The head coach
It is Scardapane's recent partnership with Vernon Hill, the founder and former CEO of Commerce Bank (bought by TD Bank in 2008), that is helping the fast-growing company get over its growing pains. Hill owns a minority stake in the company. His title at Saladworks is "chairman of the executive committee."
A little background on Hill: After an investigation of supposed insider-related party transactions, federal regulators forced him to resign in 2007 from Commerce after nearly 25 years at the helm. The probe included Commerce's use of Hill's wife architectural firm to design Commerce branches.
Regulatory issues or not, Commerce was often lauded as one of the most successful U.S. banks in terms of branch building and deposit-taking. Under his leadership, the company expanded to roughly 500 branches. Hill was adamant the locations be called "stores," not branches, to reflect a retail atmosphere geared toward strong customer service, extended hours -- Commerce is one of the first banks to open on the weekends, even before large bank competitors -- and limited fees.
Hill is also an entrepreneur in his own right.
His troubles with U.S. bank regulators did not stop him from taking his retail-focused bank system abroad. In 2010, he co-founded Metro Bank, the first British High Street retail bank started in more than 100 years. Essentially replicating the Commerce way, the goal is to have 200 locations by 2020. The bank has nine locations in the U.K. and another 11 opening this year.
Among other partnerships and positions, he and a partner own about 40 Burger King franchises. Hill is also chairman of Petplan Insurance (apparently in a mission to bring pet insurance to the masses).
It was through Saladworks' banking relationship with Commerce that Scardapane and Hill began talking, and three years ago Hill was brought on essentially as an external mentor, Scardapane says.
"Without a doubt he's probably the smartest businessman that I have ever met," Scardapane says of Hill. "Anytime I run into a challenge I can pick up the phone and call him."
Scardapane's entrepreneurism and passion for his company was commendable, Hill says. "I like to invest in things where companies can create fans, it has something unique about them where the customers are in love with the service or the product, and Saladworks fits into that," Hill says. "I like to invest where I can not only put money, but bring my added talent and add value. I'm pretty good at building these stores. At Commerce I learned how to build a relatively small company into a relatively large company."
It should be no surprise then that the company is emulating the growth strategy and culture of what was Commerce Bank.
"Even before I met Vernon Hill we were already sort of a copying his company. Our culture is similar ... meaning you make customer experience as easy and efficient and as fluid as possible," Scardapane says. "It's all about the customer. You never say 'no' to a customer."
Hill says Saladworks has "tremendous' opportunity. He sees his role there as taking the company from "good to great," such as improving branding and optimizing store layout. (In another similarity to Commerce, Hill notes that it is his wife's architectural firm working with the company.)
Indeed there are similarities between the two companies. For instance, the tag line at Saladworks is "America's Best Salad," not far from Commerce's "America's Most Convenient Bank," which TD Bank has continued with.
"It's meant to be that way," Hill says. "We're very excited about where Saladworks can go."
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