Blimpie/Kahala Brands™ Executive Q&A Series – Evans/Andrews
In today’s digital world, it can be challenging to engage customers across multiple generations. However, two of the top marketing executives from Blimpie’s parent company, Kahala Brands, recently sat down with us to provide some valuable insight into how Blimpie has stepped up to best serve all customers, young and old, in today’s modern world. Keep reading as Steve Evans, Blimpie’s VP of Market, and Mandy Andrews, Blimpie’s Director of Marketing, share some of the secret sauce behind Blimpie’s powerful marketing and branding efforts.
Q: How can franchisees use social media and online tools to engage with millennials and inspire them to come into our store?
Mandy Andrews: One of our recent initiatives was the “Combo Craze.” This is the second year we’ve done it; we decided we needed to continue the “Combo Craze” because it was so successful the first year. We had amazing feedback from our customers and our franchisees.
It was originally created because we wanted to close that circle of the in-store experience and the digital social media experience. The great thing about the “Combo Craze” is it increases sales in the store by creating combo sales with every order. But also, there is a game you can play to enter to win amazing prizes – like a trip to New York City or even $1000. If you come to the store, there is a scratch off card you can get that gives you extra turns for our digital game. So that inspires your everyday customer to go onto our digital platform to participate in a contest. And most importantly, it’s a contest where the more they visit the website and interact with the brand, the more opportunities they get to win.
Q: What are you doing in the digital space?
Steve Evans: We are working to combine fun with functional. We’re trying to evolve our email club and do a lot of social listening. We’re basically trying to craft the fun promotions we provide our customers based on our community – almost like a large focus group.
Other digitally-based projects include “Blimpie Run,” which is a fun little game on our app where you can win prizes based on your gaming performance. We are also testing online ordering; we’re hoping to roll that out nationwide in early 2017. And finally, we’ve launched our new website, designed specifically for mobile use. We’ve found that mobile layout/functionality is very important for most of our customers because they are always on the go.
Q: You mentioned social listening is something Blimpie is pursuing – can you give a specific example of how you’re doing that?
SE: We’ve had a 40 percent growth in our email club as a direct result of the “Combo Craze.” Plus, we’re having great redemption on coupons we’ve sent out via our email club. We’ve also seen tremendous growth across our social media platforms as more and more customers are interacting with us – we really value their feedback!
Q: What have you provided to your franchisees to help drive social media traffic?
MA: We obviously provide plenty of in-store signs and advertisements with our social media tags on them, but our latest push has been through scratch off cards. If you get a combo, you receive a scratch off which gives you the website, the code and up to 20 more chances to win various prizes.
SE: Our overall goal is for our customers to be able to engage with the brand in a multitude of ways that are most conducive to their time, schedule and comfort level. So we provide our franchisees with a wide variety of in-store communication/marketing tools that allow our customers to consistently engage with us on and offline.
Q: How do you help your local stores execute these national campaigns?
SE: Our goal with our franchisees is to provide our them with every possible tool they need to be successful in each campaign. We literally provide everything they need in a contained kit that is designed for each section of the store. The messaging and design will be different from the front of the store to the cashier. The kit even comes with a schematic so each local store can execute the promotion properly. We want every customer to have the same experience at each store across the brand.
Q: It’s pretty well known that a lot of online traffic comes from the younger generation, the millennials. Have you seen that your digital programs appeal to an older demographic as well?
SE: While most of our online demographic does skew younger, our email club is a little broader than, say, our app downloads or social media platforms. The email club is a good way to reach out across generations, but even so, we still do a wide range of advertising, especially through traditional avenues.
We offer healthy options, which is important to the older demographic. We’ve also found the older folks, who have been around since we opened, continue to visit us because we stay true to our roots. We bake bread fresh, we slice meat in store and have quality control measures in place to keep our produce as fresh as possible. Those older, loyal customers see that those roots are important to us and keep coming back because we haven’t lost what made us great to start with. We’re evolving the brand to stay appealing to the newer consumer, but we stay true to our core value so that the folks who have loved us since 1964 still love us today.
Tell me a little bit about some new product introductions or some interesting prospects on the horizon.
SE: One of my favorites is the Hoboken Hero. It refers to our roots – the first Blimpie location was in Hoboken and in that region a sub sandwich is often referred to as a Hero. The build on that sandwich is pretty close to the style of the Italian sandwiches that were served back when we opened. We brought that back at first as a nod to our history, but it was so successful that we have now brought it back numerous times as a limited time offering. Now, we are excited to say that it will be featured on our new menu board that we’re rolling out in 2017.
We’re constantly testing out new products and evolving, but we always want to listen to our customers. If a product does exceptionally well, we’re more than willing to bring it on permanently.
What do we have coming up this summer that the fans and customers can get excited about?
MA: I’m really excited about “The Blimp.” It’s a very hardy sandwich that features several types of protein and just about every topping we offer. It was really successful when we tried it out in late 2015 and early 2016; now we are so excited to bring it back this summer and soon we’ll add it to our permanent menu as well.
We’ll also have the “Bigger Better BBQ” promotion rolling out in June. We’ll feature three different barbecue sandwiches. The first one is the “Spicy Pig” which is pulled pork glazed with Sriracha, topped with cheddar cheese and a bacon ranch coleslaw. The next one is the “Twisted Pig,” which is really interesting. It uses the pulled pork again, but this time we top it with our famous pretzel bread. The last sandwich is a barbecue chicken, crunchy onion sandwich called our “Barbecue Chick.” We can’t wait to feature a new protein and introduce a fun new flavor for summertime.
Q: How does the Kahala Brands team develop those delicious sandwiches?
SE: We have a lead chef, Joe O’Brien, who does some pretty amazing things in the test kitchen. He’s in the kitchen all day long building and developing delicious sandwiches; but, he’s also tapped into a network of culinary counterparts. He has connections with the absolute best suppliers in the business. He carefully tracks menu trends and makes sure that Blimpie is always in the running.
When he feels he has a product that would be a good fit for Blimpie, he brings it to the brand team. He works with them to figure out if this item would be a good idea for a promotional test run. After it makes it through that stage, we bring it to our advisory board which is made up a few of our franchisees. We meet with them three times a year at our offices and discuss our big brand initiatives and prospective new rollouts.
MA: And on occasion we’re able to test new products in test markets with some of these franchisees to see how the product performs.
Q: From a marketing perspective, do you have advice for a franchisee looking at potential franchise organizations?
MA: Be sure that the franchise has resources to help franchisees excel in terms of marketing. At any of the Kahala brands, there is an abundance of help at the franchisee’s fingertips. We provide flyers and ready-made materials, but we also have marketing managers that act as an additional resource. We have found that the most successful franchisees are the ones that take full advantage of all Kahala Brands has to offer.