A Franchisee’s Perspective: The Importance of Evolving a Brand
In today’s competitive marketplace, the need to remain relevant is paramount - particularly for quick service and fast-casual restaurants. With elevated technology, a focus on fresh and sustainable ingredients, and changing customer attitudes, franchisees must overcome the fear of change and make an investment in keeping their brands relevant.
We know that a transition can be uncomfortable and exciting at the same time. When we opened our first Schlotzsky’s in 1995, we knew the brand as Schlotzsky’s Deli, famous for large sandwiches on homemade sourdough bread.
Today, Schlotzsky’s Austin Eatery is the result of the company going back to its roots. Sometimes a transformation is as simple as making a few changes, while other times a complete departure is necessary. Taking a comprehensive look at consumer behavior and franchisee feedback when evaluating the complexity of the brand’s evolution will help lead a brand in the proper direction.
However, taking a step back and analyzing all brand feedback is only the beginning of the process and there are many factors to consider when embarking on a brand evolution.
Here are some reasons why every brand should consider a refresh.
Progress with the Times
It’s no big secret that the restaurant industry is changing. The industry as a whole is adapting to a new era of technology, innovation and consumer expectations – including an increasing demand in quality and convenience of their food. Brands must be able to adjust and figure out how to meet and exceed consumer expectations. Embracing off-premises sales, healthier food options, third party delivery, mobile technology and catering are examples of how a brand can remain at the forefront of today’s trends. However, it’s also important that every brand finds its niche. Know who you are and stay focused on the areas where you can differentiate. There’s a lot to consider as the industry continues to evolve, but don’t try to be too many things to too many people.
Customers Lose Interest
Oftentimes, franchisees that are passionate about a particular brand are hesitant to change, afraid that they won’t retain a connection with their loyal, longtime customers. However, the most successful franchisees know the importance of continually moving the brand forward in an effort to propel growth. Evolutions can be challenging, but they are necessary. When a franchisee and franchisor becomes complacent, it can harm their progression. Brands must be real with themselves. If sales are trending downward, foot traffic is slowing and franchisees aren’t signing, then changes are necessary.
Appeal to a New Demographic
Strategic evolutions are opportunities for franchisees to appeal to larger audiences. Consumer attitudes are changing based on generation. Millennials and Gen Zers dine out an average of five times per week and have been some of the biggest drivers of change. Think of an evolution as an opportunity to reimagine the dining experience for your consumers, which could include a new restaurant design, menu, interior build-out and brand message. As the millennial and Gen Z population continues to take over the workforce, brands will notice that these generations will be spending more time in their restaurants. It’s critical to consider transforming aspects of your brand to meet the world’s changing demographics.
Communication is Key
It’s important to communicate with your franchisees when embarking on any sort of change. With evolutions come new menu items, training procedures, brand messaging, apparel and possibly even store remodels. All of these might equate to additional costs and learning processes for your franchisees.
Customers tend to like fresh ideas, so this process can be an easy transition for them, while franchisees will be responsible for implementation. It’s imperative to communicate and gather their feedback before progressing. Be an open book with your franchisees, communicate why the change is to their benefit and listen to their feedback. The response will be gratifying.
As demographics shift, restaurant operators and franchisees will need to stay relevant and learn from the new generation. The focus on fresher ingredients, convenience and higher quality options are trends that are more than likely here to stay. Ultimately, brands that are committed to innovation and customer experience are going to thrive and obtain customer’s loyalty, enabling long-term success. While brands will make the ultimate determination to evolve, it’s up to franchisees to provide the feedback needed to influence that change. Evolutions might seem scary, but they will provide ways for your respective brands to remain relevant and profitable. Encourage the change. You won’t regret it.
Cary and Jacquelyn Albert have been franchisees of Schlotzsky’s since 1994. With 30 locations in operation and an additional 5 more currently under construction or development, the Albert’s and their impressive team (now 800+ strong) believe the sky is the limit with this brand. With stores from Dallas to Austin to San Antonio, and everywhere in between, the Albert’s plan to grow 5 to 7 stores annually for the foreseeable future.