franchise has nearly 700 locations in 35 states and plans to open eight more in the Las Vegas Valley, Stephens said. Launch slideshow »

The 56-year-old executive said his gleanings from “Undercover Boss” — in which corporate leaders don disguises and join their workforces under assumed identities — included that Marco’s needed to purchase dough-rolling machines to reduce employee fatigue and improve efficiency. Another takeaway was that the restaurant's locations needed high-powered exterior lighting as a crime deterrent and to reduce the likelihood of workplace accidents during night-time supply deliveries.

Stephens sat down with VEGAS INC recently to discuss his experience on the show, his goals for Las Vegas expansion and his keys to maintaining a successful work-life balance.

How did you end up on the show?

They’re always out looking for people. It’s an extensive process you go through to get on that show — a lot of interviews, and you fill out a resume. Then you go through an audition process lasting several hours. Then they start scheduling a filming time. We filmed in October of last year, it was about a 10- to 12-day process from start to finish.

Can you talk a little bit about your experience?

I didn’t know who I was going to meet until five minutes before the show. I didn’t know anything about them. But that was the job, to discover who they were, what they do for the company and also discover what their life is like. People ask, "How do they not know this is 'Undercover Boss?'" Well, the production company and CBS went to great lengths to disguise the fact that it was "Undercover Boss" by setting up an alternate show. Everybody thought we were participating in something else. There were a bunch of other actors and actresses there, but they were in our stores working as well and they were being filmed. They had a model who was the hostess of that (alternate) show, and she was interviewing people all over the stores and in the parking lots. They knew they were on a television show, but they thought it was something different because the production company worked hard to sell them on something else. That’s what made it believable and doable.

How have people reacted to the show?

It has been a little crazy, quite frankly. I went shopping with my wife the other day for some new furniture in the furniture store. As soon as I walked in she said, ‘Marco’s Pizza, it is you!’

I never thought I’d get as many texts and phone calls from so many people, either. I’m not sure how they got my number.

Your company is growing at an incredible rate: one store opening every three days?

It’s actually a little better than that. We’re planning for 150 stores this year in total.

How are you able to expand so fast? Are Americans just eating more pizza?

It’s based on a number of things. First, America loves pizza. A Gallup poll recently came out saying over 90 percent of Americans eat pizza at least once a month. I say there seems to be a little bit of brand fatigue from brands that have been around a long time, so people are looking at other pizza options.

Are you hoping to eventually pass some of the big names, like Pizza Hut, Domino’s Pizza and Little Caesars in terms of the number of stores you have open?

Well, no. They’re giants and I don’t think we’re going to be surpassing them, at least anytime in my tenure here. Really for us, it’s not about being that global, it’s about owning that two-mile ring around our stores. So as long as we can show up to be a top player in that two-mile ring in every market we serve, we’re reaching our goals and doing what we want to do.

In the “Undercover Boss” episode, you talked about how your family has to understand that you’re career-first. What drives you in this position?

I have a crazy work ethic and a desire to both please and lead. Early on when I was offered the opportunity to have my first management job, it created a belief in me that anything was possible because I was washing dishes and then was offered a job to become a manager. I had goals and at every stop along the way I wanted to be the best in whatever position I was in because I always had my eyes set on the next position and I knew to get there for me I had to know more, learn more, out-produce and always excel.

I prepared and worked hard, and while I don’t have a formal education, I have been an avid personal development specialist. I have worked very diligently in developing myself and taking a lot of classes, a lot of seminars.

Is it just a matter of committing yourself, time-wise?

It’s not just about putting in the time. One thing I always tell people is don’t ever confuse activity with productivity. Learning how to focus your energies toward the things that are going to make a difference toward your organization and deliver the results that your organization wants from you is critical.

How do you make your professional and family life work?

I’ve done a lot of soul searching on this. Early when my kids were young, I didn’t get to spend much time at home. I missed birthdays, recitals, I missed games, I missed a lot of things. And we always talk about how dad works hard and dad has his career so we can have all of this stuff. And that was important to us, but as the years go by you begin to get a different level of priorities in life. Even though my kids are older now, I’m very active in their lives. My son is now a business partner with me as an area representative at Marco’s. My daughter is working on a couple of different things, and we’re talking about some business opportunities together. We spend more time together. Even though we have more distance because they live in different parts of the country, we stay in contact via texting. And I find out I show up differently in their lives now. I find I give them one-on-one time when it’s important as opposed to being distracted like I may have been when I was younger. And although you can’t go back and get those years back, we’re really doing well going forward and the family unit is intact.