Cousins Subs expands franchise network in Wisconsin and Illinois as part of rebranding and growth strategy.
Over the last several years, Cousins has taken a calculated approach to its growth plan by strengthening its unit-level economics and creating a stronger core of franchise partners. As a result, in May 2016, the Wisconsin-based sub shop announced a rebranding initiative committing to streamline its locations in look and feel—a strategy that positioned the brand for its next phase of growth.
“With our remodeling and rebranding initiative underway, now is the right time to revive the brand through Midwest growth, specifically in the Chicagoland area,” says Christine Specht, president and CEO at Cousins Subs. “We’ve increased our same store sales and average unit volumes positioning us for multi-unit franchise investment.”
With the revival of the brand, Cousins has signed three new franchise groups to join its system.
“The key to our franchise growth is dependent on finding the right partners who meet the qualifications needed to successfully transition into our brand—liquidity, restaurant experience, history of multi-unit development, and the capability of multi-unit growth,” says Joe Ferguson, VP of development at Cousins Subs. “Each of the multi-unit groups entering our system are great representations of the kind of investors we’re looking to have join Cousins.”
Brothers, Amit and Kalpesh Patel of Chicago, Illinois and Munster, Indiana, are the most recent multi-unit owners to enter the Cousins’ system as of late March 2017. As owners of OM Group, a multi-brand business established in 2006, the Patels have 22 years of industry and management experience. Through OM Group, they oversee more than 1,500 employees across 50 quick service restaurants and approximately 40 gasoline / convenient store locations throughout the Midwest. The Patels will enter Cousins’ system as the first group to develop in the Chicagoland market through a multi-unit investment of 10 stores over four years.
“After Cousins revamped its image and menu, we felt it was the perfect time to take the brand to different markets and what better market than Chicagoland,” says Amit Patel. “Though we will look for other acquisition opportunities anywhere in Wisconsin, our goal is to be a main franchise group of Cousins in the Chicagoland market. We are excited to see the reaction on people’s faces when they receive a fantastic product with great service.”
Joining Cousins’ system in March 2017 are multi-unit owners, Chad Ellett and Randy Fusch from Reedsburg, Wisconsin along with Mike Gilbertson of South Beloit, Illinois. Collectively, they have 35 years of restaurant industry experience and since 2003, Ellett and Fusch owned and operated two co-branded quick service restaurant concepts in Reedsburg and Stoughton, Wisconsin. As they found success with their existing restaurant businesses, they looked for additional opportunities within Wisconsin leading them to the purchase of two Cousins’ corporate locations in the Madison market—on East Washington Ave. and a location in Oregon, Wisconsin. There is also an opportunity for the group to purchase a third location in the future. In addition, they have signed a development agreement to open two new stores over the next two years between Madison and Rockford, Illinois.
“When looking to expand our business, we saw a lot of opportunity with Cousins. We’re looking for a company to grow with and bring to the forefront as a major chain in our market, and Cousins fit into our growth plans,” says Ellett. “Cousins is taking initiative through its new restaurant design, while respecting its franchise community. The new design is feasible for the franchisee, which tells me they really care for their brand partners and that’s what makes the whole brand grow as a whole."
Entering the Cousins’ system in November 2016, father-son business owners, John Stewart Sr. and John Stewart Jr., purchased both Cousins’ franchise locations in Sheboygan, Wisconsin as well as a third in Mequon, Wisconsin. Stewart Jr. oversees operations at all three locations and brings more than 19 years of restaurant experience from his family's business, Food Services Incorporated, which was started by his father twenty-four years ago and sold in 2016. Their business operated restaurant concepts, including franchised, in more than thirty college universities and ten corporate food service locations across four states. In addition to their current locations, the Stewarts have an interest in continued growth with Cousins in both Wisconsin and the Chicagoland area.
“We witnessed the process that Cousins was going through with remodeling, restructuring and rebranding and felt it was a great time to move in and grow with the brand,” says Stewart Jr. “To start with a franchise that is established in the area was very appealing, and Cousins offered consistency in standards and quality. We looked for many other franchise opportunities, but appreciated Cousins’ business model, product, and its family, locally-owned identity, which was much like the identity of our company.”
“Our new franchise partners bring many years of restaurant expertise along with proven infrastructure and processes to our brand, and we can learn from their best practices and grow together,” says Ferguson.
As Cousins moves forward with its Midwest growth strategy, each of the new multi-unit ownership groups add to the increasing momentum driving the brand’s growth in its core markets in Wisconsin as well as in its target market of the greater Chicagoland area.
“The new multi-unit franchise groups provide a strong foundation for growth not only in our current markets, but in new markets as well,” says Specht. “We plan to grow contiguously in markets near our home state of Wisconsin and believe we will experience the most success by growing in these areas first.”
Cousins is seeking additional multi-unit franchise owners to join its system throughout Wisconsin, Chicagoland and the Midwest.
“In the coming years, there will be opportunities for multi-unit investors to acquire existing restaurants while growing a presence in their trade area and achieving growth in new markets,” explained Ferguson.
“As a brand, we are confident in our position in the fast-casual marketplace and most importantly in the quality of food we serve,” says Specht. “We’ve taken the right steps to set up our brand for success and welcome any interested multi-unit investors to learn more about our legacy and future growth plans.”