Three drive-thru-only sites are in progress, the first of which will be in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The prototype is part of a grander franchise growth strategy that Jack has hinted at for several months. The chain recently signed franchise agreements with eight operators that will result in 23 stores, or more than 6 percent growth of their 358 combined locations. In other words, the iron is scolding hot and Jack is striking it fast. More than 66 percent of existing franchisees expressed interested in growing and, this spring, Jack filed an updated FDD, opened a new franchise development website, and started its first paid ad campaign. The brand is seeing double the number of inbound franchise leads compared to last year, it said.
Regarding the drive-thru only prototype specifically, Harris says franchisees have played a role in the process. As Jack finalized the construction plan, it engaged operators and asked for their feedback. The discussions brought forth good insights—so much that Jack actually incorporated about 90 percent of the suggested changes into the project.
“And so the Tulsa project, it enabled us to move it a lot faster, and now we’re at a process where it’s getting ready to go under construction,” Harris says.
The relationship between Jack and its franchisees wasn’t in the best shape prior to Harris’ arrival. It wasn’t until November 2020 that the company and the National Jack in the Box Franchise Association—an entity that represents roughly 85 percent of franchised restaurants—settled a lawsuit filed in late 2018. As part of the settlement, Jack agreed to create a Leadership Advisory Council, a group that’s already met multiple times, including some in person.
When Harris thinks on the matter, he prefers to use a track and field analogy. Before, franchisees were asked to run a relay race and take the final baton and not look back. But now the two sides are partners in strategy, and the game has changed.
“It's like being in a three-legged sack race and we both have a leg in it and we're going down the race and occasionally we're going to fall, but we're going to get up and try to finish and win,” Harris says. “That's the difference of the approach, and they've responded incredibly well. Two-thirds of the system express an interesting growing. But in order to get to that growth, we had to resolve the relationship first and really bring them in.”
One of the major ways Jack is showing its good faith is providing operators with real estate and design flexibility. For Harris, that means the brand must be willing to meet guests where they prefer. That’s not just a freestanding prototype—it’s a dark kitchen, airport, travel center, inline, and endcap. The chain has said on multiple occasions that it has the ability to construct another 950 to 1,200 locations in existing markets.
So the runway is available, and the latest drive-thru prototype is a pivotal tool in filling that whitespace.
“The part that probably excites me the most about Jack in the Box is we've got this iconic brand that a lot of momentum through the pandemic, we've got a new leadership team that has just tremendous experience both in the franchise relationship and engaging franchisees, but also in growing brands—all rowing together now once we’re aligned with the franchisees to really continue the momentum and get unit growth in the ground,” the CEO says. “I think that cultural component of being on the same side of the table is important for the strategy of growth.”