Franchisors Go Incognito on the Reality TV Show Undercover Boss

Franchisors Go Incognito on the Reality TV Show Undercover Boss

In Disguise, These Franchise Executives Put Themselves Out There to Improve Their Businesses

If you could see how your business operates while also concealing your identity, would you? Executives from big companies have done just that on the hit reality TV show Undercover Boss. Launched in 2010, the show features leaders in senior management roles who go undercover as frontline employees. The goal is to see if there are any issues within the system and get a new perspective.   

Franchisors from all different industries have tried their hand on Undercover Boss and learned what it was like to walk in the shoes of their employees. This new viewpoint gave them awareness about different issues throughout their franchise systems. Not only were their disguises fun and their efforts eye-opening, but their brands benefited from the publicity of being featured on a popular show. An added benefit: It also showed leadership in a more human, vulnerable light. After all, empathy and authenticity are traits every leader should have.

Here is a look at some amazing franchise leaders who put themselves out there by donning wigs, fake mustaches and more to better their brands. 

7-Eleven

Air date: February 21, 2010
Undercover Boss: President and CEO Joseph DePinto
Lesson(s) Learned: While incognito, DePinto saw firsthand that a corporate policy wasn’t being implemented. He also has an eye-opening experience with a delivery driver.  
Notable Outcome: After finding out one of his most loyal employees needs a kidney transplant, DePinto established a donor awareness program. The employee, Dolores Bisagni, even appeared in a 7-Eleven campaign promoting organ donation. 

AdvantaClean

Air date: January 11, 2017
Undercover Boss: Former CEO and Founder Jeff Dudan
Lesson(s) Learned: He learned that he doesn’t enjoy working with tools.
Fun Fact: Dudan gets his hands dirty by tackling mold in a water-damaged kitchen and a crawl space underneath a customer’s house. 

Anytime Fitness

Air date: January 15, 2020
Undercover Boss: President Stacy Anderson
Lesson(s) Learned: She saw that people are the most important part of the Anytime Fitness brand.
Notable Outcome: While posing as a personal trainer, Anderson experienced firsthand how important the fitness brand is for seniors looking to stay active. 

Baja Fresh

Air date: April 10, 2011
Undercover Boss: CEO David Kim
Lesson(s) Learned: Seeing firsthand how franchisees can struggle without enough staff, Kim learned that franchise owners need more support. 
Notable Outcome: Kim was so impressed with employee Jose Manzanarez that he gave him a franchise location at no charge. 

BrightStar Care

Air date: April 17, 2011
Undercover Boss: Co-founder and CEO Shelly Sun
Lesson(s) Learned: She experienced firsthand how gratifying and fulfilling caring for senior patients can be.  
Notable Outcome: Sun gave a single mom a franchise of her own after being so impressed with her work ethic and dedication. 

Budget Blinds

Air date: April 13, 2012
Undercover Boss: CEO and co-founder Chad Hallock
Lesson(s) Learned: Hallock got to walk in the shoes of an employee and understand the monotony of the work. He also learned employees needed more recognition for doing a good job.
Fun Fact: This episode took a comical turn when an employee flirted with Hallock while he was undercover. 

Choice Hotels

Air date: September 26, 2010
Undercover Boss: Former President and CEO Steve Joyce
Lesson(s) Learned: After disguising himself as a frontline employee, he recognizes the enormous workload employees handle. 
Notable Outcome: Inspired by an employee’s dedication to putting his son through college, Joyce offered the son a scholarship. 

Cinnabon

Air date: November 16, 2012
Undercover Boss: Former President Kat Cole
Lesson(s) Learned: She got a newfound appreciation for how Cinnabon’s frontline workers’ jobs can be.  
Fun Fact: She wore a blonde wig as part of her transformation while going undercover. According to Nation’s Restaurant News, Cole bleached the bottom part of her hair at the neckline because it was sticking out.

College HUNKS Hauling Junk & Moving

Air date: January 7, 2022
Undercover Bosses: Co-founders Omar Soliman and Nick Friedman
Lesson(s) Learned: They learned just how diverse the people who work for their company are.
Notable Outcome: Soliman and Friedman made a female employee the Supervisor of the Junk Removal Team and the brand ambassador for the organization’s Sustainability Development Program, according to meaww.com.

Donatos Pizza

Air date: October 11, 2013
Undercover Boss: Jane Grote Abell, daughter of the pizza franchise’s founder, Jim Grote 
Lesson(s) Learned: She saw firsthand that her dad’s business consists of great people who treat each other like family. 
Fun Fact: Her transformation was quite extensive. She wore a black wig, nose ring, tattoos, brown contact lenses, and gauge earrings. 

FASTSIGNS

Air date: May 4, 2012
Undercover Boss: CEO and President Catherine Monson
Lesson(s) Learned: While working undercover at the popular signage franchise, she saw the shortcomings with the company’s marketing materials, website and training program, according to Signs of the Times. She also gifted life-changing gifts to those featured on the episode including a college fund, a vacation and money for housing and medical bills. 
Notable Outcome: To help an employee avoid eviction, Monson gave him $50,000. She also gave him a new car and an all-expense paid trip to corporate headquarters to learn the tricks of the trade.

Fatburger

Air date: April 5, 2013
Undercover Boss: CEO Andy Wiederhorn
Lesson(s) Learned: He discovers just how much of an issue health insurance is for business owners and their employees. 
Notable Outcome: According to HuffPost, Wiederhorn gives a shift leader $15,000 to cover rent for a year, $10,000 to buy a new car and $15,000 to hire a financial adviser. 

Hooters

Air date: February 14, 2010
Undercover Boss: Former CEO and President Coby Brooks
Lesson(s) Learned: Brooks saw firsthand how a franchise owner wasn’t properly representing the brand. He also learned that the franchisor left uncertainty about how discounts and other aspects of the business should be handled. 
Fun Fact or Notable Outcome: Brooks struggles to keep up with the fast pace of the restaurant franchise and takes immediate action when a manager steps out of line with employees. He also gives a deserving manager a dream vacation of her choice. 

Johnny Rockets

Air date: December 12, 2010
Undercover Boss: Former President and CEO John Fuller
Lesson(s) Learned: He discovers that he has a lot more in common with employees than he previously thought. 
Notable Outcome: Working in a restaurant for the first time, Fuller fails his first taste test when tasked with preparing one of the fast-food company’s hamburgers and almost blows his cover. He also provided a working mom with a college fund for her kids.

Marco’s Pizza

Air date: January 29, 2016
Undercover Boss: Former President and COO Bryon Stephens
Lesson(s) Learned: He learned the importance of franchisee and employee input for business success. 
Notable Outcome: Following the filming and airing of the episode, Stephens instituted a requirement that all corporate office staff work at least one day a year at a Marco’s store to keep in touch with frontline employees, according to PizzaMarketplace.com. A young manager was also given $20,000 and a franchise location. 

Massage Heights

Air date: December 13, 2013
Undercover Boss: Former COO and co-founder Shane Evans
Lesson(s) Learned: After meeting with employees at the massage franchise, Evans learned that they love their work but have personal hardships outside of work. They also would like to have more input into how the company operates.
Notable Outcome: The Massage Heights Family Fund was formed after Evans’ sleuthing, according to San Antonio Woman

Menchie’s

Air date: October 25, 2013
Undercover Boss: CEO and co-owner Amit Kleinberger
Lesson(s) Learned: While incognito, he got firsthand experience doing everything from shift lead positions, team leader, and lead herdsman. He now understands just how much work goes into making the business work.
Notable Outcome: According to The Prospector, Kleinberger rewarded a passionate employee, Jennifer Lutz, with $25,000 to be used towards her education, along with a letter of recommendation that helped her get transferred to a Dallas area store. She and her family were also given a trip to Disneyland.

Painting with a Twist

Air date: January 4, 2017
Undercover Boss: Co-founder and CFO Renee Maloney
Lesson(s) Learned: By meeting the people who make the painting franchise work, Maloney has a better understanding of their dedication and hardships outside of the job.
Notable Outcome: According to a summary of the episode by Us Weekly, Maloney gifted Bree, a manager-in-training from Rockwall, Texas, a franchise of her own and $20,000 for expenses.  

Philly Pretzel Factory

Air date: April 27, 2012
Undercover Boss: CEO and Co-Founder Dan DiZio 
Lesson(s) Learned: After emotional encounters with employees and business owners, his eyes are opened to how much they have to hustle to support themselves. 
Notable Outcome: At the end of the episode, DiZio sends a franchisee and his wife on a vacation and vows to pay the rent for the store for a year. To help with marketing, the entrepreneur got a new delivery van with Philly Pretzel Factory branding. 

Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen

Air date: March 2, 2012
Undercover Boss: Former Chief Talent Officer Lynne Zappone
Lesson(s) Learned: While working undercover at Popeyes, Zappone got a better understanding of the plight of everyday frontline workers at the popular fast-food chain. She was disappointed to see that employees at a location didn’t get a discount on food.
Notable Outcome: Impressed by an employee’s hard work and dedication, Zappone sets up a scholarship program for him to cover up to $20,000 for college tuition, and he’s also gifted an additional $10,000 for a new car and/or living expenses.

Restoration 1

Air date: March 11, 2022
Undercover Boss: CEO Gary Findley
Lesson(s) Learned: While undercover at the restoration franchise, he got a deeper appreciation for the hard work that frontline workers do daily.
Fun Fact: Findley disguised himself with a mullet wig and glasses.

Rita’s Ice

Air date: January 28, 2022
Undercover Boss: President and CEO Linda Chadwick
Lesson(s) Learned: Chadwick decided to appear on the show to see how the ice cream franchise’s initiatives were working and to help franchise owners become more profitable. She noted that a “rogue” franchise owner who wasn’t following policy drive-through and headsets had issues that needed to be solved. 
Fun Fact: Chadwick’s alter ego’s name was Marcy Morgan

Round Table Pizza

Air date: February 25, 2022
Undercover Boss: Former President and CEO Paul Damico
Lesson(s) Learned: By hiding his true identity, Damico gleaned strategies to effectively expand the West Coast pizza franchise and attract a younger clientele.
Fun Fact: This marked Damico’s third time on the show.

Sky Zone

Air date: March 14, 2014
Undercover Boss: Former CEO and President Jeff Platt
Lesson(s) Learned: He took away a lot of pride in the business after his time incognito. 
Fun Fact: Platt visited a location in Westborough, Mass., and referees a kids dodgeball game. An employee also discovers Platt’s true identity before it’s revealed, and Platt gives him money to become a franchisee. 

Smoothie King

Air date: October 23, 2020
Undercover Boss: CEO Wan Kim 
Lesson(s) Learned: During his time undercover, Wan learned that it’s important to communicate with franchise owners earlier and more clearly when introducing new products as well as ensuring locations are properly staffed.
Fun Fact: Wan is the smoothie franchise’s first international master franchisee in South Korea.  

Subway

Air date: November 21, 2010
Undercover Boss: Former CDO Don Fertman
Lesson(s) Learned: He worked for Subway for nearly 30 years at that point and never made a sandwich! He struggled greatly and was given a tough time for being too slow at making the sandwiches. 
Fun Fact: Fertman gifted $5,000 to a passionate employee to make a customer service video and allowed her to go on a shopping spree. Subway founder Fred DeLuca approached Fertman to do the show and didn’t do it himself because he’s too recognizable. 

The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf

Air date: January 18, 2017
Undercover Boss: President and CEO John Fuller
Lesson(s) Learned: He was disappointed to see that the company doesn’t put people first like it should. 
Notable Outcome: To fix this problem, Fuller rewards several employees in ways that drastically improve their lives including money for medical bills, a new car, and a transfer to a location closer to home, according to Us Weekly’s summary of the episode. One of the employees even recognized Fuller before he revealed his identity.  

The Vitamin Shoppe

Air date: January 21, 2022
Undercover Boss: CEO Sharon Leite
Lesson(s) Learned: By going undercover, Leite learned new ways to achieve added growth. Additionally, she got a firsthand look at how her new operational changes and innovations impact the frontlines of the business.
Notable Outcome: Following the episode’s filming, the company made investments in product education, a new mobile checkout system, inventory management, and the launch of The Vitamin Shoppe Cares Foundation, a peer-supported employee assistance fund.

Twin Peaks

Air date: September 27, 2013
Undercover Boss: Co-founder and former CEO Randy DeWitt
Lesson(s) Learned: While undercover, he noticed that the back-of-house staff wasn’t getting as much attention as they should have. 
Fun Fact or Notable Outcome: According to The Dallas Morning News, DeWitt and the team evaluated internal processes and procedures and examined kitchen layouts to ensure that staff members have enough space. 

Wienerschnitzel

Air Date: May 22, 2016
Undercover Boss: CEO and Chairperson Cynthia Galardi-Culpepper
Lesson(s) Learned: She learns that pulling her weight at one of the hot dog franchise’s locations isn’t easy. She admitted that she wouldn’t do well as a frontline employee! 
Fun Fact: This was the Undercover Boss’ 100th episode.

Previous ArticleNext Article
Haley Cafarella is a passionate journalist and writer for IFPG. In her role as content and marketing specialist, she creates original articles for FranchiseWire and Franchise Consultant Magazine. Her specialties include educational articles about buying a franchise and franchise consulting. She also reports on franchise professionals who were recently promoted or hired through FranchiseWire’s popular HireWire series.

Haley has contributed to a variety of regional publications, including Quo Vadis, New Brunswick Today, and the Trenton Monitor. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Rutgers University.
Send this to a friend