ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Robert Mathis had watched his new teammate on YouTube and couldn’t turn away. He cracked up. By the time defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois arrived in Indianapolis from the San Francisco 49ers in 2013, Mathis knew all about the dance.
Mathis watched it multiple times, the gyrating movement that is Jean Francois’ sack dance, “Peanut Butter Jelly Time,” arms and core muscles moving everywhere in synchronicity. He needed to see it live.
After one training camp practice with the Indianapolis Colts, Mathis called him out. Jean Francois, knowing a team leader and All-Pro was asking, obliged. Jean Francois is on his sixth NFL team in 10 seasons, signing with the Detroit Lions in the offseason. And with him came the sack dance that has followed him, smartly, everywhere.
“He’s a Florida, South Florida guy and so, Peanut Butter Jelly,” Mathis said. “For him to be as big as he is and for him to move that fast, it’s still kind of amazing to me.”
As fun as it may be, it also carries a larger message. It’s something Mathis, a close friend, instilled in Jean Francois early on in Indianapolis.
Market your brand.
Jean Francois didn't know how much Mathis' message would influence his future life -- and his path as an entrepreneur -- during his first year with the Colts as Indianapolis was being blown out by Arizona. Jean Francois had two sacks. Even though convention combined with score would say it wasn’t time to celebrate, Mathis didn’t care. “Peanut Butter Jelly Time,” which Jean Francois does honoring his Miami roots, had to arrive.
“When people say your name, that’s your brand. You are your brand and when you hear people say your name, it’s a brand and you don’t want them to say anything negative about it,” Jean Francois said. “You want them to say a positive, a smart guy, mature. You got to start building your brand, even rookie, from the day you get in.
“And they may do it a little bit different now, but you got to build your brand. Once this logo goes away from your head and that name from your back, what are you now? Now you really are a brand. You don’t work for nobody, you work for yourself, and now you have to pull in your own money so you have to figure out where your brand stands.”
Jean Francois figured out his brand early. Drafted in 2009 by San Francisco in the seventh round out of LSU, he quickly became known for the dance. But he wanted more. As he established himself in the league, he sought out a financial adviser to help manage his money.
Even now, Jean Francois looks around the Lions locker room and if he asks a player about estate planning, he usually doesn’t get an answer. Same with whether they have a will or where their money is invested. It’s why the first meeting he had with financial adviser Sherard Rogers stood out. Before meeting with Rogers, he was the same way. But he asked all those questions in their initial meeting. It stuck.
“It’s funny, because when you ask players that now, like do you have an estate plan, do you have a will? They’ll look at you like a ghost,” Jean Francois said. “For someone to just come up to me and tell me that, that impressed me first. Every other person I talked to before him, they were like, ‘Hey, we can do this for you. We can do that for you. We can give you 100 percent back guaranteed.’
“Then, when I got to him, after I talked to somebody else, I just went after him. Like, went at him in all type of ways, make him do things. Tell me numbers exactly. Tell me how this ran. I thought I was getting underneath his skin.”
He wasn’t. Rogers loved it. This is the type of client he wanted to have. The partnership ended up altering Jean Francois’ life.
Jean Francois had a habit of purposely breaking iPhones at LSU just so he could reassemble them to learn how they worked. He began studying coding and programming. The goal, had the NFL not worked, was Apple.
He interned there during an offseason in San Francisco. He enjoyed it. Still does. But business started to intrigue him as he worked with Rogers, the owner of Strategic Resource Management Group. Hiring Rogers to handle his money, the partnership developed into a years-long learning experience for Jean Francois into the world of franchising.
After researching 100 different franchises, Rogers presented Jean Francois and another client, Los Angeles Rams cornerback Sam Shields, with a possibility due to the present business model and future growth.
It was time to make the donuts. Dunkin’ Donuts (recently rebranded as Dunkin’, because, as Jean Francois knows, branding is everything).
“That franchise, you know how big it’s getting,” Shields said. “All the little towns got them, they’re near schools, they’re near business areas. So it was an opportunity for me and Ricky to take advantage of that.”
When Rogers approached Jean Francois with Dunkin’ while he was in Indianapolis, he began going around the city, visiting Starbucks and other coffee shops to see what they do in comparison to what he saw from Dunkin’. On a visit home to Miami, he passed a lot of Starbucks and Krispy Kreme and “mom-and-pop spots,” but no Dunkin’.
They targeted the Dunkin’-deficient South where they believed was the best opportunity for growth in the franchise. Rogers found partners in existing franchisees Charles Cutler and Michael Ferreira. They included a contractor, Al Scotti, so they could build out new stores. Then it was Rogers, Jean Francois, Shields and, later, another Rogers client, Washington tight end Jordan Reed.
They purchased the rights to territory between Hilton Head, South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia, an initial investment of three stores and the opportunity to build 26. Since 2015, they’ve opened around four per year. So far, Rogers said, nine stores are operational with another four planned for 2019. For some, they lease the land. Others, they own it – an added piece of equity for the long-term future.
“The true wealth is grown in the development phase of it,” Rogers said. “So we wanted to find a territory we could purchase and grow and develop, so that gives you, your asset continues to rise in value but it also gives you mailbox money but thirdly, for me, and most importantly, once my guys retire it gives you benefits, i.e. life insurance, health insurance and those kinds of things.
“So there are several factors of why I chose to do a franchise. It sort of, kind of, took care of guys in their post-career.”
It gave Rogers a chance to teach his clients. Instead of just handling their money, he actively teaches them everything they need to know as a franchise owner. He sits with them and goes through balance sheets, profit-and-loss sheets and what it takes to make deals.
He believes clients should know where every dollar is going and wants to make sure Jean Francois, Shields and others are set up whenever he retires (although Jean Francois laughed at the suggestion Rogers would ever step away). They meet with accountants and legal counsel to understand every aspect of a deal.
The first time Rogers had Jean Francois go through the business side of the Dunkin’ deal, Jean Francois was baffled. In early meetings, when Jean Francois would come to him with a potential deal or something within their Dunkin’ ownership, Rogers and his team would tear apart what he brought to them.
Those meetings became invaluable learning. He took the same approach to building his NFL career to constructing his business one. Observe. Read. Learn. Ask. Talk with whomever he could, including his former boss, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, to seek advice.
“It was Spanish. First few times, it was Spanish,” Jean Francois said. “Now, when I hear it, I can understand it. Now I understand it and I come to the roundtable with all my people, it’s like, ‘I want you to tell me this. I want you to tell me that.’ Once I get the information together, now I’m shooting off questions and going devil’s advocate, going back and forth and all that.”
Last offseason, Jean Francois was now the one analyzing deals. When businesses he declined to name came to him offering opportunity, he would go to Rogers and his team with his own thoughts and deconstructions of the deal. He called the CPAs and legal counsel, pointing out all the potential pitfalls.
Rogers beamed. Once the “bad guy” in meetings with Jean Francois, he now passed it on.
“He turned into the bad guy, which made me extremely proud,” Rogers said.
Jean Francois said the people on the other side of the table still think it’s just him parroting Rogers’ thoughts. It’s not. It’s all what he learned along the way. He’ll laugh when he thinks that’s happening, because they haven’t seen the work he’s put in behind it. Or that he’s sitting there face-to-face with a potential business partner because he can read more from body language or facial expressions as he talks than he can in almost any phone conversation about whether his message is resonating or if the deal would be a good fit.
He’s not done, either. Jean Francois has ventured into real estate and speaking engagements. Dunkin’ is still there – he often spies his current bosses, former New Englanders Matt Patricia and Bob Quinn, with Dunkin’. This coming offseason will consist of Jean Francois joining Rogers and other partners in touring their Dunkin’ properties. Jean Francois is excited about this. He never has studied Dunkin’ stores from the inside, concentrating first on the numbers.
This is a new opportunity to learn, pick up more skills and perhaps inspire some of his 500-plus employees. There’s a longer-term goal, too. Rogers said he wouldn’t mind Jean Francois one day taking over for him.
“We have had that conversation multiple times. He would like for me to take over but the only way that’s going to happen, I would have to leave the game alone and really dig into it,” Jean Francois said. “I feel like I’m 35 percent into it but I think whenever that time is, whenever I walk away from it, that’s when I’ll drop the rest and go full.”
Jean Francois isn’t quite ready yet. He has made it 10 years in the NFL as a seventh-round pick. He’s elevating in business, too, learning and mastering negotiations and dealings. Including when to celebrate. When a deal goes final and he walks out of the room, he smiles. As soon as the door clicks, he goes back to his personal brand.
It’s Peanut Butter Jelly Time.
“You know like in the movies, how just when the door closes,” Jean Francois said. “Right then, as soon as the door is shut, the dance is started. Then you got to get yourself back straight.
“Like, ‘OK.’ And keep walking.”
ESPN Rams reporter Lindsey Thiry contributed to this story.