Again, this was building off the guidepost that Zaxby’s customers crave experiences, Bulger says.
“If you come into a Zaxby’s and there’s live music, does that make your experience even better?” he says. “And from the research that we did following it, it does. It’s exciting and it’s something nobody is really doing right now.”
“So, we’re going to continue to look for ways and test things that we’ll associate our brand with that are a little bit more interesting, edgy, and more engaging than what a lot of brands are trying.”
Naturally, the concert series was an effective entry point for light users. Some fans followed Rager to stores, whether they were current Zaxby’s customers or not. It got them through the door to showcase what Bulger says is a more dynamic and evolving menu than many chains in its sector. (Zaxby’s is a big proponent of LTOs in a time when some restaurants are reducing promotions in favor of core focus, less complexity, and value constructs over products).
The brand also tried to position these events in college towns, like Athens and the University of Georgia—Bulger’s alma mater—in mid-October. “We recognize that a lot of our audience does skew kind of into that age group and so if you combine live music and younger folks who love hand-breaded, high quality products, right? Then you give them a free concert in a restaurant that they already love, it’s the perfect recipe,” Bulger says.
Additionally, Zaxby’s got involved in esports this year with sponsorships in the Overwatch League and Collegiate Starleague.
Regarding the chicken wars in general right now, namely Chick-fil-A and Popeyes sparring on social media, Bulger says the brand is “a little more relaxed” than its major competitors and doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Yet expect Zaxby’s to get even more on the marketing front foot in coming months as it builds out its store count—the brand opened 12 restaurants since February. More national media and another movie (Bulger couldn’t say which one) are on deck.
Returning to the LTO point, however, Bulger says it’s an essential flag for Zaxby’s to plant in the ground to gain share. And the increased messaging will complement that.
“We’re introducing new products every year,” he says. “New news isn’t only great to drive new guests, people who said, ‘Oh, I didn’t know Zaxby’s did a product like that,’ but also for our current guests. If you come every week or twice a week you might want to come one more time and say, ‘wow, I’d love to try that new thing.’”
Bulger says Zaxby’s is at a “great place growth wise,” and has some franchisees engaged who have been with the brand since the outset. At the end of 2018, only 141 of the chain’s 898 restaurants were corporate run.
“They really know and understand the brand and so it’s this combination of I created this national calendar that has new products and core products and we put it out with these meaningful messages and associations and partnerships,” Bulger says. “And then on a local level they really try to engage with their communities and be that connection point for families and millennials and all the folks that love our brand.”
“We’ll definitely have much more in 2020,” he adds. “We’ll definitely have a much larger national exposure. It’ll be great for the brand because it will continue to expose more and more markets, and more and more people to Zaxby’s.”