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In the restaurant business, the surest measure of success is often the bottom line. At national chicken chain Popeyes, brand executives have seen their strategic growth plan pay off in the form of five consecutive years of rising sales.
The international brand announced growth for the first quarter of 2014 during an earnings call on May 28. “Our global same-store sales were up 4.5 percent, and that’s on top of 4.5 from last year, so it’s a 9 percent two-year comp,” says Ralph Bower, president of U.S. Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, of the news. “It was a really great quarter despite headwinds from the weather. I think a lot of folks suffered through that, but it didn’t seem to affect us at all.”
Bower says Popeyes is charging forward with momentum thanks to the company’s focus on three key pillars for strategic growth. The first of these is building a distinctive brand, he says, and that’s been accomplished by “having the media and the message in place to really explain to our consumers why Popeyes is different from other quick-service restaurants out there.” Popeyes’ national TV advertising put a new face, spokeswoman “Annie,” to a reimaged brand, driving home the Louisiana-inspired feel of the food and restaurant.
Menu innovation has also been key in building a distinctive brand, and the chain’s latest LTO is evidence that. Chicken Waffle Tenders, its most popular LTO ever, returned to Popeyes for the summer, and could contribute to sales growth for future quarters.
Bower says the second pillar that’s been key to success is creating a memorable customer experience. “We have to start with treating our team members right so that they treat our guests right,” he says. The chain invests in leadership programs, training, and skills for restaurant-level teams, so executive can ensure team members get the kind of experience they want to pass on to guests.
The brand’s reimaging program, which involves updating store interiors, has also contributed greatly to evolving the guest experience, Bower says. About 65 percent of Popeyes’ restaurants have been updated, and executives expect that to rise to 80 percent by the end of this year.
The third pillar—one that Bower says is distinctive to a largely franchised quick serve—is a “fanatical focus on restaurant profitability,” he says. “Our plan from the beginning has been to create a model so profitable for our franchisees that they’re beating down the door to build new restaurants, and today, we see that.”
In 2013, Popeyes built 124 restaurants domestically and 70 restaurants globally. This year, they’ve set the bar for 180–200 new units total.
“Despite the fact that we’re 42 years old, we’re growing faster than any time in our brand’s history,” Bower says.
By Tamara Omazic