Move over, Main Street. Moe’s Southwest Grill and sister FOCUS Brands concepts—including Auntie Anne’s, Cinnabon, and Carvel Ice Cream—are taking the path less traveled with a strategic growth plan that involves building units in nontraditional venues like train stations, convenience stores, college campuses, and military bases.

The new locations will give FOCUS Brands concepts access to the masses in ways that traditional real estate settings can’t, says Paul Damico, president of Moe’s Southwest Grill.

“Any time we can expose the brand to tens of thousands, and hundreds of thousands, of customers that we wouldn’t normally [be able to], that’s amazing marketing,” he notes. 

In fact, Damico says the brands can devote much less attention to marketing and advertising with these new locations. “We spend a lot of money on marketing,” he says. “But in nontraditional locations, you worry less about marketing because the foot traffic is there and inherent.”

Damico cites a quicker time-to-open as another advantage stemming from the growth plan, adding that these 700–900-square-feet nontraditional footprints take a mere 90 days to open, while a typical 2,600-square-foot store requires about 250 days.

Pointing to cheaper build-out costs, Damico says the units—most of which will be franchised—offer a great opportunity for both new and existing franchisees. He adds that even though the footprints may be smaller, the new stores are potential high-traffic units with the ability to generate a lot of revenue.

Damico acknowledges, however, that franchising in nontraditional locations can come with challenges: namely, working with corporate powerhouse franchisees.

“You are allowing large, multibillion-dollar companies to become your franchisee,” he explains. “You’re franchising your brands to the Aramarks of the world.” This means the concepts have to put in the extra effort to work with foodservice management companies, educating them on what the brand stands for and ensuring that company values and standards are upheld.

To kick off the growth strategy, Moe’s and its fellow FOCUS brands recently launched venues in New York’s Angola Travel Plaza, a 65,000-square-foot space along the New York Thruway. Damico says Moe’s will continue nontraditional expansion this year with footprints in college and university student unions, casinos, a medical center, and two additional airport locations, while possible agreements with military bases are underway.

“It’s just another avenue of growth for each of the [FOCUS] brands,” he explains. “It’s a way to grow, grow quickly, and maintain the integrity of our brands.”

By Mary Avant

Denise Lee Yohn: QSR's Marketing Guru, Growth, News, Auntie Anne's, Carvel Ice Cream, Cinnabon, Moe's Southwest Grill