Kern and Hurst also have the experience of running Rapid Fired units through a pandemic. The brand’s products pivoted well, because on a fundamental level, the consumer was open and receptive to pizza, Kern says. During COVID, the chain’s pizza remained valuable and convenient, and also served as a source of comfort through tough times.
While the brand withstood severe impacts of COVID better than most, it still had to adapt.
Online ordering, curbside pickup, and take-and-bake represented a majority of sales.
“Whatever channel the customer was comfortable with looking for in a COVID environment, the brand pivoted to it and developed a service system and a product offering to fulfill those customers' new comfort zones on how to access the brand,” Kern says.
Rapid Fired was already a dynamic brand pre-COVID, Kern says, but during the pandemic the chain proved it. By pivoting into these alternative channels and developing new products, the brand reclaimed lost volume within three to six months. Now the brand performs at essentially pre-COVID levels, Kern says.
What happens next to Rapid Fired in its post-acquisition stage includes a lot of fine-tuning of its economic model and optimization of the brand proposition. This is for both consumers and operators, Kern says.
Rapid Fired’s footprint thus far has centered on the Midwest, Southeast, Texas, and soon California. Moving forward, Kern says they want to focus on the existing footprint and fill in its gaps while building consumer anticipation and recognition for the brand.
The vast majority of Rapid Fired’s franchisees are multi-unit operators, so they have more capacity and knowledge to scale even further.
“It's a balancing act as usual as far as being early to market,” Kern says. “Where there's opportunities to be market leader, seizing those and recognizing the value of those, but making sure it's still part of a cohesive strategy and getting it right.”
Rapid Fired is not without guardrails in how it goes about this growth. Kern believes the brand has the potential to easily triple in size.
To date, roughly three quarters of the footprint are franchise-owned and one-quarter is company-run. It’s a ratio the brand will likely maintain throughout its expansion for now.
Rapid Fired will also incorporate nontraditional locations grocery stores, stadiums, and student centers. There are two grocery store trials in the mix, and a few sports arena contracts, as well.
On the operations side, Kern says they intend to make sure the basics are established, and then the mission is to tighten up and distill the core menu.
Whether in crust types or vegetable or meat toppings, seasonality and lifestyle trends will be a part of Rapid Fired’s playbook to keep the brand relevant and fresh to customers, Kern says. Because of the nature of pizza, there’s seemingly no end to the variety of options Rapid Fired can bring to consumers, even amid supply shortages.
“When the guest comes in at certain points in the year and feels like, ‘Well, I've got my favorites, I've got my usual, but what's new, what's different, what's something that fits the season,’ we're going to have something to address that,” Kern says.