“I’m really interested to see, once each of these markets reopen, what’s going to happen with consumer behavior,” Biser says. “Because at 50 percent capacity, arguably you still have a lot of occasions that are out there that are going through the drive-thru. … Each market is different in how they’re perceiving whether or not they can safely go out and dine-in somewhere.”
Although it’s been delayed, the brand is still investing in its future. Two new stores are currently in the permitting stage and are on schedule to open by mid-July. Two store remodels were finished in early June and another is expected to occur in August.
Biser says Roy Rogers is planning to revisit franchise recruiting in mid-to-late July, as well.
“I think it’s a different approach at this point,” Biser says. “Our previous plan was to really be highly targeted on multi-unit operators that already had existing brands that would be complementary to ours. That’s still going to be our approach. I think many people though have had to rethink what their business plans are with this pandemic and crisis. Many of those operators that we might have targeted before, they had full-service or fast-casual type businesses. Their businesses are coming back much slower than [quick-service restaurants]. I’m anticipating things will be pretty slow from a recruiting standpoint, but that’s going to give us a chance too to take care of some other things like getting more of our marketing materials put together and updating some of our technology systems even more.”
Staffing was a strength during the crisis. The company had to lay off employees at the permanently closed unit, but overall, the brand is employing more workers than it did before the virus hit. Special programs are in place to reward team members, including additional bonuses, enhanced benefits, and a meal policy that ensures one free meal per day.
The supply chain, however, became an issue as plants closed across the country. Biser says the team frequently had to deal with manufacturing issues and put contingency products in place.
Roy Rogers is one of a few brands that sells USDA prime top round beef, but it became unavailable in May. So the brand worked to get a substitute; it was the same product, just a different cut. Costs doubled and so did preparation time.
“You’re not able to increase your price enough to cover that,” Biser says. “We had to make a decision. Roast beef is critical to who we are as a brand, so we went with more expensive product to ensure we didn’t lose supply. We’re working through that situation where we anticipate that problem being solved through the manufacturers probably at the end of June.”
Throughout the pandemic, Biser says Roy Rogers has been dedicated to protecting the health and safety of its guests and workers. Employees are required to wear masks and gloves, protective barriers are in front of POS systems, and the interior and exterior is checked and wiped down several times.
The first step in bringing customers back is showing how the company is investing in a safe environment—that’s the key to establishing trust, Biser notes.
“Consumers are looking for that,” Biser says. “I think that’s something that’ll help differentiate. Brands that do a good job with that will come out of this with increasing their market share. Brands that do a poor job with safety, consumers are going to recognize that and lose trust in them.”