Executive Insights | May 2010 | By Ellen Koteff

The 10 Most Innovative People

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Antonio SwadPizza Patrón emerged on the restaurant scene in 1986 with an innovative bent in its first year of operation, and a big one at that.

Founder and CEO Antonio Swad decided from the get go that Pizza Patrón would become the pizza restaurant for the Hispanic community. So much so that all store employees are required to speak both Spanish and English.

“What we have done at Patrón is very different than what other restaurant companies have done,” Swad says. “It is not often that restaurants define their own business models by ethnicity. Companies define their customer base by income or unique flavor concepts. We basically took a product that was widely consumed and brought it to the Hispanic markets.”

Since then Swad has overseen myriad innovations at Pizza Patrón, and along the way founded and sold another highly successful restaurant concept, Wingstop.

“I think he’s a genius,” says Le Madeleine’s COO, Phil Costner. “Before any of us caught wind of the huge impact of the Hispanic consumer, Antonio was forever solidifying his place.”

In 2009, while much of the industry was enduring plummeting sales, Pizza Patrón enjoyed four quarters of comp store sales gains, with the largest being an 11 percent bump.

Some of the other innovations that Swad has overseen include the premiere of the Quick Service Pizza outlet, which was the concept’s first standalone location and features three distinct points of service for customers: a drive thru with a pick-up window, a walk-up order window, and a colorful lobby.

A new interior design approach for the pizza chain was also rolled out last year after more than a year of research and market testing. The complete top-to-bottom revamp of the store finish-out was designed to transform the atmosphere into a warmer, more inviting food showcase. In addition, an online marketing platform was launched, a completely redesigned Web site, a new Latin-themed concessions design, a record-breaking “recession relief” campaign, and several new product roll outs.

The brand also replaced its original tagline with “Latin Life, Enjoy” this year.

Moving ahead, Swad is not satisfied to rest on his laurels. He’s working on new innovations to move the company forward. “We are developing a line of frozen specialty pizzas that can be sold at grocery stores in the Hispanic communities,” Swad says. “The bigger the brand, the more successful we will be.”

Cheryl BachelderIn less than three years as president of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, Cheryl Bachelder has introduced innovations in virtually every aspect of the chain’s operations, and she’s only just begun.

“Our first step was to freshen our face to the customer with a spanking new name for ourselves: Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen," Bachelder says. “The name captures the essence of who we are.” New brand graphics featuring “dancing letters” also were introduced when the name was adopted.

In 2009, Popeyes outperformed both the chicken quick-serve category and the quick-service segment as a whole with a sales increase. In contrast, the quick-service category was down 1.1 percent, while chicken chains were down 5.4 percent. 

In her first months on the job, Bachelder and her veteran executive team took a long, hard look at the brand and faced what she likes to call “the brutal reality.”

“At the outset of 2008, Popeyes was faced with some very bleak statistics that were impossible to ignore, the worst of which was seven consecutive years of guest traffic declines,” Bachelder says. “In addition, our speed of service was ranked at the bottom of a major quick-service study.”

In an effort to speed up service, headsets and timers were installed in every restaurant, and to improve location choices the chain instituted new, state-of-the art real estate site modeling tools. Popeyes also made the bold move to consolidate seven regional advertising agencies and found a lot of cost savings when it signed with a single company.

In addition, the Atlanta-based chain, which has more than 1,900 units in 44 states and 27 countries, also introduced Annie, a fictional Popeyes chef who serves as the brand’s ambassador.

On the culinary front there have been several innovative moves, including the roll out of three menu platforms—Popeyes Big Easys, the Louisiana Travelers, and Popeyes Big Deals. Bachelder also engineered the launch of the Bonafide brand, which showcases its bone-in chicken, which is freshly prepared and marinated for 12 hours in Louisiana seasonings, then hand-battered.

And as Bachelder is proud to point out, one of the innovations that is moving the needle significantly is the Guest Experience Monitor, which allows guests to use their phones and participate

in an interactive survey while the experience is fresh.

“By listening to our guests and making the needed improvements, we raised our ‘delighted’ ratings from consumers by 17 percentage points in 2009,” Bachelder says.

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