3 profitable restaurant models

Schlotzsky’s Deli, Moe’s Southwest Grill and Sizzler discuss the payoffs of their recent remodeling projects

June 7, 2012 – Mark Brandau

Restaurant brands are getting more than just a fresh coat of paint with their latest efforts to refresh and remodel.

In addition to looking modern and relevant, now a necessity in a highly competitive restaurant landscape, chains are repositioning themselves, expanding into new dayparts and sales layers, and motivating their franchisees and staff through large investments for reimaging.

While major public companies like McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Bob Evans have identified remodeling as a major growth strategy, smaller brands also are targeting significant returns on reimaging investments and renewed growth. Schlotzsky’s Deli, Moe’s Southwest Grill and Sizzler spoke with Nation’s Restaurant News about how their recent remodels have begun to pay off.

Schlotzsky’s Deli: Tripling down on new positioning

In order to complete the reimaging of its more than 375 restaurants in 2011, Schlotzsky’s Deli invested $40 million in not only refreshing the chain’s décor but also in adding service elements to solidify its positioning as a fast-casual brand.

“Schlotzsky’s had gone through many years of being in between quick service and fast casual, so we repositioned from our marketing, service, and look and feel,” president Kelly Roddy said. “We changed it to ‘Lotz better,’ with new packaging and colors, new signage, and with food runners bringing food to the table. … We saw a significant improvement in customer counts and sales as soon as we finished the reimages.”

The Austin, Texas-based chain, which is a division of Atlanta-based Focus Brands, steadily grew average unit volumes after accelerating the rebrand process in 2011, going from average sales of about $660,000 in fiscal 2007 to about $780,000 by the end of 2011. Year-to-date, average unit volumes are tracking at about $800,000, Roddy said.

Some units even co-branded with other Focus properties, including Cinnabon and Carvel, to expand into dayparts beyond the typical lunch rush, he added. Units co-branded with a Cinnabon are on pace to pay back the remodel investment within nine months, while other Schlotzsky’s locations that simply updated the décor would reach their return in about 16 months.

“We now have a brand that’s more relevant and seated more strongly in the fast-casual position,” Roddy said. “We’re very much a lunch business, so our goal now is to reach beyond lunchtime. We can take some items we currently sell, such as our pizzas, which we’re starting to promote past 3:00 now, and introduce ourselves as a dinner player.”

The ability to fill the restaurant with customers at all points of the day — including for Cinnabon treats in the morning or at snack time and for Carvel ice cream at night — has increased productivity without adding much incremental labor, according to Roddy. He added that franchisees are bullish on the potential of Schlotzsky’s units tri-branded with Cinnabon and Carvel.

“It has re-energized the franchise base,” he said. “They’re starting to grow now, and people who haven’t built stores in a decade are out there expanding. We’re selling a lot of franchises, but we can be particular about who we let into the brand because it’s in such high demand.”

There currently are about 20 tri-branded locations, and Schlotzsky’s plans to open 35 more in 2012, Roddy said.

Source: Nation’s Restaurant News

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