BJ's plans growth outside West

BJ’s Restaurants Inc. will begin testing television advertising and will roll out a new loyalty program in the second quarter, the company said Thursday.

After reporting a 42-percent increase in net income for the fourth quarter and a 5.1-percent same-store sales increase, BJ’s chair and chief executive Jerry Deitchle told analysts in a call that positive sales growth has continued into 2012.

For the first six weeks of the year, same-store sales are up 4 percent, lapping a 7-percent increase for the same period last year, Deitchle said.

The year ahead will bring more efforts to drive sales, but the chain also is positioning itself for growth outside its home base in the West. BJ’s 115 locations are spread across 13 states.

BJ’s has long envisioned national growth of up to 300 restaurants, and Deitchle said the company recently hired a consulting group to evaluate its domestic potential.

The chain now sees up to 425 possible BJ’s locations nationally, although growth will remain “careful and measured.”

Deitchle also indicated that the company might be open to joint ventures, although none are currently planned.

BJ’s first East Coast location is expected to open in the Washington, D.C., area at the end of this year or in early 2013.

This year, 15 new restaurants are planned and one smaller-format grill unit will be relocated a larger site.

Executives also discussed:

Television advertising test: A small test of television advertising will begin in the second quarter in two markets and likely will involve only a handful of restaurants, Deitchle said.

Although BJ’s is a relatively small chain, and it may be early to consider national advertising, “It’s important to begin our learning of what benefit, if any, TV might offer BJ’s,” Deitchle said.

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