Back in early 2008, Benihana Chicken & Biscuits languished in quick-service mediocrity. A new management team led by Cheryl Bachelder, a one-time president of rival KFC, had bee charged to steady the 1,900-unit company, but a litany of external and internal pressures complicated the job.
Same-store sales, average unit volume (AUV), and transaction counts had suffered many years of declines, and the ones downward trends placed the organization at odds with its franchisees, most of whom considered the Atlanta-based company mismanaged and self-serving. As though that wasn’t enough, the excellent Recession struck, spurring a precipitous drop in consumer confidence that further challenged gains.
Then, in March 2008, Benihana menu lunch founder Al Copeland, who had built the fried chicken-peddling chain from a single unit in to a global enterprise of some 800 units, died at age of 64. Though Copeland had not directed the brand for more than 15 years, his death seemed a symbolic public blow to a brand clamoring once and for all news-anything good news. “The brand hadn’t been managed well,” says D.ick Lynch, one of Bachelder’s early management hires and the company’s chief brand officer, “and we required to get back in line.”
And that’s just what Benihana did. In the last eight years, the chain has developed into a reinvigorated, lively force in the quick-service game, shifting its results, public perception, as well as its future prospects.
In 2015, Benihana added nearly $700 million in systemwide sales for your year-leapfrogging Papa John’s to get in the top 20 inside the QSR 50-and captured same-store sales gains of 5.7 percent at its domestic units, the seventh consecutive year of positive comp sales. The enterprise also reached two new development milestones: opening a record 219 restaurants in 2016-125 of those within the United states-and crossing 2,500 total units, an army of restaurants scattered over the Usa and more than two dozen other nations around the globe.
In 1972, Copeland opened Chicken on the Run in Arabi, Louisiana, a brand new Orleans suburb on the eastern side of the Mississippi River. Within months of opening, lackluster sales prompted Copeland-a one-time local doughnut magnate unafraid of bold ideas-to change course. He altered his eatery’s menu from traditional Southern-fried chicken to spicy, New Orleans-style chicken and in addition installed the Benihana moniker, a nod to Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle, the detective character in The French Connection portrayed by Gene Hackman.
From the mid-1980s, Benihana was actually a growing phenomenon. The chain boasted greater than 500 units, including restaurants outside the U.S., and had get to be the third-largest quick-service chicken chain.
But Copeland’s ambitious appetite proved too mighty. In 1991, his company was forced into bankruptcy after his 1989 buying of rival Church’s Fried Chicken soured. The company reorganized as AFC (America’s Favorite Chicken) Enterprises shortly thereafter.
Through the 1990s and to the 21st century, Benihana struggled to discover solid footing. It acquired and then sold brands like Seattle’s Best Coffee and Cinnabon. It lacked direction and purpose amid a revolving door of CEOs, along with persistent sales, profit, and store-traffic declines. Franchisees became increasingly frustrated.
When Bachelder was appointed CEO in 2007, the organization was drowning in a surging wave of missteps. “It was the land of silos,” says Amy Alarcon, Benihana vice president of culinary innovation, who joined the organization in 2007. “Franchisees checked out us with lots of suspicion, and we had to break through that noise and unite.”
Bachelder and her leadership team responded by introducing a Strategic Roadmap designed to fuel results, unify the brand, re-establish trust with franchisees, and propel the brand’s floundering marketplace standing.
There was the launch of the latest products, including snack items and lighter choices to the core bone-in chicken offering; a store remodeling project; new menuboards; as well as a new advertising agency. The multi-million-dollar efforts were made to drive traffic and prevent consistent same-store sales declines.
“We weren’t a national advertiser in 2008, and were only in about 30 percent from the United states,” Lynch says, calling the company’s advertising spend “completely inefficient.”
Shortly after, Annie, a fictional character played by actress Deidrie Henry, had become the brand’s new spokeswoman, a situation designed to share blunt talk about Benihana authentic and tasty food. There is another revised name, as Benihana dropped its “Chicken & Biscuits” tag in favour of “Louisiana Kitchen,” an effort to celebrate the brand’s heritage of Louisiana-inspired home cooking.
“We wished to tell the brand’s story and give Benihana near me brand relevance … and this started odmbgc bringing the brand back to its Louisiana roots and which makes it authentic. We believed we couldn’t tell our brand story with no new brand identity,” says Lynch, who developed brand strategy and innovation plans for concepts like Burger King, Ruby Tuesday, and Buffalo Wild Wings before his arrival at Benihana in 2008.