Excellent article by Jonathan Maze from Nation's Restaurant News on how consumers are making their restaurant choices today and opportunities for chains including a few thoughts our CEO Tim Hackbardt shared with him.  Click Here To Read Article >>

How To Turn Restaurants Around PART 1: "Exponential" Leaps Through New Revenue Channels

Part 1 of BrandTrip Partners Restaurant Chain Turnaround Series

P1 Update.png

2016 has turned ugly for a large number of restaurant chains with dramatic sales declines, store closures, rising bankruptcies, and the eventual rotation of the C-suite.  Unfortunately, it appears that this pattern in the restaurant industry will not end in the near future.

In this first installment of a series exploring turnaround strategies, we will review examples of the most dramatic way to increase sales at your restaurant chain.  The ability to develop a successful strategy to add additional revenue channels can drive the business far above any other program.

Are You Mathematically Wasting Your Time?

Often, when we are working on restaurant chain turnarounds, we run into brands stuck inside their own box.  They have tried various initiatives within the confines of their current business model with little or no success.  These programs are usually targeted at an already successful daypart with heavy transaction counts.  This strategy automatically creates a barrier to success due to challenges around the ability to serve more orders through the current service model and physical plant during that time frame.  Examples include:

A casual dining brand with lines out the door at dinner tweaking their top selling pizza.

A fast casual brand packed at lunch adding a new cheese to the assembly line of their create your own burrito concept.

A quick service coffee brand that can hardly keep up with orders in the morning offering new single origin Hawaiian beans.

Yes, product quality and innovation are important.  In fact, at times they can actually be revolutionary which we will cover in a future installment of turnaround solutions.  However, will it get you a 10% or 20% leap in sales? 

If your brand is at capacity in the daypart you have targeted with product/menu initiatives, it will be mathematically challenging to make that leap.  If you are able to achieve increased consumer visits at that level, it could produce an opposite financial effect in the months to come unless you have also addressed your throughput issue with some sort of technology, equipment or service innovation.  Long waits for tables and food can easily turn guests away never to return.

Focus On Sustainable "Exponential" Value

Leadership at restaurant brands need to ask themselves if these kinds of time and resource consuming initiatives will really create exponential value for your brand?  Will they significantly increase sustainable transactions and sales?  Will they attract new investors/franchisees to help accelerate brand expansion?  Or, are these programs going to produce down, flat, single digit incrementality or short term false positives through discounting and limited time offers.  The “Limited” in Limited Time Offers is generally self defining from the start.  Should your team be focused on creating “limited” results, or sustainable exponential brand value?

One of the opportunities we look for when we receive an assignment to help craft restaurant chain turnarounds is revenue channel expansion.  We look outside their current business model to find new sales streams that will significantly improve the brand from a continuous sales, transaction share, brand awareness and unit growth perspective.  When you can successfully execute a disruption to your current structure that delivers all four, you are able to grow the value of the brand with exponentially accelerated results, significantly improving the overall valuation of your enterprise with long term sustainable growth.

CH ext.jpg


How Coopers Hawk broke the classic restaurant business model

One of our favorite industry examples of a brand that turned the model upside down is Cooper's Hawk Winery & Restaurants.  The traditional restaurants in their category like McCormick & Schmicks, Il Forniao, Del Frisco’s Grille and Brio Tuscan Grille all have their positives and unique menus, but all follow relatively the same model.  Dinner is where they make their volume, the bar is an important contributor to profit, happy hour gets in those who can’t regularly afford the main menu, and private events are critical to make their year.  With the right location, lunch can be a strong contributor and about half offer catering.  Strip away the style of cuisine, service, and ambience and you will find that the raw revenue streams inside their business models are very similar sans those who cater.

Cooper's Hawk broke this category mold, stepped on what was left, and then drove over the remaining shards with a truck.  Here's how their model differs:

Proprietary Wine – The only wine you can purchase at the 24 Cooper's Hawk locations is….Cooper's Hawk wine.  Think brewpub on upscale steroids with wine.  Over 300,000 cases of wine was projected to be produced in 2015 by Cooper's Hawk to support the 24 restaurants and other channels of distribution.  Every penny of wine sales in the restaurant goes to Cooper's Hawk.  Not to Gallo, Constellation, Trinchero or any other wine conglomerate.  Granted, running your own winery is not as easy, or inexpensive as it looks on a strategy deck.  However, they have figured it out giving them a proprietary beverage menu that makes the brand a destination.  The wine is also not subject to commoditization or pricing pressures often experienced by operators featuring popular branded retail wines.

Napa Style Tasting Room & Retail Outlet – A business inside a business, the Cooper's Hawk tasting rooms offers just that…a taste of Cooper's Hawk.  Each Cooper's Hawk has a separate tasting room available to anyone of legal drinking age at any time during business hours.  They have created a way for consumers to frequently sample a taste of what the brand has to offer in an affordable manner as opposed to limiting guest brand interaction to only the typical infrequent full sit down experience.  Starting at just $7 for eight pours, happy hour is basically all day long and a unique experience you can’t find anywhere else in the category.  You can also purchase wine and wine supplies from the tasting room and take the experience/brand home.

Wine Club – Cooper's Hawk has one of the largest wine clubs in the country sending out monthly shipments of their proprietary vintages, varietals and blends to over 200,000 members.  This is very significant.  What other restaurant chain has guests paying them to send a reminder of the brand experience to their home every single month and drinking it?  The revenue flow is game changing and the brand awareness value is priceless.

Wine Gift Sets – Talk about exponential, they went beyond the stale gift card and created gift sets for both individuals and even a corporate gift section leveraging their massive wine club list.  Again, an exceptional way to create a non-traditional restaurant revenue stream from guests across the country.  Few other restaurant chains are lucky enough to have their consumer base pay to broaden the awareness of their core menu offering.

jj bag.jpg


Jimmy John's delivers higher average unit volumes through doing what others won't exceptionally well

Jimmy John's is another great example.  Let’s just list them:  Subway, Firehouse Subs, Quiznos, and Jersey Mike's.  They are all Jimmy John's competitors and none of them have delivery let alone the “Freaky Fast” delivery that baffles the minds of most operations executives trying to figure out how they do it that fast. It is simply freakin' amazing.

Jimmy John's results are in the numbers.  According to Nation's Restaurant News 2016 Top 200 Report, the average volume for a Jimmy John's is $875,700 which is more than double the $425,000 average unit volume for the big national competitor Subway.  Even their strong, but not as geographically saturated, competitors Firehouse Subs and Jersey Mike's have over 20% less volume at $717,000 and $709,000 respectfully according to the same report.  Quiznos trails all with only a $308,000 average unit volume and little to help it climb up to the others as it doesn’t even have online ordering at all their locations let alone a slick mobile ordering app and delivery system like Jimmy John's.

The bottom line:  Jimmy John's is single additional revenue channel has provided them with a superior business model that drives best-in-class revenue.

rw cof.jpg


Rowster Coffee micro roasts a host of quality sales channels

On a smaller scale is a local coffee brand in Grand Rapids, Michigan that is showing big brands how it can be done.  Rowster is a one location brand on Wealthy Street.  Make no mistake, IT IS a brand.  When you enter Rowster, you have entered a serious coffee zen zone.  The roaster is right in front of you and there are sacks of beans by the back door.  It’s that fresh.  See previous BTP article on Rowster:  The Starbucks Killer?  Real Coffee Cred?

What Rowster has done to innovate beyond the average coffee house is to make their brand accessible through other channels, get paid for it, and reap the rewards from the expanded brand awareness through the consumer base of their partners.  They have a thriving wholesale business to local restaurants, cafes, businesses, and yes…breweries.  Elk Brewing thought so much of Rowster Coffee, that they now brew barrels of Rowster Coffee Porter year-round.  How cool is that for a coffee brand?  Take note big bean guys.  Is there a Starbucks Ballast Point Stout in the future?  Tully’s Rogue Brown Ale? Deschutes Peet's Moss Porter?

Exponential Channeling

One of the reasons you don't see brands changing their business model is their view of risk.  Adding new revenue channels is not usually easy.  It takes hard work by a team of individuals that are not distracted by the day to day current business conditions.  It also generally takes financial investment to change a business model which raises the risk in the eyes of conservative ownership. 

The question brand leadership needs to ask is "What happens if we keep doing the same thing?"  If the answer is "nothing", and your brand is perishing, then your risk has been lowered substantially.  Even if your brand is thriving, opening up new revenue channels has the opportunity to exponentially accelerate your success before another brand steps in and takes what you have away from you.


Additional articles in the BrandTrip Partners "How To Turn Restaurants Around" series that you might enjoy can be found below:

BrandTrip CEO Completes France Cycling Challenge With Big Numbers Despite Weather Setback

BrandTrip Partners CEO Tim Hackbardt finished his goal to climb 10 of the most famous Tour de France mountains in eight days with a little improvisation. 

On July 31st, as he was beginning to ascend the final switchbacks on Col du Galibier, three consecutive thunder/lightening storms took him off the road scrambling for shelter as described in his blog entry Epic Turns Ugly & Sheep Attack.  Due to the dangerous weather conditions, he was not able to complete the climb.

However, to keep his promise of 10 big mountain ascents he dug deep and went big for a "make-up" climb.  On his last day, he attacked the famous 21 switchbacks of Alpe d'Huez and did a double for a total of 50 miles, 9,306 feet of climbing and 42 switchbacks on the iconic mountain.

Final totals for training and the challenge trip are as follows:

Star Wars Fast Food Empire TV Ad Attack - Flashback Friday From 1999

Star Wars The Force Awakens opens in theaters throughout the galaxy today as most socially conscious Earthlings know.  Here is a fun 1999 Flashback Friday direct Death Star hit on Taco Bell attacking their strategy of using movie promotions (Godzilla and Star Wars Episode 1) to drive transactions rather than good food.  Our founder Tim was head of marketing for Taco Time back then and received Best Television Campaign of the year from Nation's Restaurant News for this series of compare and contrast "challenger" commercials.  Remember, this was 1999 people so please excuse the VHS footage!

The Starbucks Killer? - Real Coffee Cred?

-The 1st Blog Entry In Our Grand Rapids, Michigan Emerging Concept Tour Series

No, for a change, we weren't on a project researching coffee.  We weren't looking for inspiration or the next flavor trend.  All we wanted was a cup of coffee and some wi-fi just like any other day on the road.  We weren't trying, but they found us at Rowster Coffee in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  

It was another example of an accidental discovery thanks to our friend Google Maps.  Speak into the phone and say "Coffee Shop".  Look for something not a chain and not too far away.  Hit navigate and see what happens.  That's how we got to Rowster Coffee.

The hardest part about getting to this mecca for roasted bean purists was entering through the back door and having to walk over and around burlap sacks of beans.  No, these were not a few sacrificial sacks of product for show like the potatoes at Five Guys.  They were what you were going to drink.  It was the first sign that this place was far from your typical chain with the proverbial brand word wall mandated by the interior design team.  No baked goods or retail shelves trying to sell you everything but exceptional coffee either. 

The second sign was just as obvious as we quickly scanned the patrons.  Hipsters, millennials, Mac toting creatives and foodies like us savoring and appreciating the artistry that was magically produced the same day (in some cases a few minutes ago) from the roaster just a few feet from them on the other side of the counter.  Forget that half of the clientele clearly just woke up (it was 2:00 in the afternoon) and showering was obviously the second step of their daily rising routine; these were people in-the-know.  These were people who could appreciate a $5.00 cup of coffee and were happily walking out with a pound of Costa Rican sun dried beans for the low, low price of $20.00.  

Was the coffee exceptional?  Yes.  It should have been.  Freshly roasted in that little hyper-over designed and engineered Italian looking machine with the round duct work coming out of it.  Our coffee god took literally five minutes to make it as he did the pour-over-the-grounds-thing and sat there with a timer in his hand to make sure it steeped for the exact amount of time.  Not kidding, he stood there next to the coffee staring at it with his timer in hand.  His care was not altered by pesky customers wanting to place their order or waiting orders either.  One cup at a time at Rowster.  One perfect cup at a time.

Did we walk out with a pound of it?  Yes.  It was crazy good.  We also watched local restaurants show up for their 5 pound orders one after the other too.  This, of course, pulled the chain on the light bulbs in our heads connected to our restaurant concept revenue calculators.  There were more streams of beans to count than the ones waking up our unshaven friends in flip flops surfing the internet and likely taking up space at the counter for some time to come that afternoon.

Is this the wave of the future to differentiate against the coffee chains?  We have since found more of these purists beginning to brew some expansion past one or two locations.  Is it a trend?  Is it sustainable?  Can it scale?  We would love to know your caffeine induced thoughts.

Your Next Beer Tasting Trip - The Hops Highway

Located in San Diego, we are in the epicenter of the craft brewing explosion.  In fact, there are more craft breweries in San Diego than there are McDonald's locations.  Little did we know that now one of our main corridors has been named "The Hops Highway"!  For you, if you are a craft beer fan, this may seriously be on the bucket list for your next vacation.  For our clients, this makes it easy for us to experience the craft beer trends as they happen in real time and help them time strategic beverage decisions appropriately for their brand.

The Hops Higway has 39 breweries located next to the 78 highway corridor.  The selection of breweries has it all including the small guys with one roll up door like On The Tracks Brewery to the category killer Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens and local favorite Belching Beaver Brewery where you can find everything from sours to stouts.  We know, because we have.  We haven't hit all 39, but we are working on it pint by pint and taster by taster.  

Make sure you call us if you are headed out our way to our highway of suds and growlers.

Chaos Killing Project Management App - BTP Tech Tuesday

We are currently using this platform to design, and launch, a new restaurant concept for a multi-brand restaurant company.  We have also used it to help develop a new technology infrastructure for another of our clients.  Two very complex projects that involve every department in these respective organizations.  They are the type of projects that would normally create the need for caution tape around an office space of the lucky person who was chosen/volunteered to "own" them.  However, thanks to, our readiness continues to be held at a calming DEFCON 5.  

You have experienced the headaches.  Hunting through emails to find correspondence from multiple people, trying to find previous versions of files and attempting to understand where the organization is currently on the timeline are all issues when managing a complex project.  This creates a lot of project chaos, way too much for you to remember and the ole' spreadsheet tracking isn't cutting it anymore.  The result:  Loss of sleep, increased use of coffee/energy drinks and friends/family finding ways to avoid the cranky sleep deprived person mumbling to themselves.  

A number of years ago, we discovered a life-changing project management tool called Basecamp solving many of these same issues that made us less socially acceptable during daylight hours.  Primarily used at advertising agencies, this online portal was revolutionary in keeping the project, and all communications, in one place.  No more hunting for emails and files.  Simply log in, open the project and everything is there.  Plus, you can archive it.  However, what about that timeline?  How do you keep everyone on track? is our new friend.  It does all of what Basecamp does and more.  Set up automatic reminders for each individual participant to help them know their stage of the project is coming due (or overdue) without you having to remember.  Set up tasks and milestones.  Attribute them specifically to team members who own them.  And, our favorite, flow this all out into a Gantt chart showing how the project looks over time and where it is today.

Keg-O-Kalamata Olives Arrives

Kalamata olives must be trending hotter than we thought.  We were working in the test kitchen on some new products and a keg of them showed up!  This is a seriously large, and fairly indestructible, keg of olives folks.  If this is where the trend is going, we need to buy some Kalamata olive futures!

Your Next Wine Tasting Trip - 33 Wineries & No Driving

If you are looking for a great wine experience, and don't want to have to worry about transportation, look no further than the small California town of Los Olivos.  

On a recent wine exploration trip to the Central Coast, we stopped in Los Olivos for a bite to eat and a sip of some Sauvingon Blanc on a hot summer day.  We landed at Malibu Wines where we conveniently found a gourmet food truck outside who promptly delivered to us an amazing tri-tip steak salad with goat cheese and grilled romaine lettuce.  

This is the type of experience you can find throughout this small town packed full of wine tasting rooms.  In no less than two to three blocks in any direction, you will find 33 wineries represented!  Yes, 33 wineries!  If you can drink wine and walk, this is your town.  There is only one hotel, The Fess Parker Inn, but look on AirBNB for more options and a truly convenient walking wine tasting tour.

Meat-O-Clock In Austin

The year was 2013.  It was August in Texas.  We landed in Austin early with six hours before we had to meet with a potential client.  It was noon.  Which, for us, also means Meat-O-Clock!  We opened Google Maps and simply searched "Austin BBQ Brisket".  We blindly selected the first place that had 4 or more stars, launched the navigation and followed the directions of our female sounding digital guide to what we hoped would be smoky BBQ heaven.  

From the airport to a locale near downtown, next to an old neighborhood that is now probably taken over by Austin hipsters, we parked behind what appeared to be homemade trailers of sorts.  As we walked by them the picture became more clear.  They were literally a fleet of BBQ smoking trailers made from unidentifiable chassis and corrugated roofing panels on all five sides.  Next to each, were piles of wood.  It was almost too beautiful of a scene. Needless to say, our pace picked up on the way to what appeared to be a well deserved line.  

A line it was.  At 12:35 pm there was easily over 100 people in a serpentine through railings, down old concrete steps, out onto/down the sidewalk and back next to the upper level of the outdoor dining porch (It's a BBQ joint so it ain't no patio, it's a porch).  We took our place in what appeared to be a focused, but civil, crowd of expectant carnivores and began to wait our turn not knowing when we might get through this crude theme park style line to be able to experience the BBQ roller coaster.

Less than a minute after we cued up in the line a robust bearded man with smoke on his cheeks, and sauce on his apron, appeared directly above us on the porch.  The man spoke with 100% attention of the crowd.  "Here at Franklin (Yes, it is the Franklin Barbecue that was featured in American Express commercials and the movie Chef.), we smoke this meat out back for 18 hours.  That means when it's gone, it's gone.  We can't make anymore for today."  He then looked down upon our BrandTrip Partners founder Tim and began to hand him a piece of BBQ stained butcher paper with something written on it.  He continued, "This man is the Last Man Standin'.  That means he is guaranteed anything he wants.  Ribs, sausage, brisket, chicken...anything we smoke he can get it.  Anyone behind him might get somehtin', or might get nothin'.  But, the Last Man Standin' can get it all.  However, sir, it's about an hour and a half from where you are standin' right now before you get any meat."

Sure enough, the butcher paper said "Last Man Standin'" hand written with a Sharpie.  Upon closer inspection, it was clear that Franklin Barbecue is an equal opportunity meat provider as the other side had "Last Woman Standin'" inscribed on it.  And...sure enough it was an hour and a half to the minute that it took for that line to get the Last Man Standin' in the "On Deck" position.  Tim was greeted with cheers from the staff and congratulatory words from the management.  On top of that, he was informed that his entire meal was gratis and he could have anything he wanted.  Seeing that it was now 2:00 pm and there had been no nourishment since breakfast, he ordered "Some of each please, and a pint of that local pecan porter beer."  A large plastic tray with mountain of meat, some white bread, potato salad and a fine dark malted beverage was fastidiously bestowed in front of him.

Was it good?  Let's just say it was one of those days where you loved your job.  

ROI for Franklin's free tray of meat for the Last Man Standin' and a greasy butcher paper sign = Countless times we have told this story, blog posts read by thousands and a warm feeling for everything Franklin.  Do you have a Last Man Standin' moment you can create for your brand?

Everyone Has Mad Graphic Design Skills With Canva - BTP Tech Tuesday

Now that everyone has a facebook page(s), Twitter, LinkedIn, personal website(s), Instagram, Pinterest, tumblr, etc., etc., you need to have graphics as wicked cool as everyone else right?  However, you are not a Photoshop ninja and ninjas aren't cheap let alone easy to find (Because, you know, they're ninjas!).  How can you make slick facebook headers or those smart looking infographic things when you lack the mad skills of the latte drinking hipster graphic designers sporting Apple window stickers on their cars and Vespa scooters?  Canva is your answer.  Plus, if you can handle paying absolutely nothing, this platform will be your new attractive friend that makes you look better just because you are next to them.

Canva is stupid easy to use as the cool kids say.  Drag and drop.  Cut and paste.  Pre-designed templates, free images, free icons, free illustrations and an exceptional "How To" section called Design School with tons of examples easily categorized so you can find what you want and how to design it.  In no time, you will be posting infographics, amazing social media posts and publishing your new ebook cover for that sci-fi romantic comedy trilogy you always wanted to write.  Yes, soon you will be such a good graphic designer you will feel compelled to start walking around with your laptop in a $300 waxed canvas Union Street Messenger Bag while sipping your dark and sultry French roast.

All BrandTrip Partners social media banners, graphic posts and infographics are created with Canva and ample amounts of dark and sultry French roast when within reach.  No room for cream either.  Hard core.

Pizza Truth

While driving through rural Michigan we stopped by Country Dairy for some fresh, as fresh can be, steaks.  As we passed by their deli to get to the meat case, we saw this sign.  This sign says it all when it comes to pizza!