McAlister's, Moe's, Schlotzsky's VP: 'How fast casuals can win in college markets'
By Taylor Bennett, VP of franchise sales development
An endless supply of consumers who consider food consumption a top priority, a highly dense population, a testing ground for innovative concepts and a consumer base that, if treated properly, can become lifelong brand advocates. These all describe markets that any franchisor of fast casual restaurant concepts should prioritize as key for current and future growth. They also accurately describe college markets.
In order to succeed in college markets, it's important to first understand their significance. In developing a fast casual concept, success comes when you find the tipping point in density. In and around college campuses, density sky rockets — more so than in non-college settings. The more densely populated a market or site, the better the opportunity to have a consistent supply of consumers, which is another benefit of building in college markets.
What once used to be considered populated environments only when classes were in session, college markets have quickly become year-round communities. This leads to a high number of consumers who not only place food consumption as a top priority — a natural win for restaurants — but can also serve as employee base.
This deep bench of consumers also fosters a prime testing ground for innovative concepts and techniques. Currently, the college demographic is driving the integration of technology across industries. Mobile ordering and off-premise dining are prime examples and, as technology continues to advance, it forces the fast casual industry to be in the loop of what consumers and future generations need and expect.
Once you understand what college markets offer, you can focus on succeeding. If you're able to embrace and provide what they need and want, the consistent supply of impressionable consumers can lead to longevity. The fast casual segment is unique in that it can deliver on affordable, wholesome meals with a meaningful experience. If done properly, you extend the value of their dollar and become more important to the demographic.
In addition, you not only want to deliver on the restaurant experience, but you also want to foster the community around your restaurant. In becoming cognizant of your surroundings and tailoring your advertising to insert yourself in what matters most to that community, you become valuable to students and members of the surrounding community.
Lastly, don't be hesitant to utilize the mountain of data and feedback available to you. The college market demographic is a prime testing ground to perfect what consumers need and want. If you use them to their fullest extent, you can place your brand as a leader in the segment.
Embracing college markets with both on-campus units as well as brick and mortar locations surrounding campus will bring your brand to a demographic primed for the fast casual industry. While you can't carbon copy prior models of success and expect them to drive the same level of results in a college market, the combination of your knowledge, adapting to the environment and unique community and jumping in to take advantage of the insights available to you will help refine not just your college restaurants but your system as a whole.
Topics: Marketing / Branding / Promotion