For Fran Camp, business ownership means sweeping floors, wiping down trays and eating at Subway almost every day for the last 23 years.
Camp and her mother own the Coconut Grove Subway on US 1, a venture that typically puts Fran on the front lines of South Florida’s fast-food wars six days a week. Regulars know her as a familiar face behind the register, but also bussing tables and emptying trash. “I like the grunt work,’’ Camp said.
She has seen the ups and downs from Subway, including the bump in sales in the early 2000s when a once-obese Jared Fogle went on Oprah to talk about his “Subway diet,” to the pressure from Quiznos’ increasingly popular toasted subs. (Subway introduced its own toaster option in 2004, and now Camp said 60 percent of her Subway’s sandwiches are toasted.) She and her mother have also bought and sold Subways along the way. Camp found managing more than one location was too much, given the demands of both raising children and being a hands-on owner . “I was running myself ragged. I didn’t have enough time with my children,’’ she said. “I downsized so I could have a life.”
In 1989, the two Camps bought their first Subway a short drive south on U.S. 1 in Coral Gables. Her mother had owned one in Broward for about a year, and urged her daughter to be a partner in a new one in Miami-Dade. “I went down on Monday to see if I liked the operations. On Tuesday, we gave them a good-faith deposit, and by Thursday I was on a plane to Connecticut for training,” Camp recalled.
Her mother, Burr Camp, handled the books, while Fran managed the operations. That division of labor mostly continues today. They sold their first store to open a new one at the University of Miami law school in the 1990s, and then eventually sold that and were left with their current restaurant. It used to be inside the Shell Station at the corner of SW 27th Avenue and U.S. 1 but moved to its own location in the same shopping center in 1998.
In many ways, Camp captures the upside and downside of franchise life.
Camp reaps the profits from selling a nationally branded product and has the flexibility that comes with owning her workplace. But almost three decades into her restaurant business, Camp serves as her own manager — typical for a small business where profit margins don’t allow the luxury of a manager to handle the day-to-day.
Camp said she doesn’t mind the work. “I clean bathrooms. I can’t ask my staff to do something I’m not willing to do,’’ she said.
During a telephone interview at her home in Kendall, Camp talked to Business Monday about her hands-on approach to business ownership, why she doesn’t post help-wanted ads, and the secret to getting a fresh omelette at Subway. The edited interview follows.
Q. What was the hardest year for your business?
The year we opened. We moved from the Shell station, and there was a five-month gap. Our customers had to find other places to eat. Sales weren’t strong, and they didn’t know where we were. So I put one sign out on the street. Our sales went up. I put tables and umbrellas out on the sidewalk. And our sales went up again.
Q. I often see you sweeping the floor. Are you doing somebody else’s job when you’re doing that?