Church’s Chicken is on the road to a brighter image and a bigger future. Church’s was founded in 1952, while Texas Chicken emerged in the late 1980s as its pathway into the international market. The company has 950 domestic units and 600 more internationally in Canada, Latin America, and the Caribbean, of which more than 270 are Texas Chicken restaurants in the Middle East and Asia.

Now, it’s launching an ambitious brand refresh—one that will honor the legacy of both sides of Church’s business while aiming to improve service, expand food offerings, and bring a new look overseas.

READ MORE: Why 2019 will be a game-changer for Church’s.

“Over the course of the last year and a half, both domestically and internationally, we’ve been researching and getting ourselves ready for the re-positioning of the brand,” says Joseph Christina, CEO of Church’s Chicken. “When you’re looking at the brand and the future of the brand, you want to stay relevant, you want to attract new guests, and then you want to maximize on your strengths.”

In this case, flavor, choice, and product innovation. “When you expand like we did around the world, you start to see pieces that need to be emphasized more.”

The company’s three-year strategic plan commenced in 2016 with the aim to improve operations domestically and internationally along with its U.S. image. “As we got into last year, we really started to build on the awareness of the brand and reestablishing ourselves as an overall value restaurant,” Christina says.

This year, domestically, Church’s launched a new brand positioning and advertising with the tagline, “Bringing That Down Home Flavor” in early March.

Christina says under the Texas Chicken banner, which began as an extension of the Church’s brand in terms of image and menu, the company has been “very aggressively growing in Asia and the Middle East.”

“The profile of the guests is a little different,” he says. “The menu needs to be a little different. Certainly, as you move into Asia and the Middle East, the products are much more innovative. Bone-in chicken doesn’t make up very much of the menu is these country, whereas in the U.S. it takes up close to 70 percent of the menu. There are different taste profiles, much spicier food, and much bolder flavor.”

Church’s began to look at the Texas Chicken brand while keeping its U.S. heritage with bone-in chicken, but also looking to a certain boldness. “We’re going to be changing our logo with the Texas [Chicken] image,” Christina says. “We’re going to be updating our restaurant look to reflect that consumer, a little more around having the ability to pull tables together.”

It will use a strong Internet presence and the solid digital marketing that he says the brand excels at globally. “It’ll roll into packaging and uniforms throughout this year on the Texas brand. That look will be different than it is today. An updated image that really keeps with the heritage, but also updates it with that bolder look, that Texas-style look in the restaurant.”

Christina says the domestic redesign will focus on imagery and terminology “to define the down-home flavor of Church’s Chicken. This includes the implementation of new packaging and uniforms. Texas Chicken will receive an even greater overhaul with new restaurant design, menu innovation, packaging, and uniforms.”

One of the reasons why the Texas Chicken re-branding took nearly a year and a half is that the company tested everything through its consumer insight group Ceso and Clear to learn what guests liked about its ideas. Christina cites an example: “The boldness of Texas doesn’t mean cowboy hats and tumbleweeds. It’s really about what Texas brings—the boldness, the little bit of confidence—and that’s what the brand will reflect in the restaurant, in its advertising, packaging, and uniforms. It’s a long time coming because the Texas brand hasn’t really been updated since the late ’80s, and it’s been a big component and a big arm of our growth.”

Unlike the international side of its business, Church’s chose to pursue “a re-image program that started back in late 2015, early 2016,” on the domestic side, Christina says. “It’s more of an update. It’s not it as big as a shift as it was in the Texas brand, and that’s because the guests are very comfortable with us. We’re a community-based brand. We both feed and employ a lot of our communities, and there’s a lot of heritage with that. We’re very proud of that, so we had to do a redirection with a much brighter image but not too much away from what Church’s was. The domestic business shift was really around how we advertise to our guests. There will be small components like packaging and uniform changes throughout the year, but it was more around how we advertise what we are and what we stand for.”

Christina is confident that Church’s has top-notch food—“the best fried chicken, our honey-butter biscuits, tenders, and some of the greatest sides out there”—and that is what attracts its guests. But over the course of the last two and a half years, he says, it has improved its image, refreshed restaurants, and implemented an improved training program for its team to provide friendlier, quicker service for guests.

“Now you’ve got to bring in a little bit of product innovation,” Christina adds. “We continue to work very hard to bring in additional products and our limited time offers to our guests. To bring new guests to try the brand, but also give our current guests a reason to come to us a couple more times a month versus going to the competition. The advertising really is the key to showing that there’s something different going on at Church’s domestically.”

Church’s nationwide promotion in March was its first national TV campaign in nearly a decade. It banded together franchisees for the national launch and “got great results because of it,” Christina says. “The national advertising for us was about expanding our reach. Not every Church’s restaurant in the U.S. can afford TV advertising, so we do a lot of billboard, digital, radio, and coupons. We wanted to expand our reach into those markets that didn’t get TV on a regular basis.”

The goal with the TV blitz was to expand reach and build awareness around a greater understanding about what Church’s has to offer. “We believe we brought new guests in that were very satisfied,” Christina says. “Because while national advertising had stopped, we were still seeing the benefit of that three or four weeks later with those restaurants.”

Christina is excited to see the three-year strategic plan come to fruition. Franchisees have been involved in a lot of the strategic planning, he says.

“They’re happy with the results they’ve been getting,” Christina says. “When you see those type of things working together, and the brand getting the results, it makes you feel good and stand up a little more proud.”

“While we’re not the biggest player domestically and internationally, we all have this grit to us where we want to gain as many guests as we can in our business and continue driving results,” he adds. “What’s exciting for me is that the plan is paying off and everybody’s been engaging in the plan.”

He feels that the new tagline fits in with Church’s overall plan—about looking at that Texas boldness and attitude. “We certainly have the flavor and that taste profile that our guests really like,” Christina says. “When you talk about down home, it’s really our rally cry to say this is how we do. We do it like it’s down home. All of it has come together over the course of the last 18 months. Domestically, we’ve had a great first quarter because of this national advertising, and internationally, the franchisees are very excited about where we’re going. Restaurant growth, new franchisees, and new country entrees are going to be part of that excitement.”

“I think for the rest of this year, you’re going to see an awful lot of excitement around the Church’s brand,” Christina says. “Then as we look at the next couple of years we’re going to be diving into some exciting things. Certainly on the domestic side, we’ll continue to work on that guest experience and we’ll be doing a much deeper dive into third party delivery. It’s really one of our biggest growth engines around the world. Certainly the international growth and that business is going to be exciting for the brand. We’re ready to grow and ready to continue this momentum.”

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