Business

WSU class guides restaurateur

Gary Poulton never thought there would be a "next level" for his Hog Wild Pit Bar-B-Q restaurant concept.

Twelve years after the first one opened in Hutchinson, Poulton's looking for the best way to expand his $10 million company. The search led him to a Wichita State University entrepreneurship class.

"I was looking for a way to take the business to the next level and what the next level is," said Poulton, a 20-year veteran of the now-defunct Stoico Restaurant Group.

So he enrolled in FastTrac GrowthVenture, a Wichita State entrepreneurship class with Don Hackett that examines business growth ideas.

"I ended up coming out of there with several," Poulton said.

The biggest is the search for a partner to build "expansion infrastructure" for the business, Poulton said. His three-person corporate office can't handle much more growth beyond the company's six locations, four in Wichita, one in Hutchinson and its month-old Salina restaurant.

"The way we're set up at the corporate level, we cannot do much more than this with the infrastructure we've got," Poulton said. "So FastTrac opened my eyes to the fact that I've got the wrong infrastructure in place to build to 30 stores, 40 stores, 50 stores."

Franchising, a specialty of WSU's Center for Entrepreneurship, is "an option," Poulton said.

"But I realized particularly in the FastTrac class that I'm not the guy to do that," he said, laughing . "I don't have the patience to convince people to do what's good for them.

"We've got our eye on finding a restaurant company that has a strong desire to grow a concept and take them on as a partner. It doesn't mean I have to have the biggest piece of it, but resources, money, people — we'd want to be a part of it."

Heady stuff for a business that got a simple start in 1998 in Hutchinson.

"I only intended to have one restaurant in the beginning, and it was a lot of work," Poulton said.

FastTrac is divided into two specialty areas, NewVenture and GrowthVenture, said Tim Pett, director of the school's Center for Entrepreneurship.

NewVenture targets information to develop strong entrepreneurial skills and a business foundation. GrowthVenture focuses on improving business performance.

The program started in 1986 at the University of Southern California and has been tested and refined in classes held in 31 states.

It combines classroom instruction, one-on-one coaching, guest speakers, hands-on projects and comprehensive course workbooks.

FastTrac's spring session begins March 2 at WSU. For more information, go to www.wichita.edu/FastTrac or call 316-978-3000.

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