Special Report

The Contenders (51-65)

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Jamba Juice
57

When James White assumed the Jamba Inc. presidency in December 2008, he championed a complete metamorphosis, including efforts to rebrand Jamba Juice from a smoothie chain into a healthy, active lifestyle brand. Though 2009 witnessed a strong dip in systemwide sales, energy remained positive. Jamba cut its expenses; opened 25 franchised locations; introduced licensed products, such as at-home smoothie kits; and expanded its menu to include oatmeal, grab-n-go wraps, salads, and sandwiches.

Baja Fresh Mexican Grill
58

Into its 20th year, Baja Fresh recently targeted growth in two areas: its Baja Fresh Express units in nontraditional environments, such as colleges and airports, and its Baja Fresh "Guest Choice" prototype conversion, which enhances the brand’s service and food preparation. Leadership views the Express locations as the company’s best opportunity to build both brand awareness and restaurant count, evident in the fact that 17 of Baja’s 60 openings in 2010 carry the Express banner.

Souplantation/Sweet Tomatoes
59

Amid recessionary pressures, parent company Garden Fresh saw an opportunity to adjust the brands’ strategy in a new economy. Smaller prototypes opened to create "right-sized units," which allows Garden Fresh to capitalize on real estate opportunities and create optimal market breadth and penetration, while new relationships with Costco and grocery stores supplied multiple sales channels and catering opportunities. Garden Fresh now looks to open up to 12 new locations each year and target the breakfast crowd.

Taco John’s
60

With stagnant sales, Taco John’s looked to improve its restaurants’ operating profit, hosting profit-enhancement programs for operators that increased both cash flow and restaurant operating profit margins by 160 basis points. The coming months will see the debut of a franchisee incentive program aimed at stimulating new growth as well as a smattering of new menu items and the continued roll out of Taco John’s new "My Town, My Taco John’s" advertising campaign.

61

With a 40 percent sales jump in its remodeled stores, a number of freshly inked multiunit franchise deals, and a growing clientele of females and young adults, Schlotzsky’s new prototype restaurant, complete with vibrant colors, playful slogans, and a new service model, has revitalized a once-sagging brand. Toss in a cobranded partnership with Cinnabon and today’s Schlotzsky’s boasts a restored energy, a more relevant dining experience, and hopes for up to 700 locations by 2015.

Fazoli’s
62

After three years of declining guest counts, Fazoli’s witnessed 11 straight months of positive attendance in 2009, generating renewed interest from current and prospective franchisees and reenergizing what some viewed as a tired system. With 21 new menu items in tow alongside a new prototype store, Fazoli’s is testing enhanced service, including the addition of servers as well as traditional dinnerware, to further showcase the brand’s position as fresh, affordable Italian food.

Firehouse Subs
63

While Firehouse Subs has grown from one single location in 1994 to 370 outlets today, such explosive growth has been responsible and strategic.

     Debt-free since 2001, Firehouse Subs’ financial arm loans money to franchisees, a practice that strengthens the overall business. Such reciprocity came back to Firehouse leadership last September when franchisees committed to doubling their marketing investment as corporate unveiled a new advertising campaign—"Our Way Beats Their Way." Everybody won when sales jumped 8 percent.

Taco Bueno
64

For Taco Bueno, fast casual pays. In its remodeled locations outfitted with full-size booths, stone counters, and a salsa bar, volume jumped from $1.2 to $1.9 million as dine-in sales escalated, and the average check increased 10 percent—all without any price changes. Recent renovations into a fast-casual concept at existing outlets in Texas and Oklahoma produced record-setting sales and spurred the brand to introduce premium menu offerings, including a line of gourmet quesadillas.

A&W Restaurants
65

A&W, one of America’s most iconic names, endured a powerful uppercut from the recession as systemwide sales dropped $100 million in 2009. Ironically, it is the economic recession that has given birth to the brand’s latest evolution: nostalgia. In 2009, the Yum! Brands–owned chain began introducing its "Three D" concept, highlighted by the hearty resurrection of drive-in service. The future wasn’t totally forgotten, however, since A&W is experimenting with breakfast offerings.

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