An Enduring Partnership: McLain Hoogland claims Single-Brand Leadership MVP

by Ginny Gaylor

Name: McLain Hoogland
Title: President
Company: Hoogland Restaurant Group
No. of units: 117 Marco's Pizza
Age: 37
Family: Wife, 4 children
Years in franchising: 8 Years in current position: 7

McLain Hoogland is the Single-Brand Leadership MVP (Most Valuable Performer) for achieving leadership with a single brand.

Four generations ago, McLain Hoogland’s family got its start in business with an appliance store, but things really took off during the early days of home video rentals.

“My grandfather started Family Video in 1978, and my dad scaled it, growing it from 40 stores to more than 800,” Hoogland says. “It was all privately owned, and he bought all the real estate.” Once the video industry declined, the family converted their holdings into a commercial real estate company, Highland Ventures, which includes the Hoogland Restaurant Group.

The family business began franchising with Marco’s Pizza in 2012. Hoogland, who served two combat tours in the Marines, started working with the brand in 2016. Since then, the company’s relationship with Marco’s has become an enduring partnership.

“One of the reasons why I like Marco’s is because they are also new to franchising,” he says. “We’ve been able to help each other—I’m still learning restaurants, and they were learning scale.”

Today, Hoogland Restaurant Group is the largest Marco’s Pizza operator in the system with 117 units operating in 22 states. There are plans to grow the unit count by another 20 locations this year. In 2023, comparable same-store sales of their locations experienced a 7.9% lift with a 4.4% increase in orders over 2022. Hoogland is also a member of the Marco’s Independent Franchise Association, which helps people at corporate learn what’s happening on the ground.

While the restaurant sector represents a significant portion of the portfolio in personnel terms, the real estate holdings stand out as the cornerstone financially. Despite the scale of operations, Hoogland says the company still operates as a small, family-owned business. Hoogland’s father and brother also help guide the business. They’ll continue steering the ship until the fifth generation of family members is ready to take the helm.

For now, Hoogland is a single-brand operator who prioritizes growth, customer service, and investing in the next generation of workforce leaders.

“We want to always be growing both through total number of locations and people,” he says. “I want to continue to be able to provide a road map for employees to continue to be promoted with more and more opportunity.”


Why do you think you were recognized with this award? I hope that it is for my continued engagement with the brand. My team and I have been instrumental in helping Marco’s continue to grow and improve through technology and operations. It has been a great partnership for more than 10 years at this point. And I think it has only gotten stronger in the past few years. I try to be a leader for the brand, and I hope that Marco’s feels the same.

How have you raised the bar in your own company? We have been trying to use different forms of technology to improve internally. Whether it is implementing a new SDWAN network or partnering with a new applicant tracking platform, we are always looking to use new products to help us become more efficient and faster.

What innovations have you created and used to build your company? Many innovations in our stores have been made possible thanks to Marco’s, and we are lucky to partner with a company that listens in real time to franchisee challenges and adapts new technology and initiatives as a solution. One great example is Marco’s instituting MOM’s (Marco’s Order Management System), which seamlessly connects front-of-the-house operations with back-of-the-house cooking.

Other innovations within Hoogland Restaurant Group have involved location selection, digital integration, data analytics, engagement platforms, sustainability initiatives, employee training platforms, and community-centered initiatives.

What core values do you think helped you win this award? Winning this award is a reflection of my commitment to upholding our core values of hard work, problem spotting/solving, leading not managing, and having an ownership mentality. These core values collectively define the ethos of Hoogland Restaurant Group and have been instrumental in earning this prestigious recognition.

How important is community involvement to you and your company? Community involvement is integral to Hoogland Restaurant Group as we serve a large number of communities across the country. We are active in 25 different markets in 22 states and also involved in the smaller communities within those 25 larger markets. We continue to work with local schools and community centers, and we hire all of our employees from the local communities as much as we can.

What leadership qualities are most important to you and your company? We value hard work, leading (not managing), and being a problem spotter and solver.


Key accomplishments: I am the fourth generation of this family to lead Highland Ventures, which includes the Hoogland Restaurant Group. We currently have 117 Marco’s Pizzas with 10 more in development, making us the brand’s largest franchisee. Hoogland Restaurant Group opened Marco’s 300th milestone location, and after growing over time, we recently opened Marco’s milestone 1,200th in January 2024. It was a full-circle moment that truly honors Marco’s incredible growth and how they’ve withstood the test of time.

Next big goal: Hoogland Restaurant Group aims to continue our growth crusade and expand our portfolio by selecting prime territories for expansion, with immediate plans to grow our unit count by 20 in 2024.

Hardest lesson learned: Learning to delegate better—I tended to take everything onto myself. It was hurting the business because I couldn’t handle everything that needed to get done. I had to learn to let go, prioritize, and trust my leaders.

Best advice you ever got: Hire people who are problem-solvers, and your business will be much better. This is something my grandfather always talked about, and something I really try and continue to push.

Favorite book: Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield.

What’s your passion in business? My passion in business has always been solving problems to make the business more efficient on the basic level. On a high level, it would be the overall growth of the business. There is nothing more fun than growing a business, whether it is with Hoogland Restaurant Group or with one of the other businesses that we run.


Business philosophy: My business philosophy is simple. We want to always be growing both through the total number of locations and people. I want to continue to provide a road map for employees to continue to be promoted with more and more opportunities. This will let us grow into more communities where we will be able to have a big effect on the community as a whole, whether it is through connections with local schools or through just overall good customer service.

Management method or style: I believe in having a team that can accomplish any goal through the process of problem spotting and problem-solving. I want to have my team consistently looking to improve on every aspect of the business and have the ability to communicate to any level in our organization. Some of the best ideas have come from our lowest-level employees. I also believe that a business should be built around those who are doing the frontline work. A lot of companies have a separation between the corporate employees and the frontline employees. I believe the two sides should be really close together. I require all of my leaders to spend significant time inside the restaurants and working with the frontline employees.

Collaboration is another cornerstone of my management approach. I encourage open communication and teamwork, fostering an environment where ideas can be shared freely, and innovation is encouraged. This collaborative atmosphere helps identify and leverage the diverse strengths of our team to overcome challenges and capitalize on new opportunities.

Continuous improvement is a personal passion and a business necessity. I am committed to a philosophy of lifelong learning for myself and my organization. We regularly review our processes, results, and strategies to identify areas for improvement. We are always looking for ways to innovate and enhance our efficiency, customer service, and product quality.

Greatest challenge: My greatest challenge is to keep up the growth goals that I have set for myself and my team. My team is constantly pushing to open more locations, and they are the ones who are doing all the work. It takes a lot of time and diligence to find the right locations in the right market, and we are very diligent in site selection. That makes it hard to grow at the speed I would like.

How close are you to operations? I like to stay very close to the operations. I regularly work in the restaurants. I think it is really important for the team members to see consistent leadership and see that the leaders in the company still know how to make an amazing pizza.

I make it a priority to maintain regular communication with our management teams and frontline employees. This is accomplished through site visits, participating in operational reviews, and leveraging technology to stay connected with multiple locations. Being accessible and involved in this way allows me to stay informed about the operational nuances of our business, which is crucial for making informed strategic decisions.

How do you hire and fire, train and retain? When it comes to hiring, we focus on finding individuals who not only have the necessary skills and experience, but also share our company’s values and vision. The hiring process is thorough, involving multiple stages of interviews to assess both technical abilities and cultural fit. We look for candidates who demonstrate a passion for customer service, a willingness to learn, and a positive attitude toward teamwork and growth. We aim to bring people on board who can contribute to our supportive and ambitious culture, driving the company forward.

Termination of employment is always a last resort and is treated with the utmost seriousness and sensitivity. It occurs only after all other options, such as retraining, reassignment, or performance improvement plans, have been exhausted. Our approach is to ensure the process is fair and respectful. We aim to communicate clearly about the reasons behind the decision and support for the individual during the transition.

Training is an ongoing investment in our employees’ growth and the company’s future. We provide comprehensive initial training for all new hires, covering their specific job roles, our company culture, customer service standards, and operational procedures. Beyond this, we offer continuous learning opportunities, including leadership development for potential future managers, specialized skill training, and cross-training to promote flexibility and understanding across different areas of the business.

Retention is key to maintaining a knowledgeable and experienced team. We strive to create a positive work environment where employees feel valued, supported, and part of a community. This includes offering competitive compensation and benefits, opportunities for career advancement, and recognition for hard work and achievements. We also encourage feedback and open communication, allowing employees to voice their ideas, concerns, and suggestions for improvement.


Annual revenue: Estimated $100 million.

Growth meter: How do you measure your growth? One of the primary measures of growth is through our financial performance. This includes looking at revenue growth, profitability, and other key financial metrics, such as EBITDA. Comparing these figures year over year, or against our planned targets, helps us gauge the financial health and growth rate of our business.

For a franchise-based business, the number of new locations you open is a significant growth indicator. It reflects not just your overall expansion, but also the strength and appeal of the brand. Tracking the pace at which new stores are launched, alongside the success and performance of these new outlets, helps measure our growth and market penetration.

Growth is also measured by customer-related metrics, including customer satisfaction scores, repeat business rates, and the acquisition of new customers. Customer feedback tools and data analytics help us understand how well we are meeting customer needs and how effectively we are expanding our customer base.

Vision meter: Where do you want to be in five years? 10 years? In the next five years, I would hope to have opened an additional 100 locations for Marco’s. I think we would also be looking to start with another brand that would complement the Marco’s brand. In 10 years, I would still think we are the largest franchisee for Marco’s Pizza and have potentially become a true multi-brand business with one or two more brands added to our portfolio.

What are you doing to take care of your employees? Employees are the most important part of the business, and we have a bunch of different things we do for them. We have a robust bonus program that is uncapped and pays the store-level leaders and above a percentage of profit. We have access to two different vacation properties for employees who have been with us for a certain amount of time.

What kind of exit strategy do you have in place? We have always been a company that likes to run operating businesses. I do not have an exit strategy at this time.
March 24, 2024