April 24, 2014

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Riding the Green Wave

Small business owners around the state are finding a market for products and services that promote sustainability.

| 5/26/2008

Across Florida, small business owners are joining the green bandwagon by recycling, reducing water and energy consumption, and controlling waste. Some are revamping their business practices to comply with new conservation-minded regulatory mandates. Others are proudly positioning themselves as the green alternative, waving the Save-the-Earth banner to distinguish themselves within a crowded marketplace. While there is no precise definition or industry classification for “green business,” here’s how a few Florida businesses are going green.

Pizza Fusion - Fort Lauderdale

Pizza Fusion
Pizza Fusion CEO Vaughn Lazar (from left), COO Michael Gordon and Vice President for Franchise Development Randy Romano integrate green products into every aspect of their business. [Photo: Eileen Escarda]

It could be the perfect Gen-X mantra: “Saving the Earth, one pizza at a time.”

That’s both company slogan of Fort Lauderdale-based Pizza Fusion and the personal philosophy of 30-something co-founders Vaughn Lazar and Michael Gordon.

“We really wanted to create something that would make a difference,” says Lazar, 35, who left a career in advertising and graphic design to launch the two-year-old company. Gordon, 32, worked in real estate and property management.

Bored with their careers, Lazar and Gordon, who met as undergrads at Boca Raton’s Florida Atlantic University, vowed to open a socially conscious small business. They began, as Lazar says, working in reverse, sketching a blueprint of corporate objectives: good employee benefits, energy efficiency, environmental sustainability, community involvement. “So then we said, why not pizza?” recalls Lazar. “We figured food would be a great way to reach people.”

The business plan was modest, starting with a bit of capital scraped together to open a single restaurant distinguished by its use of organic ingredients and hybrid delivery vehicles. When it opened, in Deerfield Beach in February 2006, the reaction was phenomenal, and soon the partners were weighing franchise offers. “We never expected it,” says Lazar.

As of early March four restaurants were in operation, 10 more are scheduled to open within the year, and the duo has signed deals for 53 additional franchise units in 10 states. The company, which employs 12, charges a $30,000 franchise fee plus 5% royalty on all sales.

Customer feedback on its eco-friendly practices has helped fuel additional “green” measures such as the use of biodegradable pizza boxes, energy-efficient appliances and recycled building materials.

Wholesale organic ingredients cost 20% to 30% more than non-organic; the green building practices add about 10% to construction costs. The company has been careful to select locations where customers are willing to pay a bit extra for their meal. Lazar admits to a low-tech, low-cost form of market research: targeting neighborhoods close to Whole Foods and other high-end grocery stores. He’s turned down franchise offers if the location seems a bad fit.

“People need to be willing to pay a bit more,” says Lazar. “But at the end of the day if were not making good pizza we’ll be out of business real quick.”

Tags: Florida Small Business, Entrepreneur

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