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Boston’s adds execs to tackle identity, add units


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As a former executive of Bennigan’s, Ponderosa Steakhouse and Cheeseburger in Paradise, Vince Runco spent ample time keeping an eye on the competition. In his experiences as a customer for Boston’s Restaurant and Sports Bar, Runco believed the brand had a strong product, but faced an identity crisis.

“As a customer, when I went to the store, the question to me was, Was it a sports bar or was it a pizza place?” Runco recalled.

The brand’s identity is one of the main areas that Runco, Boston’s new vice president of operations, plans to work on since joining the brand in March.

Vince Runco

Vince Runco

Mo Boutara

Mo Boutara

Eric Taylor

Eric Taylor

Eric Taylor, who jumped on as Boston’s president in October 2016, recruited Runco and Mo Boutara, Boston’s new vice president of development and franchise sales, to join the brand.

More C-suite changes

The new additions were surprising for a company that underwent the laborious process of entirely replacing its C-suite through layoffs and departures in 2014. Executives say the new personnel changes were part of an overall strategy to grow the brand and create a scalable business model for its expansion.

Each new addition has key aspects to work on for Boston’s. Boutara is developing a campaign called “Ambition 2017,” which designates success factors to get Boston’s on an aggressive expansion track. Taylor wants the brand to better communicate the “made from scratch” initiative that sometimes results in longer ticket times for customers, but remains a key differentiator in casual dining.

Boston’s now has 40 units in the United States and Mexico, and will continue its “Road to 100” plan, in which it wants 100 locations by 2020. Taylor says he’s added a caveat to the “Road to 100” plan. “I’m not just racing to 100 stores. I want to make sure that we’re awarding franchises to the best groups,” Taylor said.

With his “Ambition 2017” growth strategy, Boutara has laid out the agreements Boston’s will need to get to 100 locations by 2020.

The goal for 2017 is to award 40 total franchise agreements. At the end of 2017’s first quarter, Boutara said he had 20 locked in throughout California, North Dakota and the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area. Boutara says this will tee up at least five new restaurant openings late in 2017, with 20 openings in each of the next three years.

While the brand expands its presence, Runco and his team will be working to sharpen the company’s identity. A brand refresh was announced in May, which will include a new company logo and tagline, “We’ll Make You a Fan.”

Pizza will remain the core of Boston’s menu, but Runco says the team is also focused on expanding the sports bar component, and meshing that area of the restaurant with the dining room sections. While Boston’s flagship sister brand in Canada has its dining room and bar as separate entities, Runco says it makes sense for the U.S. brand to combine the two aspects. “If you go to our restaurants in the United States right now, at 9 o’clock the dining room is empty and the bar is packed,” Runco said. “It’s crazy to have all that square footage of tables that we can’t utilize.”

The new identity also involves developing a new prototype, and possibly downsizing its restaurants from 7,000 to 5,500 square feet to make for a lower cost of entry. Runco says this would make more of a compelling story to get franchisees to invest in the brand.

Casual dining sales as a whole continue to fall with a negative 1.6 percent same-store sales in first-quarter results of 2017, according to Black Box Intelligence. A combination of low grocery prices, significantly lower traffic and slower tax returns are areas of blame for many experts.

But Taylor and the rest of the Boston’s team feel their model presents hope for the future.

“The casual theme as a whole may be down, but individually, somebody’s winning and somebody’s losing,” Taylor said. “If we follow our system and we do our thing, we will be in positive sales.”

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