Inspire Brands has said at times in recent years there’s whitespace to double the footprint of each of its six concepts—Arby’s, Buffalo Wild Wings, Dunkin’, Sonic Drive-In, Jimmy John’s, and Baskin-Robbins. And while that’s mostly an individual, case-by-case outline, Inspire’s model was always built on the goal of collective scale. Imagine how hotel partners drive outside returns through a family of brands. Instead of a siloed entity or single-branded company, these organizations grab share by giving buyers a chance to work with a multi-brand company boasting a breadth of options.

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That’s true of developers as well as franchisees. And one of the ways it’s maturing at Inspire is through format innovation. In one example, the company has refined smaller, more efficient building prototypes that maximize real estate through co-locating brands on a single parcel of land, or within an existing building or allotted space. “Either separately demised on one piece of real estate or within a shared space for nontraditional applications like airports and universities, our new formats open up new opportunities for our franchisees, provide more choices for customers, and further accelerate Inspire’s net unit growth,” Christian Charnaux, chief growth officer, said in a statement.


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For standard pad sites, Inspire on Monday lifted the lid on co-locations “aimed at maximizing the revenue potential of that land by enabling franchisees to develop and open a second complementary build within the Inspire portfolio on the same piece of real estate.”

Inspire can also drop co-locations on smaller lots, with two brands fitting on as little as half an acre.

An example below showcases a Sonic Drive-Thru and Jimmy John’s in a blueprint where only Sonic would have been before. “We’re not just reimagining our restaurants, but how the parcel of land itself is utilized to deliver superior returns for our franchisees,” Charnaux said.

The other model-in-motion is a Universal Modular design, which targets high-traffic spots with a high propensity for drive-thru, small lot sizes, or co-location opportunities.

The company shared with QSR last year it was testing a modular approach that could be built off site, fitted to whichever chain was picked, and brought to market.

This prefabricated building design, as noted, is extensible across all of the brands and, Inspire said, will lead to quicker returns on investment and a “competitive edge in the market” due to its efficiency and speed of build.

While standardized in shape and size, the branding, kitchen layout, and equipment are customized to each. In particular, the Universal Modular is optimized for drive-thru-only applications.

A Sonic without seating opened last year in Cornelia, Georgia. That was both the brand’s first drive-thru only build and Inspire’s debut Universal Modular. It arrived in two large pieces via a flatbed trailer and assembled on-site after the foundation was poured. Inspire said the build time was sliced by more than 30 percent.

In addition to the modular option, Inspire has continued to plot drive-thru-only concepts more generally. Dunkin’ developed one that’s less than 1,000 square feet and features multiple drive-thru lanes, including a pickup one for people who order in advance on the app. The locations can be outfitted with a walk-up window as well.

Guest preferences continue to flood toward on-the-go occasions.

One of the motivations behind Inspire’s wider evolution, the company said, centers on profitability. As guest preferences shift outside the four walls, some legacy builds have been left with more dining space than needed. Inspire said it’s complementary brands allow franchisees to repurpose underutilized space into another revenue opportunity, “separately demised to maintain the uniqueness of each brand experience.”

It’s not unlike how ghost kitchen or virtual brands have tried to broaden dayparts within existing spaces. Like how IHOP, in one instance, is serving multiple brands out of its kitchens to fulfill demand where it has surplus capacity.

In this case, however, Inspire isn’t creating new concepts or channels as much as it’s adjoining existing ones that already have high awareness. A legacy Dunkin’ in Rockledge, Florida, owned a building side-by-side with an electronics retailer. When the latter’s lease ended, the franchisee, Devine Wings, who had recently signed up with Buffalo Wild Wings, put a Buffalo Wild Wings GO (the counter-service iteration of the sports-bar chain) into the spot.

And speaking specifically to non-traditional, Inspire believes these varied approaches will unlock a bevy of options, from universities to airports to travel plazas.

Charnaux previously told QSR there was an opportunity for 50,000 non-trad units. While that number might not be a distinct aim exactly, it speaks to how wide the runway is (it could reach 15 percent of Inspire’s go-forward annual net unit growth).

Inspire’s multi-brand concepts tout an integrated shared space, which could include a shared back-of-house, where multiple brands can be served from the same kitchen. These require less equipment, real estate, and labor.

“Our multi-brand approach to nontraditional locations enables franchisees to mix and match brands to address specific needs, covering all dayparts and customer needs, all with lower capital and operating costs than single-brand solutions, resulting in happier customers and more profitable operators,” Charnaux said. 

On Georgia Tech’s campus in Atlanta, Dunkin’ franchisee Chunara Group had space and plans for one brand. But the organization partnered with Inspire to augment the spot to include Dunkin’ and Jimmy’s John’s without needing to expand.

Dunkin’ and Jimmy John’s, co-located in a non-trad spot.

The brands share a walk-in box, three-compartment sink, mop sink, office, prep stations, and storage areas. It maximizes space, Inspire said, and saves on equipment costs for the operator. Also, there’s shared labor deployment with cross-trained employees.

The company said the multi-brand approach could, under certain circumstances, be used in traditional locations, typically dense urban cores. So a Dunkin’ franchisee, being hypothetical, who enjoys a heavy morning business could have extra space in the dining room. Then, they’ll have the option to add a complement like Jimmy John’s—a chain that’s peak hours run later. “While the brands share space to enhance efficiency, the guest experience and ordering process for reach brand remain true to their unique identities,” the company said.

This overarching concept for Inspire has been in the works for some time. In fall 2021, the company unveiled “Alliance Kitchen,” which claimed to the be first fully developed, owned, and operated multi-brand ghost kitchen in the industry.

Essentially, nobody previously tried to meld concepts together at this level, for this purpose. Like what you’re seeing now, it was a test to take a one-central-kitchen approach and map product preparation and creation to allow Inspire to curate different orders for various concepts. You have one segmented kitchen that features workspaces that blend to fulfill as opposed to having five separate areas.

Inspire said Alliance Kitchen reduced labor requirements by 54 percent, cut square footage needs by 19 percent, decreased equipment costs by 45 percent, and sliced energy consumption north of 50 percent, compared to having five spots.

Unlike what’s mostly on the market—housing multiple brands under one roof with independent approaches—this concept provided a practice in efficiency, from equipment to utilities to labor for Inspire. Picture a grill where all of the brands’ grill-cooked products are produced in that station. Now, everything flows one direction toward the guest and locker system. Not to mention, cross-trained workers. “With Alliance Kitchen, we figured out ways behind the scenes we could man those with shared equipment, shared resources so it’s more productive. That now becomes really, really interesting to operators,” Charnaux said last year.

In sum, Alliance Kitchen’s true unlock was learning how to integrate the back of the house across a multi-brand portfolio. And that’s what’s now beginning to clarify.

“The focus on optimizing building design and construction methods is a testament to Inspire’s determination to create outsized returns for our operators,” Charnaux said Monday.

Design, Fast Casual, Fast Food, Finance, Story, Inspire Brands