A Schlotzsky’s franchisee discusses how you can reimage your stores to gain new customers, without losing old ones.
IN THE STORE | July 2011 | By Robert Thomas
Not a lot of franchisees have the experience of Ted Nevels; the Schlotzsky’s multiunit franchisee has more than 30 years of experience. Nevels has been with the brand long enough to have had Don Dissman, Schlotzsky’s founder, teach him how to bake bread.
In January, Nevels and his team kicked off the reimaging of his two units in Lafayette, Louisiana. Instead of a simple makeover, Nevels used the opportunity to overhaul the entire look of his stores and fine-tune operations.
Affordable and effective, the changes, which were completed in April, have brought the units an increase in both customers and sales.
Nevels shares his tips on how quick-serve operators can control the redesign of their own stores to benefit the customers, sales, and staff.
1. Go Big or Go Home
Don’t just look at new seating or painting the walls; a complete change and fresh look should be the end goal. For my units, we went as far as moving the kitchen, adding a drive thru, and sharing the space with our sister company, Cinnabon. This type of plan rejuvenates the customer base in the community and gives them more of a reason to continue going to your stores.
New architectural features are good, but a complete overhaul and look of the store will excite the customer more. Moreover, the big changes can improve the image but can also have the potential to improve other aspects of the business, like operations and marketing.
Maybe you already have a drive thru or don’t have the option to cobrand; there are still changes inside that can be done. We completely changed the interior of the store, giving it a fresh feel and a better utilization of space. Big things can be done on the inside to improve your sales without big construction phases. Sometimes, these are easier and more financially manageable, and yield positive results.
2. Stay Open or Close Up, But Be Prepared
This might be the biggest challenge for franchisees that have made the decision to reimage. For one, it is different for each franchisee and relative to the location of the store.
For me, I knew I wanted to keep my doors open during the construction process. Customers are creatures of habit and I just couldn’t take the risk of losing them. If your store is in their habitual lifestyle, it is a gamble to shut down and give them the potential to go elsewhere.
The best part about staying open was letting the customers see the changes. This goes a long way outside the store. They became part of the reimaging process and have the availability to go outside the store and tell others what is happening. This became one of our most valuable marketing opportunities for the new look.
If you can afford it, however, closing the doors for a short period of time is OK, too. If you do decide to shut the store down, construction needs to be fast; we’re talking having crews in there nonstop until the job is done. It seems excessive, but you have to ensure the customer base is there at completion, and staying closed for too long is a gamble for this goal.
The upside to closing shop is quicker demolition and faster completion. It took about three and a half months for our overhaul, but it was worth it. The customers got to see what we were up to and still had the opportunity to purchase our product.
3. It Must Be Financially Feasible
Continuing with the construction process, some franchisees might be able to afford to close the doors and have speedy construction. I wouldn’t have been able to afford to pay my employees while being closed. Franchisees should have [employees] in mind during this process.
I have some employees who have been with me for close to 20 years. Just like customers, I couldn’t afford to lose them, and they were thankful for that. There was a definite increase in morale and work ethic because they knew that with this reimage, with the potential of more customers and more money, they would be rewarded as well.
Personally speaking, I’ve always been very conservative in regards to finances and have a great relationship with the local banks in my area. If you aren’t at this point yet in your franchising career, don’t dig deeper into debt. Moreover, you should try to eliminate as much debt as possible before taking on a project of this magnitude.
4. Rely on Your Franchisor
If you do it right, and do it relative to your location and customer base, the numbers will increase. Since the reimaging, our sales are close to a 70 percent increase over last year. It goes without saying, but the No. 1 reason why any franchisee would consider reimaging is to increase sales.
If it’s a good decision for you and your stores, make sure to get complete support from corporate. A lot of the times, it’s their decision anyway in regards to a new look. A lot of franchisees today want to be in complete control, but they really need to trust the corporate office in the decision-making process. If you’re looking to make more money, they will offer nothing but support. Both parties have the same interests and can mutually benefit one another.