Pizza chain sales down across the board

Pizza chain sales are down:

  • Pappa Johns: -5.7%
  • Pizza Hut: -12.9%
  • Dominos: -6.5%
  • Sbarro: -6% domestic, -13% internationally (taking into account increase in US dollar)

Sbarro’s attributes a drop in sales to a drop in mall traffic.
What is up?  Frozen pizza sales.

Frozen pizza sales rocketed to $4.4 billion in America last year from $3.1 billion in 2000, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported this week, citing market research by Datamonitor Inc.  Sales of private-label brands (produced by chains such as Walmart, Jewel, Dominick’s and Target) have risen more than 20 percent in the past year.  Clearly, cost and an acceptable level of quality is at play here.

In related news, Kraft Foods Inc., maker of DiGiorno, Tombstone and Jack’s, said it selling their brands to Nestle so it can fund an acquisition of Cadbury.

Potbelly’s Sandwich Works in Chicago Begins Franchising

I’m a local Chicagoan so Potbelly’s Sandwich Works news is interesting to me.  As you’ve probably heard, Potbelly is now franchising their potbelly stove themed restaurant.  Their web site lists the total cost to open between $500k-$750k with a heavy $40k franchise fee.

I predicted this early in 2009 after I noticed job posting listing franchising experience and a little snooping.

A previous insider comment to a blog post on Potbelly has always stuck in my head which makes me pause about the opportunity.  I’m pretty sure I know the person who wrote the comment:

Potbelly is another stab in the dark venture that suffers from ridiculous logistical design, high labor costs, exorbitant pricey locations, and excessive buildout costs.  Is there any wonder thay GREw so much.  did you expect them to just sit on the 100,000,000 raised by Starbuck’s Maveron Group.  funny, potbelly has turned one quarterly profit in about 6 years and had three presidents in three years.  The lines which everyone seems to think are the sign of success are a sign of basic incompetency and presume people will continue to buy into hype for a three day old bun baked by Turano (same as the other great success story Quizno’s ) and generic low quality meat that’s run through a conveyor oven which can’t be delivered or catered without serious degradation in quality.  other than the expensive logo vanity packaging someone and the illusion of quality based on 500,000 of faux antiques, please explain what is original or significant quality.  the sandwiches are the smallest, the most expensive per ounce, and the worst produced in terms of speed and efficiency than any I have ever seen and the lines aren’t looking too long these days.  Nothing angers me more than a hot concept  and has never managed to turn a profit.  Think Cosi, Planet Hollywood, etc.  that’s why the restaurant business gets a bad rap.  Anyone with a brain could say hmmm lowest check average, slowest production line, highest rent, most labor and they don’t make money?  Duh!

Social Media, What Can Franchisees Do?

Most franchisees will not have social media addressed specifically in their Franchise Agreements.  So, there is not much stopping franchisees from participating in social media web sites.  New franchisees are now starting to see company’s social media policies in their franchise agreements.What is the big deal with a franchisee setting up a Twitter or Facebook page?  Here are a few:

  • A franchisee’s page is neglected and it reflects poorly on the brand.
  • A franchisee posts a coupon on his Twitter page but isn’t clear that it is only valid at his store.
  • A franchisee’s personality can become evident over time with social media – is this good for the brand, is it confusing?

In my opinion, from what I’ve seen with social media for 99.5% of restaurants – an proactive social media strategy is really on good for sending discount promotions to a ready pool of your customers.    You can sometimes get ‘buzz’ from online communities,  but the resulting increase in sales is almost always negligible.

Brand Positioning Will Help Us, Says Largest Pizza Hut Franchisee

The marketing function performed by most franchisors can mean the difference between a flat year-over-year sales, and 13% year-over-year decrease in sales.   For Pizza Hut’s largest franchisee, NPC, that difference in sales a massive amount of money.  Hypothetically, if the average Pizza Hut does $1.5 million in sales, then we are talking about a $195,000 difference per store.  With 1,150 stores, we’re talking about $22.4 million.  That’s a large distribution check for the owners to miss out on!

Double Cheeseburgers cost more than $1 to produce and sell

dollarBurger King franchisees are suing their franchisor over being forced to price the double cheeseburger at maximum of $1.  Franchisees’ problem is that it costs more than $1 to make and sell.  I’m sure Burger King corporate response to the loss argument is that the total average sale involving the $1 double cheeseburger turns a profit, because on average people also buy at least a drink and fries.

Comparing Royalties and Franchise Fees of the Better Burger Concepts

Concept Royalty Royalty Total Advertising/Marketing Fee
The Counter $50,000 6% 2%
Mooyah $30,000
Five Guys $30,000 6% 3%
Smashburger $25,000 6% 4-7%
Fatburger $65,000 6% 1.75%
Cheeburger $22,000 – $35,000 5% 1%

I’m not suggesting you pick a concept with the lowest fees, but what you receive in exchange for your royalty is important – brand recognition, supply chain discounts, location assistance, quality control of brand, human support, menu development, marketing assistance.

Nando’s and the Peri Peri Chicken

One of my favorite fast casual restaurants is Nando’s who is famous for their marinated Peri Peri Chicken cooked over an open flame.  I ate at their London, England locations multiple times and it has quickly become my go-to restaurant when I’m there.   One Nando’s opened in the USA last year in Washington D.C., and I believe it is a corporate owned location. They do franchise in Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, Namibia, and Australia, but not the USA. Their mix of food is clever. While it is a sit down restaurant, ordering takes place at a central counter and the food is brought out to your table.

For appetizers that are served immediately, the offering is Peri Peri nuts, spicy mixed olives, and humus with Peri Peri drizzle…all healthy, all tasty detours from the typical high-fat fried appetizers.  See their menu below:Nandosusa Main Menu

Nando’s includes elements that would make it a strong franchise contender in my book (it doesn’t have brand recognition yet in the USA, however).
— Great Tasting Food
— Unique Customer Experience
— Improves on an already familiar taste – chicken
— Casual and fun environment
— Employees seem happy
— Branding is authentic….Portuguese presented in a fun way

On the down side,
— it doesn’t have brand recognition yet
— food preparation is based on human judgment rather than fool proof systems. For example, the chicken is pulled from the open flames based upon a human’s judgment that the chicken is sufficiently cooked.

Burger King’s New Design

I like Burger King’s new 20/20 design. It’s this kind of change in customer experience that can reinvent the brand. Concept stores that have been rebuilt with the new design have seen 30% increase in sales compared to the old style.

Burger King’s new broiler, Duke’s Flexible Batch Broiler, is a great piece of equipment too. It will allow more innovation and adaptability by franchisees. The price tag at $6,000 is reasonable.

Whether it be Angus beef or chicken, the Flexible Batch Broiler turns frozen products into char flavored, tender and juicy pieces of meat. A single cook in the kitchen can deliver eight Whoppers or 12 regular burgers in two minutes or less. This would give a production rate of 240 Whoppers and 360 regular burgers per hour. Also, the Flexible Batch Broiler can flame broil products that haven’t been thawed out. Ranging from $5,400-6,900, the Flexible Batch Broiler will save energy, time and money.

For more insight on Burger King’s strategy, see this presentation from an investor conference:

High-End Fast Casual


I’ve been noticing a new crop of high-end fast casual franchise concepts that are the size and atmosphere of a traditional sit down restaurant, but orders are taken at the walk-up counter.  Ingredient in Kansas City comes to mind.  They follow the recent trend of hearth oven baked pizza, homemade pastas, salads and sandwiches.

Vapiano is also an interesting urban-only concept started in Germany and now here in the USA.


It is a very modern, high-end Italian fast casual concept.  The chefs are stationed around the dining room, and customers walk up to the chefs who prepare their order right there.  A customer’s food and drink totals are tracked using a chip card similar to one you’d see on cruise boats.  As the customer leaves the card is scanned and the customer pays. It sounds a bit like a modern cafeteria but the architecture is sleek and hip.  The average check ranges from $14.50 to $22, depending on whether it’s lunch or dinner, claims the owner.

Some Sales are Up – Panera, Buffalo Wild Wings

Panera Bread (I appreciate their free Wifi) reported company-owned same-store sales increase of 3.3% for its third quarter ended Sept. 29, 2009. 

Franchise-operated same-store sales increased 2.5%, marking a systemwide increase of 2.8% compared to the same period last year. The company-owned comps increase showcased transaction growth of 1.8% for the quarter, and average check growth of 1.5%. Average check growth was comprised of retail price increases of approximately 2.25% and negative mix impact of approximately -0.75%.

Buffalo Wild Wings company-owned restaurant sales increased 26% for the quarter versus the same period in 2008.

The growth was driven by a company-owned same-store sales increase of 0.8% and 33 additional company-owned restaurants in operation at the end of the 2009 third quarter. Franchise-owned same-store sales increased 1.9% for the quarter and 52 additional franchised restaurants were in operation during that time.

Does Discounting Work?

dimeDiscounting hasn’t worked so far for Chili’s and  Applebee’s who began offering 2 for $20 meal deals.  The problem is total customer traffic is off and these discounts tend to amplify the problem because profit margins are reduced on the customers that do come in.  Even P.F. Changs, and Benihana are seeing 10%+ slowdowns in sales just from a quarter ago.

Better Burger Burnout Coming?

I was browsing a few blogs and surprised at how many “we just make simple great burgers, fries and shakes” restaurant and franchises were popping up.  Some are going all-organic, most aren’t.  McDonald’s new higher-priced Angus beef burger is considered a response to the better burger trend.

Most everyone likes a good burger and are willing to pay up to $5 regularly for good one.  I think the new wave of better burger joints will have some staying power compared to other pure trends like tart frozen yogurt, salad or pita/wrap specialty franchises.

From what I’ve seen already from clients, these aren’t wildly profitable until you reach $1 million or more in sales per location assuming your rent is under 7% of gross sales, and that’s very difficult to do.Let’s look at one city.  

Opening in Austin in the past year were:

Philadelphia Weekly put together this chart to compare the food, atmosphere, and wait times of various burger places.