Industry News | July 1, 2000

A Checkered Past

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How Dan Dorsch is aiming Checkers and Rally's for "a really big comeback."

By Tracy Jennison

With Checkers reporting a net loss of $6.6 million, or $0.99 per share, for 1999, you'd think its employees would be either panic-stricken or depressed.

Checkers' Daniel Dorsch

Yet at the company's recent franchise convention in Atlanta, attendees experienced a renewed sense of enthusiasm and energy similar to that felt during the height of Checkers' success in the early nineties.

Sources credit the Checkers' mental turnaround to the chain's new chief executive officer, president, and corporate director, Daniel J. Dorsch, who joined the company this past January. As a former franchisee of Taco Bell, Papa John's, and KFC restaurants, Dorsch has taken his thirty years' experience and transfused it into the struggling Checkers. His goal, he said in a recent interview, is to revitalize motivation within the company and elevate Checkers beyond its original level of success.

"At our franchise convention, we went back and talked about the beginning, when Checkers and Rally's had a new message," says Dorsch. "We had a bounce in our walk; we were excited about building new stores; we were excited about bringing on new team members and building a company. Well, now the new enthusiasm is that we're taking it all back. We're running Checkers like we're a big franchisee organization."

To prove it, Checkers is focusing immediately on cleaning up its image. All the stores are being repainted, the lots re-striped, the lawns mowed. New uniforms are also on the agenda. "With a new look, you get a new attitude," says Dorsch. "With a new attitude, you can deliver new smiles at the window. That's really the first step."

Dorsch is also placing employees outside the restaurants, so that single drivers approaching on the left side of the double drive-thrus won't have to lean over to reach the window. The outdoor employees will greet waiting customers, take their orders, and make change, says Dorsch, thus speeding up the process.

Expect to see changes in Checker's menu as well. Onion rings, for example, are being eliminated to free up more fryers for faster french fries. New products are also on the horizon.

But while Dorsch won't disclose what they will be, he emphasizes Checkers' expanding hot dog line, which will soon include a kraut dog, monster dog, and a slaw dog alongside the existing plain, chili, and chili-cheese dog. People are raving about them, Dorsch says-and sales at test stores selling the new line are up 11 percent. But while Dorsch's changes encompass everything from landscaping to revamping the training department, his focus on the franchisee has had the biggest impact of all. In the last four months alone, Checkers has signed for 150 new store builds by franchisees. Jim Brokaw, who has four restaurants in Charlotte, North Carolina, is getting ready to close on sixteen additional stores in the Jacksonville-Tallahassee, Florida region. It's a sign of his growing confidence in the company, he says, and in Dorsch in particular. "I think Dan has brought excitement, enthusiasm, and real integrity to Checkers," says Brokaw. "For the longest time we had a series of presidents and each year it was kind of a joke, a meet-the-new-president year. But with Dan coming on board, he's taken a team of people that were almost impossible to motivate and lit a fire under them. Everyone's working together to be better at what we do."

With the changes in place, Dorsch predicts Checkers will become profitable this year. "That's a very strong statement," Dorsch admits, "but we are on the cutting edge right now. We're on a really big comeback."