Amid ‘Eat Fresh Refresh’ and other changes, America’s largest restaurant franchisor looks abroad for growth. Since 1965, for the last 57 years, Subway has grown to over 41500 restaurants globally in 2019. When John Chidsey took over as CEO in late 2019, he was the first leader from outside Subway founder Fred DeLuca’s family. He has redefining the brand’s definition of growth domestically, looking to produce increased sales and a fresher product rather than open more locations. Chidsey has previous experience leading franchised brands as Burger King (now owned by Restaurant Brands International), Avis and Budget Rent A Car and Jackson Hewitt.
“We just want to focus on quality in the footprint in the U.S. as opposed to quantity. I don’t really see a lot of growth in the U.S. other than on the nontraditional side,” he added. “I don’t think we’ll close a lot more restaurants — maybe a handful around the edges — but I think the U.S. is sort of in a steady state, and all the growth will really be international.”
“We have Refresh 2.0,” he said. “We’ve got a lot more new products that will be rolled out in 2022. We’ve got some more enhancements to our digital app, which are coming out in ’22. We’ve got a whole new catering program.”
The “Eat Fresh Refresh” campaign introduced last summer, which was accompanied by a high-profile advertising buy, was integral to the brand turnaround, Chidsey said, if only to get franchisees excited again.
“It was critical both to our guests and our franchisees,” he said. Subway units had suffered six to seven years of flat or declining sales, Chidsey said, “and I think that caused a lot of apathy to some extent within the franchise base.” He further added that the “Eat Fresh” results were dramatic.
Subway’s focus on growing unit counts had a negative impact on the consumer experience, Chidsey acknowledged. “I think Subway was so focused on development that it really didn’t focus as much as it should have on the guest. We’re the largest footprint in the country, and we have all these wonderful assets,” Chidsey said, “but we cannot rest on our laurels. We must continuously and maniacally focus on the guest-experience element.
“Where the rubber meets the road,” he added, “is the guest experience in a restaurant. And [the franchisees] own that. Together we have to win, so neither one of us can let the other one down if we’re going to be successful.”
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