When the U.S. Congress, the White House, the Pentagon, and the State Department are burning the midnight oil, there's no doubt that the pressure's cooking as well at Domino's Pizza Team Washington. The franchise, which was launched in 1983, has delivered pizzas through the administrations of three presidents and a host of government crises, from the Gulf War to the impeachment trial.

President Frank Meeks has seen his franchise grow during the past 16 years from one store to 58 in the District of Columbia area, with a team of 1,700 people. He's also built something just as strong--a culture of motivation in one of the lowest-paid industries around. He's always looking for new ways to reward his people, everything from "Customer Service Hero" buttons, which are awarded to people who go beyond the call of duty, to a franchise-wide pep rally he holds once a year, to shopping sprees, trips, even cars.

"There is probably not a boss in any business in the world who does not understand that the customer is the one boss we all work for," says Meeks. "The challenge is to get the people who are actually serving the customer to understand that. For me, it works well to provide incentives. The way you treat your employees is the way they are going to treat your customers."

Meeks knows just what it's like being one of those employees, having spent his early days delivering pizzas for Domino's Pizza in Biloxi, Miss. After graduating from the University of Southern Mississippi with majors in political science and English, he aspired to be a lawyer. To put himself through school, he began delivering pizza with a borrowed car in September 1979 and by February 1980, he had advanced to the management trainee program. Before long, he was a store manager and decided to put his law career on hold because he enjoyed what he was doing.

Menu of Incentives Incentives have been crucial to Meeks' business since he got that first store off the ground. "We told the store if employees set a certain sales record and met that sales goal, we would take everyone on a shopping spree to Foot Locker," he recalls. That was in 1983. The idea has since evolved into a shopping spree incentive, where employees gather at a nearby mall in uniform, each with $100 and 30 minutes to spend it. "The goals are pretty tough and not easily attainable," he says. "And the only way a store can reach its goal is if everyone in the store is working toward it."

Incentive programs target every level of employee, from managers to pizza makers, from counter people to delivery people. Meek recently took the managers of his top-performing stores on a ski trip to Aspen, Colo. "Some programs just developed over the years," he says. "And for others, I have just come up with ideas." Meeks does all the planning himself, with help from his office staff, since there is no in-house incentive department.

Meeks' favorite contest is the annual search for the world's fastest pizzamaker. It culminates every year in a championship held at Domino's company-wide conference. "Every one of my stores has a fastest pizzamaker contest, with a prize, then we have a quarterly contest in my franchise, and the winner gets $1,000. If they go on to win the world championship, Domino's Pizza gives them $10,000 cash and I buy them a new car." Meeks' employees have won the title for nine years out of the 14 that the contest has been held.

Tracking the Results These programs and contests have helped Meeks become Domino's most successful franchisee--he owns 10 of the top 20 stores in the world. He also believes that incentive programs make a difference when it comes to retention. "In the early 1990s, I had unemployed computer programmers working for me. Today, we have four percent unemployment.

"It's the same for everybody," he continues. "How do you keep good people in an industry that faces constant turnover challenges? My answer is that you have got to be different. You have to give something back to the employee.

"Too few businesses do that," he concludes. "It's a challenge to determine how much of your budget you will dedicate to incentives versus marketing. Many of our competitors have put all their money in marketing. In our case, incentives have given us the results."