Special Report | November 2012 | By Daniel P. Smith

8 Simple Rules for Renovation

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Cinnabon revamped its store model to modernize its business offering.
Cinnabon revamped its store model to modernize its business offering. Cinnabon
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Rule #4: Communicate early and often

By 2010, Texas-based Wingstop, now a chain with more than 500 units, had not undergone a restaurant remodel since its 1994 founding. But with ambitious plans for future development, Wingstop leaders knew a more united and consistent brand identity was critical.

Wingstop unveiled its remodeling plans to franchisees at the Wingstop National Convention in April 2010. By that time, vice president of construction John McDonald says, the company had already remodeled a handful of corporate locations and opened new locations with the updated look. The new design simplified the overall décor package and embraced the aviation theme prevalent in Wingstop’s branding efforts.

“When guests walk in the door, they immediately recognize the changes,” McDonald says. “With the removal of the old corrugated awning, the menuboard is much more visible and the entire restaurant is brighter.”

By the end of 2012, more than 80 Wingstop outlets will have transitioned to the company’s new décor package, a process invigorated by corporate openness and accessibility.

In any chain remodel, McDonald says, it’s imperative that the corporate office communicates with the franchise network, answers inquiries seriously and swiftly, and invites franchisees to convey challenges.

“If franchisees don't ask for our assistance, we don't know to offer it, so we try to keep the lines of communication open,” he says.

Rule #5: Offer options and flexibility

In presenting its remodeling plans to franchisees, Wingstop offered three different remodeling packages.

“We designed three packages so the brand partner could start with the basic upgrade, but then add on features a la carte.”

The basic upgrade, aimed at making a cost-effective change, included a complete repainting of the store, punctuated by an airplane wall mural. It also featured new menuboards, merchandising boards, and exterior signage, as well as upgraded seating, tables, and lighting. The mid-level upgrade added modifications to the sales counter and other cosmetic fixes and branding elements, while the top-level upgrade incorporated an exhibition kitchen and new restroom finishes.

“We designed three packages so the brand partner could start with the basic upgrade, but then add on features a la carte. That gives them the option to pick and choose aspects of the remodel package,” McDonald says.

Togo’s also adopted the three-tiered approach. The basic $20,000 remodeling package included a complete “reskimming” of the store’s interior, as well as wall art that shares the brand’s story and new exterior signage. The middle plan added construction around the front counter, while the $90,000 top-tier plan covered cosmetic, construction, and equipment upgrades.

Scott says the remodeling initiative was and remains a “joint effort” among Togo’s operations and marketing teams and individual franchisees to decide which of the three remodeling packages a store will tackle.

“We’re sensitive to what our franchisees have been going through in recent years, so we sit with all of them to review both their financial ability and their current need,” Scott says.

Rule #6: Be a partner, not a pest

In Cinnabon’s franchise agreements, franchisees are required to remodel every 10 years. A year before a remodel is due, Montepare and her team contact franchisees to begin preparations.

Describing franchisees as the “project manager,” Montepare says Cinnabon works with individual operators to develop a budget, construction plan, and timeline. Cinnabon also lines up construction partners who understand Cinnabon’s particular specs and can offer national pricing.

“Rather than dealing with 200 different contractors, we found construction partners in the four corners of the U.S. and the Midwest who knew how things should look,” Montepare says.

Being a helpful ally also extends into the financial arena. As Togo’s began the remodeling process, company leaders quickly recognized the challenges franchisees faced in securing renovation capital. So the company partnered with a third-party lender to offer franchisees a direct line to funding.

“It is our job as the franchisor to make this process as easy as possible,”

Cinnabon’s Montepare says.

Rule #7: Invest in support

Togo’s hopes to have all 250 of its restaurants on board with its new look by 2014. Such an ambitious plan prompted Togo’s to hire a construction manager and add others to its internal staff to both streamline the process and ensure that franchisees encountered support at every turn.

“Because we had not initiated a remodeling program in many years, we had to build our internal infrastructure for such a plan,” Scott says. “Plus, many of our franchisees needed hand-holding because few of them had ever gone through a remodel.”

Rule #8: Minimize stress and interruptions

Already sensitive to the money franchisees were investing in renovations, both Cinnabon and Wingstop worked to make efficient use of capital and ensure continued operations.

Cinnabon, for instance, designed its renovations to be accomplished over three to four nights, which meant stores could remain open.

Likewise, Wingstop remained open during its remodels, designing changes so that they could be completed at night, after hours, and within a few weeks’ timeframe.

Wingstop also created a spec guidebook outlining the paint colors, floor sealer, tile colors, lighting, and other elements necessary to complete the process with preapproved contractors. This not only helped the remodeled unit stay within the new look’s specifications, but helped minimize costly errors.

“Our main objective with the Wingstop reimage program is to keep the restaurant open without any interruptions in the quality of food, service, and the overall guest experience,” McDonald says