Boston Market ready to grow again

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After reworking its brand over the past two years, Boston Market is ready to grow in some new ways.

The 476-unit fast-casual chain completed last year a turnaround effort dubbed “America’s Kitchen Table” that included a menu and service revamp, as well as a shift to real plates and silverware, and other enhancements to the guest experience. As a result, this month Boston Market realized 21 consecutive months of same-store sales increases.

More changes are coming this summer, including a new protein option, the debut of a limited-time create-your-own bowl offer, and tests of a new format. Perhaps most importantly, the Golden, Colo.-based chain is also focused on reviving domestic growth in nontraditional locations.

Boston Market chief executive George Michel recently spoke with Nation’s Restaurant News about the brand’s growth and evolution.

Has the “America’s Kitchen Table” brand refresh seen good results?

We had great sales momentum from the moment we started to implement it, and that momentum has continued. We ended 2011 with an 8.4-percent comparable sales increase. And the great thing about it is we’re comping up for the first six months of this year on top of very strong comps of last year. For the first half we’re trending up almost 6.5 percent. Trying to be on the conservative side, since we had a great year last year with our holiday program, but we think we’ll finish the year up about 6 percent. And we had a better-than-expected month in June, finishing up about 8.3 percent.

To what do you attribute the strong results in June?

Frequency is up in our restaurants at this point. We’re seeing Saturday sales are much stronger than they have ever been. Traditionally Saturday was our weakest day of the week, since we are about home meal replacement. Our peak day is Thursday. But now we’re seeing momentum on Saturday, and in some cases Sunday.

We’ve also had success with promotions that are driving traffic, and people who are interested in our quarter barbecue chicken, and that we’re the “unofficial sponsor of summer,” our summer promotion. I think people are starting to take note of the brand.

Can you break those same-store sales down in terms of traffic?

Traffic is up about 6 percent this year and last. We’re seeing increase in traffic. The rest is due to an adjustment in price we took, and also we’ve been shifting our average check. We’re selling more drinks than we did before.

Last year you were talking about launching a franchising program. Has that happened?

We decided to wait on franchising. We’re excited about re-energizing our business and getting our average restaurant volume up to a certain level. My objective is to get to $1.3 million [in sales per unit]. When I started, we were running at about $1 million and we finished last year at $1.1 million. And we figure we’ll end this year at about $1.17 million. We’re trending in that direction.

There’s some exciting work we’re undertaking. We’ve tested bowls and will introduce them as a limited-time offer in September. Bowls are very much in tune with what younger people and females expect. You create your own, with a base of mashed potatoes or mac and cheese, and top it with vegetables or carved breast of chicken or turkey or meatloaf and add the sauce at the end from a variety of sauces.

We’re testing some other new items. We believe we need to get close to $1.3 million on average to start franchising.

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