Clutching the fast and fresh promise
As its “Freak Yeah” campaign notes, Jimmy John’s doesn’t conceal its core focus: a relentless push to be fresh and fast. And freakishly so.
“Being fast and fresh is central to Jimmy John’s, and that’s what we innovate off,” Shea says.
Wanting to get consumers in and out quickly and to serve as an efficient part of their day, Jimmy John’s continues embracing technology to enhance and expedite the guest experience. Last October, the company unveiled tap-and-go as well as mobile payment options, such as Google Pay and Apple Pay, to foster faster, frictionless transactions. In addition, Jimmy John’s continues tweaking its mobile app and online ordering to improve speed.
“We want the lowest number of clicks between our customers and their sandwich, and are always looking to take out the fluff,” Shea says, adding that the company’s roots on college campuses, including a corporate headquarters that remains in Champaign, keeps Jimmy John’s engaged and nimble. “College students tend to be at the front end of tech trends, and they want a frictionless experience on their terms, something that works for them. It’s our job to deliver that.”
Jimmy John’s unwavering attentiveness to its fast and fresh brand promise has also led the company to double down on delivery, a longtime brand differentiator that has come under attack in the age of third-party delivery agents like Uber Eats, DoorDash, and Grubhub.
As Jimmy John’s assessed its response to the rise of third-party delivery, leadership noted “big gaps between consumer expectations and what they get,” Shea says, including delivery times extending beyond 60 minutes. Reflecting on its own assets—namely speedy in-store prep, a network of some 45,000 delivery drivers, 5-minute delivery zones, and a 36-year run perfecting delivery—Jimmy John’s quickly determined it could do delivery better than anyone else. That spurred the brand to proclaim that it would never use third-party delivery.
Those services aren’t fast enough, nor fresh enough, Shea says.
“Freaky fast is our standard because the faster we get it to the customer, the fresher it is,” he says, touting Jimmy John’s average delivery time of 18 minutes. “It’s clear customers care about speed of delivery, cost, and quality, and we win on all of these.”
The trick, Shea adds, is to continue that winning, especially as consumers show growing interest in the convenience of delivery and welcome a growing assortment of choices.
“Delivery in 18 minutes is a competitive advantage, but if it slips to an hour, then that advantage disappears, so we have to be on top of our game more than ever,” Shea says. “We want to be leaders in delivery, period. It’s a differentiator for us and, even more than that, true to who we are as a brand.”
Propelling Jimmy John’s recent innovation is Roark, the Atlanta-based private equity firm that purchased a majority stake in Jimmy John’s three years ago in a deal that reportedly valued the sandwich chain at $3 billion.
A prominent name in the restaurant world, Roark has invested millions in notable restaurant names, including Arby’s, Buffalo Wild Wings, CKE Restaurants (Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s), Corner Bakery Café, and FOCUS Brands concepts such as Auntie Anne’s, Cinnabon, and Moe’s Southwest Grill. Today, Jimmy John’s is leveraging Roark’s industry knowledge to fuel its growth.
“There’s really nothing we encounter that they haven’t seen before, and that’s a real advantage as we try to continue growing the Jimmy John’s brand,” North says of Roark.
After years of running the Jimmy John’s business on little more than Liautaud’s entrepreneurial vision, experience, and seemingly endless guile, Roark has injected calculated purpose into Jimmy John’s operations.
“Roark has brought incredible questions,” North says. “They don’t necessarily know the answers, but they ask the questions and empower us to find solutions.”
Roark also carries a keen eye for data. Though Jimmy John’s held mounds of data in hand before Roark’s arrival, leadership largely struggled to turn its data into action. Roark has since put structure around Jimmy John’s data, which has spurred internal convictions around things like shunning third-party delivery and adding new menu items.
“Roark is patient, kind, and an incredible wealth of knowledge helping us navigate through each strategic step,” North says.
He adds that Jimmy John’s is increasingly blending the best of both worlds, effectively mixing the audacity of Jimmy John’s past with promising elements of the present. The Frenchie, for instance, evolved from a combination of Liautaud’s visionary mind and Roark’s data-based insights.
North and Shea both promise a continued evolution at Jimmy John’s, particularly as the brand enters new territories and inches toward 3,000 stores. In particular, the brand is testing a loyalty program called Freaky Fast Rewards in about 20 markets across the Midwest to boost visits and customer engagement.
“We’re all about keeping the customer in focus and working on ways to wow them,” Shea says. “The things that separate us—speed, freshness, quality of food—have us well positioned for consumer trends, so we’re going after it.”
The Jimmy John’s of today is certainly not the one North encountered 21 years ago, when he passed cows and cornfields on his way to that Champaign storefront. Though it remains a bold outfit inspired by the brash, daring spirit of its founder—one who sold North on the vision of a sandwich empire—Jimmy John’s faces a constant barrage of new challenges. Just don’t expect Jimmy John’s to give in; that, after all, isn’t in its DNA.
“We’ve worked hard to pull this all together, and our team’s going to continue charging ahead,” North says.