Industry News | October 24, 2012 | QSR Exclusive Brief

Checkers' New Prototype Takes a Bite Out of the Big Apple

Burger-and-fries chain Checkers is taking the Big Apple by storm on October 26 and 27 when it shows off its newly available single drive-thru concept on morning show “FOX & Friends.”

But Checkers won’t just be highlighting its new store design in pictures or words; the brand is actually building out a real restaurant right on the plaza next to the FOX News Channel building, where the brand will do live interviews, serve food to fans, and offer on-site entertainment for passersby.

The 25-year-old brand, known for its iconic double drive-thru design, began crafting the single drive-thru version in 2010 after searching for a way to cut down on the rising cost of development.

Though the chain kept iconic elements like stainless steel, neon lights, and the checkerboard pattern in place, it contemporized the store’s look with angular “wings”—coverings over the drive thru and a new patio area—larger-scaled tile for a bolder pattern that’s easier to see from a distance, and injections of red in the traditional black-and-white checkerboard pattern.

In early 2011, the brand began searching for a site for its new prototype, and in an unusual move, Checkers decided to place the store directly beside its very first location in Mobile, Alabama.

“We knew if we built a new design [ther] that we would have an opportunity to compare the results of that location to 25 years of history that preceded it,” says Jennifer Durham, vice president of development for Checkers/Rally’s.

And the comparisons pleased the company. Checkers not only exceeded its original objective to cut costs to less than half a million dollars—not including real estate—but it also cut nearly $200,000 in development costs.

“It’s about half of what our competitors currently run to do a building,” Durham says. “About $1.1 million is the average in burgers.”

The new store design also had some unintended—but positive—results, including increased speed of service, improved guest satisfaction, and higher sales.ed

In fact, Checkers blew sales expectations out of the water. “Before we started this project in 2010, the sales at that location were $770,000 annually,” she says. “Now that restaurant is on track to do about $1.2 million this year.”

Durham says the most impressive result, however, is that sales haven’t tapered off since its grand opening last November. “As more and more people come to know about it and as more of our existing guests visit more frequently, we’re seeing higher sales volumes and traffic counts as a result of this change,” she says.

At the brand’s annual convention in September, the brand announced it would make the prototype available for sale to existing franchisees.

And Checkers is using its upcoming appearance on “FOX & Friends” as a way to tell the world about the prototype, highlight the sales-to-investment ratio, and put a spotlight on the sales the new design has seen.

“We’ve got a wonderful story to tell not only about the format of the restaurants, but of the success that our franchisees have seen this year and last year in terms of same-store sales,” Durham says. The company is already up more than 6 percent this year over 2011, and franchisees are up almost 5 percent.

The “FOX & Friends” event will also expose Checkers to one of its largest untapped markets in the country.

“This opportunity is pretty unique because in New York, we have such low penetration. People don’t really know who Checkers and Rally’s are,” Durham says. “We wanted to create a lot of energy in that market for our existing franchisees that are currently there, as well as restaurateurs who have other concepts that might be looking to grow.”

The brand has invited potential franchisees in the New York area who have expressed interest in Checkers in an attempt to engage with them one on one at the event. And it’s using food to really hook them, offering free burgers, fries, and Cool Creations throughout the exhibition.

“Food is an emotional thing and very difficult to describe, but once you have it, it really connects with people,” Durham says. “Whenever we’re looking to bring a new franchisee in, what we do is we make sure that they understand what our concept is all about, and that really starts with the food.”

The brand has also reached out to New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C.–based franchisees to lend a hand in attracting new operators.

“Nothing speaks better than an existing franchisee to the opportunity when you’ve got new folks coming in,” Durham says.

By Mary Avant