At the Crossroads of Sports, Hospitality and Business: How Mario Nocero Has Helped Build a 30-Unit Smoothie King PortfolioAuthor: Smoothie King
As a former defensive back for his college football team, Mario Nocero learned foundational team-building skills which later translated to business and everyday decision-making as the Chief Operating Officer for SK Midwest, LLC, a franchise investment group.
“In a team sport you have an ultimate goal: to win the game,” Mario explained, relating business to the game of football. “The game plan is a strategy and the tactics are the plays.”
On a football team, you’re divided into specialized groups, all of which have to follow the strategy in order to achieve the goal.
“This is essentially how a great organization runs,” Mario explained. “You have to understand the tactics in order to get the task done.”
A Natural Leader and Team Player
While his friends had their sights on careers in teaching and coaching sports after college, Mario wanted to teach people in a different way - through leadership. Eager to instill core values into young adults and teach them the building blocks of success, Mario was passionate about impacting the lives of others.
Mario fell in love with the immediacy and level of care that came with serving guests in the hospitality industry and after college, he began his career in the restaurant business.
“I loved being out in the public and interacting with guests,” explained Mario. “It was so gratifying when someone said ‘this was a great meal’ or ‘great service.’”
He worked his way up from being an hourly employee to serving at the executive level for major corporations, including Bob Evans, Darden Foods and Smokey Bones over the course of 18 years. Mario became well-acquainted with the service industry, and he credits much of his success as an entrepreneur to the skills he learned while working in the restaurant sector.
A New Way to Franchise
One of Mario’s key learnings from his experience as a corporate executive was the difference between how many large corporations operate and how many individual franchise owners operate. Eager to do something new, Mario carved out a niche for himself and started consulting franchisees and he taught them corporate best practices that could be applied to their business to better establish consistency and uniformity.
Before investing in Smoothie King, Mario did his research. After learning the brand aligned with his goals from a cultural standpoint, had future relevance and most importantly, the opportunity for substantial development, Mario bought in.
“It was obvious,” Mario said of the decision to join SK Midwest as the COO. He attributes his initial interest in the franchise to a speech he heard Wan Kim, Smoothie King CEO, give at a conference in 2017.
During the speech, Wan explained the importance of nutrition and being cognizant of what people were putting in their bodies. Wan explained that if he were in the pizza industry, he wouldn’t feel right having his kids visit him at work and eat pizza every day.
“Wan made a statement that stuck with me,” Mario explained. “I’ve always been in the restaurant business, but I had never worried what type of nutrition people were putting in their bodies.”
The feeling of providing people a nutritious meal was a major selling point for Mario.
“A nutritious meal helps the overall physical health which drives their mental and spiritual health,” he explained.
Starting From Scratch
After investing in the brand in 2017, Mario helped build SK Midwest, which is heavily involved in the health and fitness space.
He then got to work scouting employees who shared the same passion for helping people live healthy and active lifestyles. Mario knew he wanted his employees to grow from within, people he could build a team with. Drawing from his tenure as a corporate professional in the hospitality industry, Mario sought employees who were results-oriented, had an ownership mentality, cared about people and were natural leaders.
“Everyone I brought on needed to have respect and compassion for the team that would be put together - who understood leadership was a privilege,” Mario said.
Staying Flexible and Embracing the Change
Thirty locations, three years and one unforeseen global crisis later, Mario oversees day-to-day unit-level operations (even assisting behind the smoothie bar, from time to time). He ensures brand standards are being followed and each location meets state certification requirements. He also oversees various financial aspects of the business.
What’s the recipe for success, you ask? Mario would tell you it’s in the uncompromising pursuit of remaining focused on the vision.
“Step back and keep a clear vision of what your mission is.”
While many businesses dealt with overwhelming loss during the pandemic, Mario’s Smoothie King franchises have continued to thrive and he opened another location in 2020. He credits the business’ success to the ability to be flexible and “stay viable,” explaining “just because you did it a certain way yesterday doesn’t mean you have to do it that way today.”
By providing Mario and his investment group with the support they needed, they plan to continue to expand their Smoothie King portfolio.