Cousins Subs announced that it is implementing a large-scale rebranding initiative as part of its overall growth strategy.

After 44 years in the sub-shop industry, Cousins Subs is rolling out a streamlined look and feel across all locations as it seeks to expand its footprint throughout the Midwest.This will be accomplished through a new in-store and exterior design concept, the remodeling of all existing locations, and rebranding of key brand attributes. However, the road to this transition has been years in the making, and the journey to get there did not come without its hurdles.

“Cousins has not shied away from taking the necessary steps to get to a position where the brand can implement change and growth,” says Christine Specht, president and CEO at Cousins Subs.“After years of careful planning, we feel that the time is now to embark on the next journey of Cousins Subs. We’ve evaluated our strengths and weaknesses and have made adjustments to not only remain relevant in a sea of competition, but to further communicate to guests our vision and values.”

Over the last few years, Cousins’ leadership team has taken a calculated and thoughtful approach to its growth plan. From 2008 to 2012, Cousins, along with many others in the industry, felt the impact of economic decline. As a result, Cousins evaluated all upcoming franchise agreements and corporate locations, closed underperforming and noncompliant stores, determined what units would be viable sites for the next 10 years, and worked with its franchise partners to secure their commitment to reinvest in both the remodel of their locations and other strategic initiatives. Throughout this process, Cousins reduced the number of stores by 41 units and reinvested in the acquisition of seven locations corporately.From2011 through the end of 2015, same-store sales for units open during this period were up 16 percent, and average check increased 21 percent. Average unit volumes (AUVs) increased by 33 percent from 2011 to 2015, and by end of 2015, AUVs for traditional stores reached $600,000.

“As you can see, we have strengthened our unit level economics, created a stronger core of franchisee partners, and have solidified our future in existing markets by positioning ourselves as an appealing investment to future multiunit franchisee prospects,” Specht says.



Cousins’ rebranding story begins with updating its logo, packaging, and uniforms in order to better communicate who Cousins is to guests. The new logo package consists of a series of marks, which allow more flexibility and feature the return of the brand’s original iconic logo of the two Cousins (Bill Specht and James Sheppard). Packaging concepts, which are still in development, will offer a minimalist and crisp design allowing for versatility in logo use, and uniforms will take a more casual approach featuring an industrial, old-school sub shop look. 

“These changes are all part of our larger growth initiative,” says Justin McCoy, vice president of marketing at Cousins Subs. “Each detail is a piece of the puzzle that leads to the larger picture of who Cousins Subs is and where we’re heading.”



A significant phase of Cousins rebranding efforts includes remodeling all existing restaurants to unify the brand in look and feel. In response to consumer demands, Cousins has created amodern, inviting environment that delivers upon its unique identity.This is achieved through showcasing the brand’s history, Milwaukee roots, personality, values, and cuisine philosophy in the new Milwaukee Sub Shop restaurant design and Project Henry ordering process.

Year-to-date, 21 of 104 Cousins Subs locations feature the new Milwaukee Sub Shop restaurant design. Celebrating the hardworking, industrial culture of the Milwaukee area, the design incorporates the use of timeless trend designs, such as natural materials balanced by solid surfaces, stone walls, wood floors, earth tone color palettes, industrial finishes, and the original Cousins Subs logo.

“I feel that our guests expect us to change and keep up with new trends in the market, while at the same time delivering on what has made Cousins so great over the years,” says Joe Ferguson, vice president of development at Cousins Subs. “The look and feel of our stores may have changed, but the quality of our sandwiches has not. Our guests have visited a number of stores that have been remodeled over the past couple of years and the feedback on the design has been very positive.”

As the fast-casual space continues to evolve, consumer trends indicate that guests favor interaction with frontline staff while they customize their sub, and the ability to observe their order being made. As a result, Cousins created the Project Henry make-line ordering process, which is a derivative of Henry Ford's famed assembly-line process.

All new Cousins Subs locations outside of Wisconsin will feature both the Milwaukee Sub Shop design and Project Henry make line. Existing locations due for remodel upon renewal and new Wisconsin development will all feature the new design, but only select locations will test the Project Henry make line at this time.

Cousins new exterior design package was recently completed and will be rolled out moving forward.The design is reflective of what guests will experience once inside the restaurant thus further establishing consistency.

“We’ve carried through the earth tone color palette, wood features, and industrial finishes. Another important feature is the incorporation of signature branding elements that will be consistent at all Cousins locations,” McCoy says. “We will also use building graphics that highlight other brand attributes.” 


New market growth

Each facet of Cousins rebranding and remodeling efforts have set the stage for expansion into additional markets—both corporate and franchise owned.

Over the last six months, Cousins has worked with Buxton, an industryleader in customer analytics,to identify potential markets for growth and expansion based on core consumer insights. Through this data, Cousins has identified opportunities in each of the major metropolitan and suburban areas throughout the Midwest.

“With our brand unified in look and feel, we are confident in the success of our growth strategy,” Ferguson says.

Over the next 12 months, Cousins will look to open corporate locations in the Chicagoland area, with opportunities for multiunit franchisees to join in these areas. 

Over the next five years, Cousins will continue to focus on establishing corporate stores in Midwest markets it has identified through its Buxton analysis, and is looking to award multiunit franchise agreements to augment this growth strategy in these select areas as well. Inquiries for multiunit growth opportunities in other areas of the country will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

Once Cousins selects sites, it plans to continue to grow in that respective area over the next several years.

“I absolutely believe that we have the best sub sandwich in the market, and believe that more people need to enjoy what Milwaukeeans have enjoyed for more than 40 years,” Specht says. “It is important for us to get our brand out there and to secure space in new markets to further solidify our spot among serious fast-casual concepts.” 

Design, Fast Casual, Franchising, Growth, News, Sandwiches, Cousins Subs