Though so-called "brand refreshes" happen all the time among QSR chains, few concepts have taken the term, "refresh" as literally as Subway with its new restaurant design.
The ubiquitous sandwich chain that built its name on the idea of fresh ingredients long before that idea was a major industry trend is launching a new restaurant look that blasts diners in the face with "freshness" as they enter. Front and center in the brand's 12 newly revamped locations is a big glass-front cooler brimming with whole produce.
In that single image, the brand captures ideas driving foodservice today: fresh, local ingredients. The redesign then extends that notion with various bright shades of green on walls and decor, all focused on the chain's recently redesigned "S" logo.
"The fresh vegetable display is something visual to customers that puts the store's produce — like tomatoes and peppers, with all their colors — refrigerated and illuminated right there," said Subway Operations Vice President Trevor Haynes in an interview with QSRweb.
"Customers (in test locations) loved that and really noted it. ... We even had customers who said, 'This is the first Subway to slice vegetables fresh,' but we've been slicing our vegetables for 50 years."
The focus: Is it easier for the customer?
The chain engaged Cincinnati-based design firm, FRCH, to create the new store look, which was the result of about a year-and-a-half of focus groups, research and customer interviews. Haynes said that throughout the process, Subway focused on diners' perceptions of the design changes, as well as whether the changes actually improved diners' experience.
That was also the trigger for several digital and process changes that go along with the new design, Haynes said. These changes include items like digital menu boards that change to promote various products depending on daypart, as well as in-store kiosks for customers who prefer the a self-service option.
"We've also put in an additional 'make station' in the back of the restaurant ... where we'll switch on a second (sandwich-making) team as needed," Haynes said. "So maybe from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. a store will turn on that back unit. ... We also have store charging stations, mobile ordering and pickup, with a new app ... and new space designated for the pickup area."
This redesign — along with a number of other technological and community involvement initiatives — comes after three years of declining sales for the brand, including a 1.7 percent drop just last year in the U.S., to $11.3 billion. This stands in contrast to restaurant sales overall, which grew almost 4 percent last year, according to Technomic.
Many analysts believe that Subway lost ground amid a host of new sandwich competitors such as Five Guys and even Chipotle, with its Mexican take on sandwiches. Others have said that, as a brand, Subway has not kept up with the growing popularity of restaurant tech such as mobile apps and online rewards programs.
The redesign seeks to address some of those issues, beginning with the current first 12 "refreshed" restaurants, including nine locations in the U.S., two in Canada and 1 in the U.K.
Haynes said that a number of stores have been identified for redesign beginning Q1 2018, with site choices made on the basis of location, sales performance, leases and other factors. He said that the new builds require an investment of $200,000 to $300,000, but that franchisees have been engaged in the planning process and have shown a lot of interest thus far.
"Our objective is for this to be a pull, where franchisees want it and that's been the case so far," he said. "We're in 113 countries around the world so we also need to be flexible and relevant with this (redesign). That's why we are looking at all aspects, like training and the service we're providing. The staff is really excited by this. ... It's really like an induction package from a training point of view and they pass that excitement through to guests."
S.A. Whitehead Award-winning veteran print and broadcast journalist, Shelly Whitehead, has spent most of the last 30 years reporting for TV and newspapers, including the former Kentucky and Cincinnati Post and a number of network news affiliates nationally. She brings her cumulative experience as a multimedia storyteller and video producer to the web-based pages of Pizzamarketplace.com and QSRweb.com after a lifelong “love affair” with reporting the stories behind the businesses that make our world go ‘round. Ms. Whitehead is driven to find and share news of the many professional passions people take to work with them every day in the pizza and quick-service restaurant industry. She is particularly interested in the growing role of sustainable agriculture and nutrition in food service worldwide and is always ready to move on great story ideas and news tips.