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Ripken’s a home run for Roy Rogers


Cal Ripken Jr.

Baseball great Cal Ripken Jr. appears with young fans at a Roy Rogers restaurant as part of a marketing partnership to celebrate the brand’s 50th anniversary.

Cal Ripken Jr. fielded dozens and dozens of questions during the past year as part of his marketing partnership with Roy Rogers, including these:

Who’s the hardest pitcher you’ve ever faced?

How do you hit a 100-mile-an-hour fastball?

Should Pete Rose be allowed in the Hall of Fame?

One question was easy. What’s your favorite meal at Roy Rogers? “I was specifically a roast beef guy, but now I’ve expanded to the other offerings, and I’m a big fan of the chicken, too,” he said.

When asked why he agreed to take on this gig, in which he made appearances to celebrate Roy Rogers’ 50th anniversary and Roy Rogers made donations to the foundation named for his father, the late Cal Ripken Sr., he said, “I should have figured out a one-sentence answer by now. It’s not really a one-sentence answer.”

It started as a “basic endorsement request,” he said. “I’ve always been very particular in how I chose those because it had to make sense to me. I remember a very comforting feeling when I was a kid, when I went to a Roy Rogers restaurant.

“My dad was in the minor leagues the first 14 years of my life. We were in small towns. When my mom would take us out to Roy Rogers—she liked Roy Rogers the person—it reminded me of good family times. It gave me a warm feeling.”

Jim Plamondon, CEO of Roy Rogers, thought Ripken’s status as The Iron Man of Major League Baseball was perfect for the brand’s 50th anniversary. Ripken played 21 seasons as shortstop and third baseman for the Baltimore Orioles, compiling 3,184 hits and 431 home runs.

“We have this great streak of 50 years that not many brands can boast of,” Plamondon said. “We thought who better to represent us than somebody who has a streak of his own.”

Roy Rogers had never paired with a celebrity before. “We have 54 restaurants in six states, and we are a Mid-Atlantic brand, but we’re competing against the likes of McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s. They’re on national TV all day every day.

“These guys have massive marketing budgets, so this was a way to cut through the clutter, if you will,” he said. “I believe it worked.”

Plamondon said it was too early to tell actual results from the partnership, but he said sales were up from the year before. “Anecdotally I’m hearing all the time, ‘I heard your Cal Ripken commercials.’ We’re ahead of last year, slightly, in terms of our sales.”

He pointed to a multi-unit agreement with Jeff and John Froccaro out of Long Island, who agreed in September to build seven Roy Rogers restaurants. They also have Burgers Kings, Qdobas and a Greene Turtle, he said. That deal was the first multi-unit deal in the recent past. “We’re trying to find the right people at the right time. It’s a challenge.”

Jeremy Biser joined the company last April, after spending almost 10 years with Dunkin’ Brands. His mission: “Help them get back into growth mode.”

Key initiatives include “some exciting product launches,” such as the Texas Pete spicy chicken sandwich. They’re testing a new store design, a corporate store that will open in April. “We’re looking at, as part of the store design program, how do we optimize the initial investment cost?” Biser said.

But before the interview came to an end, one final question for Ripken had to be asked: How about them Orioles? This one he fielded with ease. “I can feel for the current Orioles because I had an experience in 1988 where we lost 28 games to start the season,” he said. Last year the Orioles made a decision, and they chose to go into a rebuilding process, so they’re trading away all their stars.

“During that process, it’s a painful one for the player, and it’s a painful one for fans to keep hope. The plan will take three to five years for that to work. There’s a little bit of patience required.”

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