Tommy Haddock recently opened his 44th Bojangles’ unit, a standalone brick store in a budding retail district in Cary, North Carolina. Haddock’s stores thrive on passionate, young customers—especially high school students—who treat his stores like a social hub and often visit at lunch and after sports games.

Haddock shares his tips on how a company can reach out to young, new customers and turn them into passionate, loyal fans.


1. Reach Out to the Schools

We try to get our name into high schools. We do things with all of the high schools, with their athletics and becoming members of their booster clubs and doing those kinds of things when given the opportunity.

At Apex [North Carolina] High School … they have a big cross-country meet every year. We started doing free food for all of the volunteers and officials, and we’ve been doing that for 18 years now. Given the opportunity, we’ll do as much of that as we’re permitted to do, because those young people are our future for the next 30 years. So we’re cultivating the next generation of customers.

On the college level, we do things during fall orientation where we’ll give them promo gift cards and generally $1 off or whatever the case may be. We’ve even done that at some high school football games, where we’ll give promo gift cards so that we’re not only reaching out to the students, but we’re reaching out to the parents, too.

We find we get a much better response from that kind of couponing than we do when you send out a paper coupon in the newspaper. It doesn’t matter how much you send out, you may get less than 5 percent redemption. We put a $1 off promo gift card in someone’s hand, and we find that our redemption rate is 50 percent-plus on most of those.


2. Treat Young Customers like Everybody Else

These young people have the money to come in and buy a Chicken Fillet Biscuit combo—spending $5 on a meal is nothing for them. From our standpoint, they deserve the same service and courtesy that any other customer in our restaurant deserves. But I think that more than anything else, they’re looking for somewhere that welcomes them to come in and has open doors and says, “Come eat with us, we’d love to have you,” because that’s not the case everywhere.

We have all of our managers in each of our restaurants tune in to try to know what is happening, to look at the local high school football schedules, to know when they’re playing at home, and to know when there are events happening at the high schools so that we can be ready and expect those rushes and handle those rushes when they come in.

Speed of service is very important, getting them through the lines, because they’re just like everybody else, particularly at lunch—they only have a limited amount of time. If they know they can come here and we can get them through the line and get them good food at a reasonable price in the time they have allotted, that may be the reason they choose to come to us. It may not be because they’ve made a conscious decision that they want a Chicken Fillet Biscuit that day instead of a hamburger.

The subconscious reasons that people decide to eat with you may be more important than the conscious decisions.


3. Talk to Students on Facebook

As an old guy, I’ve been dragged there kicking and screaming because I don’t fully understand it, but luckily I’ve got young people in my company who understand the necessity and the value of getting on Facebook and doing some Internet marketing. We recognize that particularly with young people, electronic marketing is going to be a big thing in the future.

We’ll go on Facebook and we will post our new store openings. Sometimes during the construction process, we’ll post the progress on construction so people can get excited during the building process, letting people know we’re coming.


4. Take Coupons to the Streets

In new store markets, sometimes we will do a newspaper insert or drop a coupon in new markets. We might even do that in this restaurant, because on this side of Cary, I think there are a lot of people that know our brand, but there are a lot of people who have never sampled us. I think we take our success for granted and we think that because we are successful in the market, that we can just open the doors to a new store and people are going to come. Every once in a while we get reminded that isn’t the case.

We will send our managers out in a neighborhood with a pocket full of coupons to pop into offices and stuff and say, “We’re new in the neighborhood, we’d like to have you try us.” That accomplishes two things: You get a face-to-face contact with someone in an office somewhere, and you’re handing them some coupons, which are generally something for free, not just a discounting coupon. It’s a more labor-intense way of doing it, but you get a lot better response.

Marketing & Promotions, Story, Bojangles