There’s a buzz in the air when Potbelly leadership speaks about the brand. It starts with the food, says Larry Strain, chief development officer at Potbelly.
“We have a best-in-class product,” Strain says. “We have the most loyal customers in the segment, and that’s because once you have a Potbelly sandwich, you are destined to come back for more.”
Now the brand is aiming to get its food—sandwiches, soups, shakes, salads, and more—into the mouths of more people, and the enthusiasm is proving contagious: Potbelly recently signed three multi-unit agreements that will bring a total of 25 locations to the Tampa, Florida; Champaign, Illinois; and Orlando, Florida markets.
“There’s been a lot of hard work going on to expand our footprint and make the brand more accessible to Potbelly fans across the country,” Strain says. “It’s such an exciting time to be a part of Potbelly, because we’re selling exclusive multi-unit territories across the U.S. and really no market is off limits. We’re signing deals, and have received an overwhelming amount of inquiries that the team is working through right now—it’s because people are seeing the strong growth opportunity for Potbelly across highly sought after markets.”
This slideshow will take a closer look at why franchisees are going all-in with Potbelly.
Franchise Accelerated Growth Initiative
Earlier in 2022, Potbelly announced its Franchise Accelerated Growth Initiative. It was a comprehensive outline of a multi-pronged approach to growing the brand, via franchising, from just over 400 shops, to 2,000 shops, within the next 10 years.
The recent agreements inked by franchisee groups in Florida and Illinois are positive proof that the initiative is working.
“Our new Shop Development Area Agreements come at an eventful time for us at Potbelly,” Bob Wright, CEO of Potbelly, says. “They are consistent with our multi-unit franchise development strategy and in line with what we’re looking to accomplish with our previously announced Franchise Growth Acceleration Initiative. We are very excited to execute these development deals with such high-quality franchisees, and we look forward to sharing other deals as they are signed.”
Tech Stack Investment
Nearly all of Potbelly’s tech stack was recently upgraded. From a new mobile app and website, to improved online ordering, to a revamped Potbelly Perks loyalty program, the sandwich shop has invested big money into its digital transformation. The digital ordering and growing loyalty program are feeding off one another, too, Strain says.
“Our ability to market directly to our customers through the Potbelly Perks program has been a total gamechanger,” Strain says. “We’re offering special promotions, and offers exclusive to Perks members that help drive increased visit frequency and lift in revenue.”
The customer-facing tech stack isn’t the only place where Potbelly is undergoing massive digital transformation. Potbelly recently unveiled Potbelly Digital Kitchen, an in-house platform that signals the brand’s investment in creating a more efficient back of house. The brand partnered with experts to determine optimal labor deployment that would help the brand increase throughput, order accuracy, and food freshness.
For example, the tech overhaul will allow team members to execute line-busting tactics during the lunch rush, where orders are taken on tablets and populated on digital kitchen displays in real time.
“We do three dayparts really well, but our peak daypart is lunch,” Strain says. “It can get pretty busy behind the counter during the lunch rush. Potbelly Digital Kitchen is our way of reducing stress for associates during peak times without compromise to our exceptional customer service.
Franchisee Buy In
Strain has spent time with some of the largest quick-service brands in the industry—including Dunkin’, Starbucks, and McDonald’s—but he says the excitement surrounding Potbelly is something wholly unique. To exhibit that excitement, Strain shares a story about a recent experience he had speaking with a franchisee who runs a Potbelly at a large southern airport.
Strain asked the franchisee what got him interested in Potbelly, and the franchisee relayed that he had space reserved in the airport for a different fast-casual concept—he wasn’t looking for a different brand. He was in Chicago for work and had Potbelly for lunch. Blown away by the product, the customer service experience, and the buildout, he returned the next day and ordered one of everything on the menu. When he was finished sampling each menu item, he called the corporate offices to declare he was ready to franchise.
“It’s that type of entrepreneur—a seasoned franchisee—who is perfect for this brand,” Strain says. “When they taste the product and experience the customer service, and culture of the brand, it’s mind blowing for them. They get it instantly. They get what we have here and they want to be part of the system. And it’s a great time to buy in.”
For more on franchising with Potbelly, visit the company’s franchising website.