Everybody loves a good comeback story, and if Hollywood were to feature one about a restaurant as opposed to an underdog sports team, Schlotzsky's would be the star. After all, what's more inspiring than a brand reclaiming a top spot in the industry less than a decade after filing bankruptcy? That story belongs to Schlotzsky's President Kelly Roddy, the man who took over in 2007, and helped the nearly extinct chain to accomplish seven years in a row of positive comps. It's also enjoying a huge growth spurt, opening 30 units in the past two years with plans to open at least 50 more this year.
"All round, Lotz better"
While most brands struggling to regain relevancy tend to overhaul their entire menu, Schlotzsky's left it alone for the most part except for changing the salads — they're fresh now — and a few other menu additions. Instead of changing the food, Roddy decided to concentrate on updating the look and feel of the brand. What sets Schlotzsky's apart from competitors, he said, is serving sandwiches on made-from-scratch, round buns, as opposed to the subs served in most restaurants. Those round buns inspired the chain's design element and new tagline, "All round, Lotz better." (Click here to see photos of the new design.)
"It's our brand filter, our promise to do everything better," Roddy said.
The first unit to get the redesign was in Waco, Texas, in 2009, because if it worked there, "We knew it would work anywhere. Circles are just a cool design and you see them everywhere from on the walls to the lamp shades to our cups and bags," Roddy said. "When you see a circle, we want you to think Schlotzsky's."
The design also incorporated fresh, modern colors, including apple green, sky blue and bright red mixed with some earth tones.
"It's just a cool, hip look," he said.
When sales increased at the Waco unit by 45 percent, Roddy and his team knew they were onto something and began building all the new units with the new look. They still had 350 "old" stores, however, that needed updated. They went to work planning how to use their marketing dollars to retrofit the other stores. It took a few years, but now nearly every unit has new paint inside and out, new signage, packaging and road signs.
Although customers still order at the counter, Schlotzsky's staff bring their food to their tables. In the past, guests waited for their numbers to be called and had to fetch their orders.
"It's now more of a sit down and relax atmosphere, and we've removed the clutter with the numbers," Roddy said. "We also added more soft seating instead of mainly just hard chairs. There's more booths and nice lighting. It feels more like a casual dining experience."
The food comes on china as opposed to paper products, which also upgrades the experience.
The chain also found another way to increase sales; it added a Cinnabon Express to about 200 of its locations, and 30 units now house Carvel Ice Cream units.
"When we add these brands, we are more of a complete package," Roddy said. "We may be selling ice cream to one out of 10 customers during the day, but it's more about creating family events at night. It helps bring in more families. We've seen a nice little bump in the Carvel stores at dinner."
Cinnabon, which sees half its sales as take out, also encourages guests to spend more money.
"They'll stop in for lunch and then grab Cinnabon to go," Roddy said. "It's a very inexpensive way to put in another national brand and bring in customers."
Schlotzsky's is in full growth mode, said Roddy, who predicts the spurt won't stall anytime soon. The chain, which has a presence throughout the States, has sold more agreements in Texas and Oklahoma and has also targeted Phoenix and California. Franchises will also soon open in Philadelphia, North and South Carolina, New Jersey, Kentucky, Tennessee and Florida. An announcement about an international deal is also just weeks away, Roddy said.
"We're not only financially strong; we are growing and will be for years to come," he said. "It's just been a great ride."
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Cherryh Butler has been a reporter and editor for nearly 15 years, writing on a variety of topics, ranging from the restaurant industry to business and health and fitness news. Before joining Networld Media Group as managing editor of Food/Retail Publications, she was content specialist at Barkley ad agency in Kansas City and has served as editor for several publications. She's also written for several daily newspapers, magazines and websites, including Forbes, The Kansas City Star and American Fitness magazine.