In other words, what makes Inspire so potent is its collective power in nearly all facets of foodservice.
“We’re making some meaningful investments in data analytics and technology, which we can now spread over a larger base of multiple brands,” Charnaux says. “By doing that, it’s in many ways a fixed cost or fixed investment; we can make bigger bets on bigger capabilities and share those capabilities over a broader set of brands.”
He adds that there are a number of cases where Inspire can pull from “a pretty expansive data lake,” from demand forecasting to labor models and one-to-one marketing. In fact, Inspire has doubled down so much on data analytics that it’s expanded that team from four or five employees to more than 50.
Arby’s president Rob Lynch, whom Brown recruited to join the company originally as CMO, goes one further in explaining just how important the scale of Inspire’s collective assets is to each brand’s success. He thinks it’s an unfair advantage in today’s increasingly competitive restaurant industry—one that will be necessary for any meaningful growth and innovation.
“We really do believe that scale is going to matter. We really do believe that the industry is changing hyper-rapidly relative to the past 100 years of foodservice,” Lynch says. “We believe that technology is going to be a differentiator both on the consumer side as well as the operational side. And so the brands and companies that are able to invest in building, learning, testing, and implementing those technologies are the brands that are going to continue to outperform.”
Baking culture into the DNA
There’s an optimistic vibe about the hallways of Inspire’s existing Global Support Center, if a little chaotic in the weeks after the Sonic acquisition news. The company occupies six floors at the top of an office building, and they’re starting to feel cramped, albeit with an excited sort of energy.
That positive nature isn’t by accident; Inspire has spent a lot of time on its culture, and even though the company has existed for less than a year, everyone seems at ease with the massive undertaking they’re collectively a part of. A big piece of that is the cultural structure that Inspire has baked into its DNA, one that extends from the brands to the corporate team and to the thousands of team members across the country.
The company’s culture starts with its stated purpose: to “ignite and nourish flavorful experiences.” Brown says this process begins with the individual brands, noting that Inspire’s aim is to ignite new momentum within each concept (as it’s now tasked to do with Buffalo Wild Wings) and then nourish that brand’s success once momentum is captured (as it’s doing with Arby’s).
Essential to igniting a brand, he says, is stripping it down to its core essence. “Any great brand became a great brand because it started with an essence that really resonated with consumers,” Brown says. “And over time, the world changes around that brand, and sometimes it doesn’t actually stay up with the times, and so the way to really reinject new life into a brand is going back and trying to understand what its core essence was to begin with and then figure out the modern day incarnation of that.”
That’s where it finds itself with Buffalo Wild Wings today. The sports bar’s same-store sales dipped 1.7 percent in 2017 as the brand struggled to find a consistent message and corporate stability. As part of the Inspire portfolio, Buffalo Wild Wings has received a much-needed jolt of energy, with a new logo, marketing campaign, and fantasy-football partnership with DraftKings. The company is now developing a new prototype for Buffalo Wild Wings that places more emphasis on the bar and creates varied spaces for guests to dine in.
Lyle Tick was named Buffalo Wild Wings’ president in September after a marketing career that’s included stops with Walgreens and Bacardi. He says Buffalo Wild Wings had started to act more like a casual-dining concept, but that its strength was in being a “category of one” in the national sports-bar industry. The goal now is to refine the restaurants so that customers can experience them in whatever ways they want.
“If you can create an environment that gives them the freedom to engage in a way they want to engage; to feel comfortable in your place; to not feel like it’s structured where you have to go appetizer, entrée, dessert, and out but to be able to own the experience, you’re kind of creating an environment in alchemy for that,” Tick says.