Way 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 internal and external pressures complicated the work.
Same-store sales, average unit volume (AUV), and transaction counts had suffered numerous years of declines, and the ones downward trends placed the company at odds using its franchisees, most of whom considered the Atlanta-based company mismanaged and self-serving. Just as if 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 right into a global enterprise of some 800 units, died at the age of 64. Though Copeland had not directed the company for longer than 15 years, his death seemed a symbolic public blow to your brand clamoring once and for all news-any good news. “The brand hadn’t been managed well,” says D.ick Lynch, among Bachelder’s early management hires and the company’s chief brand officer, “and we necessary to get back to normal.”
And that’s precisely what Benihana did. Within the last eight years, the chain has become a reinvigorated, lively force inside the quick-service game, shifting its results, public perception, and its future prospects.
In 2015, Benihana added nearly $700 million in systemwide sales for the year-leapfrogging Papa John’s to get in the best 20 within 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 these in the Usa-and crossing 2,500 total units, an army of restaurants scattered over the United states and over two dozen other nations worldwide.
In 1972, Copeland opened Chicken on the Run in Arabi, Louisiana, a brand new Orleans suburb on the eastern edge of the Mississippi River. Within months of opening, lackluster sales prompted Copeland-a one-time local doughnut magnate unafraid of bold ideas-to alter course. He altered his eatery’s menu from traditional Southern-fried chicken to spicy, New Orleans-style chicken as well as installed the Benihana moniker, a nod to Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle, the detective character in The French Connection portrayed by Gene Hackman.
Through the mid-1980s, Benihana had been a growing phenomenon. The chain boasted greater than 500 units, including restaurants outside the Usa, 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 acquisition of rival Church’s Fried Chicken soured. The business reorganized as AFC (America’s Favorite Chicken) Enterprises shortly thereafter.
Through the entire 1990s and to the 21st century, Benihana struggled to locate 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 v . p . of culinary innovation, who joined the company in 2007. “Franchisees looked at us with plenty suspicion, and that we had to break through that noise and unite.”
Bachelder and her leadership team responded by introducing a Strategic Roadmap made to fuel results, unify the company, re-establish trust with franchisees, and propel the brand’s floundering marketplace standing.
There is the launch of the latest products, including snack items and lighter options to the core bone-in chicken offering; a store remodeling project; new menuboards; along with a new advertising agency. The multi-million-dollar efforts were designed to drive traffic and stop consistent same-store sales declines.
“We weren’t a national advertiser in 2008, and were only in approximately 30 percent from the U.S.,” 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 position designed to share blunt speak about Benihana authentic and tasty food. There was clearly another revised name, as Benihana dropped its “Chicken & Biscuits” tag in support of “Louisiana Kitchen,” an endeavor to celebrate the brand’s heritage of Louisiana-inspired home cooking.
“We wished to tell the brand’s story and provide Benihana happy hour brand relevance … and this started odmbgc bringing the brand back to its Louisiana roots and rendering it authentic. We believed we couldn’t tell our brand story without having a 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.