Just six months ago, Church’s Chicken turned in its best performance in 10 years for comparable same-store sales, and made 2020 the launch date for the brand’s five-year strategic plan. Then, like all restaurants and businesses, plans were set back due to COVID-19 and the brand enacted a refocused action plan in response. Overall, the COVID-19 sales challenges were only temporary for Church’s, as it reports that domestic sales have returned to pre-pandemic positive trends the past two months.
“Without question, our ability to weather this crisis is due to our entire franchise community, corporate and restaurant team members coming together to quickly and effectively adapt to a changing market and continue to provide the down-home flavor of a home-cooked comfort meals to our guests that only Church’s can deliver,” says Joe Christina, CEO. “In a time of rapid change, our commitment remains the same - to prioritize our focus on providing an abundance of delicious food, quickly and conveniently, at the best possible value to our loyal and new guests. We emphasized our digital tools as a solution to provide the easiest access to our food. Most importantly, we will continue to do all that we can to put people first in terms of safety, convenience, and satisfaction.”
The refocused plan and keys to the sales restoration during the pandemic were three-fold:
- People First, Safety Always Focus
- Double-Down on Digital
- Being “There” for Guests with Drive-Thru and Delivery
People First, Safety Always Focus
The Church’s team’s immediate response to COVID-19 was to prepare for all possible scenarios. That meant protecting and securing their workforce first. The Operations and Human Resources teams created a situational operations guide that outlined safety procedures for internal restaurant teams, guest safety protocols, and quality benchmarks the brand expects to be met before re-opening (which in many cases exceed local standards). The plan also provides latitude for franchisees and operators to respond to their own communities by extending dining room closures or working with a streamlined menu to accommodate COVID-19 conditions in a specific area.
“Quality and safety go hand-in-hand,” adds Pete Servold, EVP of Franchise & Company Operations for the brand “You can’t have one without the other. Our valued team members know Church’s prioritizes their safety, and they are able to pass that peace of mind along to guests. Being a brand that values people is how Church’s has made it through tough times since our beginning ... and it will be what gets us all through today’s tough times together.”
Double Down on Digital
A “consumer-first” digital approach allowed Church’s to keep guests connected to important information while also expanding awareness of convenient and easy accessibility of food through digital ordering, which was – and remains – critical for guests’ evolving needs. The marketing strategy pivoted quickly to amplify the Church’s To-Go message to guests, made possible through new integrated platforms for managing brand content, creative development, and responsive social media engagement. Digital ordering elevated in importance as a contactless option for guests through multiple pre-existing third-party delivery partners and Order Ahead, Pay Ahead capabilities. In fact, digital ordering for the brand increased by 80 percent since the launch of COVID-19, with some restaurants driving over $7,000 in weekly sales through digital ordering alone.
Being “There” for Guests with Drive-Thru & Delivery
Church’s knew what matters most to families has always been quality, comforting food at a value for the whole family. To meet this need now, when it is even more in demand, Drive-Thru and delivery meal deals such as $20 Family Meals and Free Handheld Chicken Pot Pies with every Family Meal purchase, were launched in the early phase of COVID-19. The shift in sales to Church’s family meals, primarily from restaurant Drive-Thru, increased between 15 – 20 percent during the first two months of the pandemic.
“Our goal was to provide comfort to our guests and neighbors when we knew they needed it most,” says Chief Marketing Officer, Brian Gies. “People know us for our commitment to high-quality, hand-prepared comfort food, and providing abundant portions at an accessible price; adjusting to the right media channels and service modes .to reinforce that helped steer the business through.” Deftly intersecting Church’s historical strengths with the consumer need for great-tasting food, that travels well, and serve families over multiple occasions accelerated Church’s business recovery faster than most competitors in the category.
The Return of Smokehouse Season – new Campfire Smokehouse Chicken
And now, as Church’s progresses with their recovery, they’ll launch “Smokehouse Season” a signature summer food event over the last four years and an annual fan favorite. Smokehouse Chicken will deliver a little extra comfort to families everywhere with the new Campfire Smokehouse Chicken, starting on June 25. Many families may not have the chance to sit by a real campfire this summer, though with this new flavor, they can bring that familiar feeling home – how and when they want it.
The Smokehouse Chicken platform has been a key to the brand’s summer success with its one-of-a-kind recipe, combined with a whole lot of food. A juicy half-chicken, weighing in at nearly a full pound, is marinated in a savory campfire seasoning, cooked up crisp and tender without any batter or breading, then brushed with a rich, smoky molasses glaze. Both the Smokehouse preparation and the campfire flavor can only be found at Church’s.
A Campfire Smokehouse meal includes a hearty Smokehouse half chicken, creamy mashed potatoes and gravy, plus a signature Honey-Butter Biscuit, all for just $5. Guests can round out their meals with new summer favorites Wild Berry Splash Tea and Lemonade and Wild Berry Cobbler, made from sweet berry cobbler filling layered with a scratch-made Honey-Butter Biscuit.
In continuing to adapt to changing consumer needs, Campfire Smokehouse Chicken will now be available in a family meal for the first time. A family of four can bring home a Smokehouse feast with something for everyone: two half smokehouse chickens, six chicken tenders, large mashed potatoes and gravy, large coleslaw and four honey-butter biscuits, starting at just $20. Pricing and availability may vary by location. Gies adds that in response to the massive growth in off-premise sales, Church’s will be offering its famous Campfire Smokehouse Chicken for delivery as well as directly through restaurants. “Fans request Smokehouse Chicken all year long and we didn’t want COVID-19 to stand in the way of people enjoying the ultimate comfort food of the summer.”