Boston’s starts over with new executive team
Interior and exterior changes were among the new C-suite’s mandates at Boston’s Restaurant and Sports Bar. So was a new menu that deep-sixed the premade frozen foods in favor of an everything-from-scratch approach.
When the new vice president of operations at Boston’s Restaurant and Sports Bar came down to Jacksonville, Florida, to talk with Nimesh Patel, a local franchisee, about the company’s menu changes, Patel was thrown off by the gesture.
“Who gets on a plane to talk about a new menu with a franchisee?” Patel asked, referring to his one-on-one visit with Tim Matousek, who joined Boston’s operations department in 2013.
More face time with the company’s franchisees was part of a raft of changes, including a large-scale menu revamp in 2014, that Boston’s President Mark Pacinda and the company’s ownership acknowledged was crucial to revitalizing the company. After U.S. expansion slowed and sales struggled during the Great Recession, Boston’s used a finer, more human touch as part of its plan to pull the brand out of a dark period.
After the company brought Troy Cooper on as the chief operating officer in 2013, the dominoes started to fall: Matousek moved into the vice president position, and Robert Hall became director of supply chain in 2014.
The changes eventually led to a 100-percent replacement of Boston’s C-suite through a combination of layoffs and executive departures. Members of “The Support Center,” as the executive team was renamed, made individual visits to each Boston’s franchise, and closed 10 underperforming U.S. establishments. This left Boston’s with 28 U.S. locations at the end of 2014, down from the peak of 53 in 2009.
Now, after revamping the leadership team, the casual dining company is back to growing throughout the U.S. Cooper and his key operations staff now attempt to be on the road every week visiting with franchisees and getting as close to the guests as they can.
As Patel attests, it took time to build trust and get acquainted with the new executive staff and its hands-on approach. “Are they in it just to come and collect a paycheck?”
Patel wondered. “That’s kind of how it felt with the old C-suite that was in place.”
He admits there is still room for improvement, in regards to the POS system especially, but after several years Patel said that the new team is the right fit for the brand, and for him as a franchisee.
The menu was one of the first aspects that needed a makeover. Right off the bat, Cooper and his team felt the menu was too big, so they paid attention to store-level sales to determine which items weren’t selling. They cut the menu down from 100 items to 83.
An even larger change came in the kitchen, with Boston’s switching from premade frozen food from suppliers to a completely fresh approach. Even with these changes, the company’s food costs fell by 4 percent. At Patel’s locations, food costs went from 28 percent down to 23.5 percent.
With big changes ready to show off, Boston’s then turned its attention to overhauling its advertising with a complete re-do of its marketing department.
In the past, many franchisees were on their own for marketing their individual restaurants. “What that did was leave us with 40 restaurants out there that all had confusing and unique positioning, with target demographics and key brand messages that were very disjointed and disconnected,” said Brad Bevill, who joined Boston’s as vice president of marketing in 2013.
In the midst of reconfiguring the brand, Boston’s looked north for inspiration. Boston’s sister brand, Canadian-based Boston Pizza, had been around 52 years and found coast-to-coast recognition. The U.S. locations didn’t have that luxury, so the company sought to create cohesive branding across the border.
Bevill made sure that one singular brand was being portrayed throughout the entirety of the Boston’s franchise. The new marketing centers on what Bevill calls a “celebrate, escape, connect” philosophy.
South of the American border, in Mexico, Boston’s has expanded steadily since opening its first location in Merida in 2002. Its Mexican sales stayed strong, even as its U.S. sales faltered. The company opened its 10th Mexican location in December 2015, and plans on opening five more locations throughout 2016.
From Mexico and beyond, the next step is company-wide growth. Boston’s launched an internal campaign called Road to 100, which it intends to help grow the brand to 100 restaurants in the next three years—an ambitious objective for a company sitting at 40 restaurants.
“We’ve mapped it out,” Cooper said about growth plans. “There’s potential for Mexico to have 100 and the U.S. could have a couple hundred.”