As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Thomas Nieto, CEO of Main Squeeze Juice Company.
After a 10-year career building successful teams and managing a successful organization for the largest telecommunications company in the world, AT&T, Thomas Nieto decided to take a leap of faith and jump into entrepreneurship. At 29, Nieto left AT&T and became the COO of his friend’s cell phone and electronic repair company, In & Out Smart Repair. In less than three years, In & Out Smart Repair became the fastest-growing company in the cell phone and electronics repair industry, and eventually merged with competitor CPR Cell Phone Repair in April 2017. Come May, Nieto found himself looking to join another company similar to In & Out Smart Repair. While working with executives about a business relationship, his friend called to ask him if he could help his sister prepare for the grand opening of her juice and smoothie bar: Main Squeeze.
Since 2017, Nieto has served as the CEO of Main Squeeze Juice Co. The New Orleans-based franchise’s mission is to make healthy easier, and the company’s nutritionist-designed, the superfood-centric menu does exactly that. It’s gluten-free and vegan menu offers a daily source of plant-based nutrition packed with natural and quick energy. The concept’s proprietary recipes feature chef-inspired cold-pressed juices and superfood smoothies, along with one, three, and five-day juice cleanse programs, shots, and acai bowls created from organic and wild-harvested acai berries from the Amazon rainforest in Northeast Brazil.
Today, Main Squeeze has 13 locations open and operating in Louisiana and Texas, with more than 60 additional franchisee- and corporate-owned stores in various stages of development throughout the Southeast.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
After a 10-year career building successful teams and managing a successful organization for the largest telecommunications company in the world, AT&T, I decided to take a leap of faith and jump into entrepreneurship. I became the COO and a minority partner of a cell phone repair concept called In & Out Smart Repair, and within 3 years, built an organization of 75 open locations with 40+ more on the way. Because of our success, we attracted several of the largest players in the space, all of whom were trying to buy the infrastructure we worked so hard to build. Honestly, at the time selling out was the last thing I wanted to do, so I tried to convince the owners to block the proposed mergers/acquisitions. For me, it wasn’t about the money but was about the journey and rewarding process of making an impact in people’s lives to build something great. Nonetheless, I was out-leveraged by my partners and was forced to merge, paving the way for us to become the largest player in the industry, but putting me out of a job in the process.
As it often happens, one door closed and another opened. While looking for a new project, I met with a couple of entrepreneurs about potentially partnering on another cell phone repair concept out of Lake Charles, LA, and randomly stumbled across something that stole my attention: a juice bar concept called Main Squeeze Juice Company. Even though it couldn’t have been more different from cell phone repair, it grasped my attention and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Long story short, 45 days later I signed the founding documents with my brother-in-law, Michael Canseco, and two other partners, and we founded Main Squeeze Juice Co. Franchise. From there, we started franchising in September 2017, and today have 13 locations open with over 60 more in various stages of development.
With our incredible growth and the company’s financial position, Main Squeeze Juice Co. is poised for an exciting future. That being said, unlike many franchisors, we have been and will continue to prioritize our allocation of resources based off of units at hand rather than new deals. Everyone in franchising is looking for the “silver bullet” for growth, and I’ve found it: unit level economics. Our focus is on successful franchisee operators and a lot of our growth to date reflects exactly that as several of our franchisees have purchased additional licenses after their first store’s success.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Usually, mistakes aren’t funny, however, I do have one that can only be seen as amusing: When planning the opening of our first corporate store in Katy, TX, we created a bit of unnecessary stress, to say the least. We were very anxious to open the doors, and with our general contractor telling us that substantial construction would be complete by January 20th, we proceeded to pay thousands of dollars to communicate Valentine’s Day opening to the Katy community, which we were excited about due in large part to our name. What could be better than bringing your “Main Squeeze” on Valentine’s Day? After all, we had plenty of time to prepare for our first opening to be a huge success, or so we thought. As it would turn out, the contractor didn’t finish by the date he committed to and after a delay in construction, we had further delays with both the fire marshal and the health department. We finally got the fire marshal to clear us five days before opening and then begged the health department to come out the next day, which they miraculously did. However, we failed because one of our refrigerators was literally one degree off temperature because we forgot to plug it in the night before (lucky us). I don’t quite remember how we got the equipment to get a degree cooler but we somehow did (probably because I prayed…a lot) which allowed us to get our health permit literally one day before Valentine’s Day. Then, we literally had one day to train the staff, label our bottles, make all of our juices and milks, arrange furniture, hang POP and a million other things I’m leaving out. Needless to say, we had about 15 people working all day and and all night all the way until opening at 7am and pulled off a project that usually takes weeks in less than 24 hours. Our manager literally fell asleep at lunch, we were all delirious and we had to create a nap schedule as we all had to continue working the store now that it was open.. and yes of course.. it was SLAMMED. It’s a story we will never forget and laugh about often (just not at the time). And needless to say, we’ve never made the mistake of prematurely advertising an opening date ever again and always remember to plug in refrigerators at least 24 hours before health inspections!
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
Cheesy but true, I’m a huge believer in the saying, “leaders are readers.” If I had to narrow it down to one book that has made the biggest impact on me it would be ’21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership’ by John C. Maxwell. Earlier in my career as a leader within the AT&T organization, I didn’t know much. I knew I loved people and wanted to help others do things they never thought possible. That book really helped guide and teach very basic yet (when applied) powerful leadership principles. I even used it to develop a leadership series at AT&T that I taught throughout my career. Basic, simple and powerful.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
My purpose was, still is and will always be to prove the power of human potential by creating a high-performance environment that helps people achieve results they never thought possible. In my view, God designed us in such a way that true fulfillment in life comes from helping others, not ourselves. When you can prove to someone else how great they are, it impacts literally every area of their life. When you are able to create this type of culture amongst your team, you end up defying the odds and producing “unbelievable” results. This type of atmosphere also breeds reproduction of this mentality, which creates a “snowball effect.” New members that are added to the team can’t help but raise their level of play, thus causing them to do things they never thought possible, and so the cycle continues.
My vision was, still is and always will be to build the nation’s premier juice bar with a mission of ‘making healthy easier’ for everyone. Think about it, what prevents so people from choosing healthy food today? Is it because it’s convenient, affordable and tastes amazing? Probably not, and in fact, it’s probably the exact opposite. Today, making healthy choices is hard because it’s not easy, affordable and usually doesn’t taste great. Main Squeeze Juice Co. focuses on reversing those realities for all of our customers every day. We have the best branding, best technology, best ingredients that make delicious products, and most importantly, we have the best people. Everyone wants to be a part of something bigger than themselves, and we help others achieve that. Think of your favorite sports team, when they win you say “we won”. When they lose you say “we lost” and you proceed to be miserable for an extended (in some cases over extended) period of time. The reality is “WE” didn’t do anything. This inherent drive to be part of something bigger than yourself, and be part of a “winning team” is what drives all of our partners and team members every day.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Yes. In any/every business you will always have valleys and mountaintops. It’s easy to be optimistic when you’re at the top of the mountain, not so much when you’re in a valley. The hard tests are never at the top, only when you’re navigating through the difficult times. Those are where we face the defining moments and tests that will determine if you move on or fail. What I tell my team is to never let your highs get too high or your lows to get too low — try to stay level headed at all times and focus on making the right decisions for the company without succumbing to either fear or excitement.
Thank you for all that.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Main Squeeze is based out of New Orleans, which was one of the country’s first hotspots, so everything was turned upside down very early on. Infections spiked in the city, hospitals started filling up, the state went into lockdown, and life as we knew it changed drastically. To address these issues, we leaned on technology more than ever to check in with our families (especially grandparents whose nursing homes no longer allowed visitors), employees, partners, etc., and hunkered down for the long haul. We’ve been through natural disasters before, such as Hurricane Katrina, so we went into hurricane-mode, stocked up on essential supplies and prepared for the worst.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Besides having to work remotely, our biggest challenge has been uncertainty. Whether from the government, health organizations, or on the consumer level, it seemed as if no one knew what was going on. We first focused on how to remain operational while everyone worked from home. Luckily, we were already using a great online CRM program (that we developed in house) to manage our team, so we simply had to transition our meetings to virtual conference calls and were fully operational (albeit digital) within the first couple of days. Our next step was to try to reduce some of the uncertainty, so our entire executive team went into informational overdrive as we tried to learn as much as we possibly could about what was going on as well as what kind of government small business assistance we could anticipate. We immediately collected information from the CDC, state and local health departments, kept an eye on what was going on around the world, put out new operating protocols to all of our stores based on what we learned that included enhanced cleaning and safety protocols as well as social distancing practices, and recommended that our franchisees apply for the EIDL and PPP programs. We also launched a systemwide employee staffing program for our stores in anticipation of staffing being an issue, and purchased safety and protective equipment to prepare for the new normal.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
The biggest thing is to remind others that we’ll get through this. The world has faced pandemics before, the biggest difference now is that we have unlimited information that we’re constantly being bombarded with. While much of this information may be confusing or harmful, a lot of it is helpful and can be a tool to help us navigate the uncertainties of today. The trick is to focus on the science and the experts, while blocking out the rest and to not let the noise get to you. That may be easier said than done in today’s world, but it’s critical in a time when anyone can tweet whatever they want at any time they want about anything they want.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
Of course. Main Squeeze is incredibly lucky — our restaurants are already set up for take out, 70% of our locations have a drive thru, and our products are healthier than the average restaurant when health is on the forefront of everyone’s minds right now. Due in large part to these competitive advantages, we’re seeing higher demand for our products than we were seeing pre-covid (which we were not expecting at all). To take advantage of this, we’re doubling down and investing in technology by launching a curbside delivery program, finishing a self-order kiosk project that we’ve been working on, as well as highlighting our existing delivery and catering platforms to further our mission: to make healthy easier. Those who learn from these new challenges and quickly pivot to meet them head on will come out of this stronger than before, and we feel that Main Squeeze is perfectly positioned for this ‘new normal.’
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
That’s the million-dollar question that’s tough to answer because we’re still very much in the middle of this, but we think there are clues in how the rest of the world is coming out on the other side. Until a reliable vaccine is developed, social greetings will be different (a lot less shaking of hands), restaurants won’t be the same (there will be less tables in restaurants), people will be more mindful of what they touch and who they come in contact with, large social gatherings will be downsized, and people will move more of their lives online. Unfortunately, the survival of the fittest will kick in on the corporate level and a lot of businesses will no longer be able to operate in this new climate, so the world will look much different.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
We plan to focus on 4 main things. First, ensure that we are implementing the absolute highest health and safety protocols at all times across all locations. Second, invest in safety and protective equipment to protect both guests and employees. Third, invest heavily in technology to make ordering more convenient and efficient. And fourth, do whatever we can to help others as now is the time to put differences aside to help those who are most vulnerable.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
I would encourage others to follow the science, listen to the CDC and help others who are less fortunate as we’re all in this together.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“People tend to create philosophies to justify failures. If you accept their philosophies, then you accept their failures.” — myself. I use this with my teams to remind them not not give or accept excuses front their team mates as to why something cannot be done. In other words, it’s saying that we shouldn’t accept excuses, only results. There especially has been a lot of excuses and scapegoating recently, which wastes time when results are so critically important right now.
How can our readers further follow your work?
You can visit Main Squeeze Juice Company’s website at www.mainsqueezejuiceco.com, find us on Facebook or Linkedin (Main Squeeze Juice Company Franchising), or follow us on Instagram (mainsqueezejuiceco).