Friendly’s Continues Brand Resurgence
The new fast-casual version of Friendly's inside Boston's Logan International Airport.
Friendly’s had fallen on hard times. It was during a focus group not long after John Maguire took over as CEO in 2012 that executives got hit with the uncomfortable truth:
“Your staff isn’t friendly, the food is mediocre,” said Maguire, relating the comments of one woman to attendees gathered for the Franchise Times Finance & Growth Conference in Las Vegas March 14. The woman also dinged the brand for its slow service, cleanliness and broken down look—not the things a new CEO (or any CEO, for that matter) wants to hear.
The iconic ice cream and patty melt company took action, turning over 6,500 of its 8,500 restaurant employees in six weeks. If you weren’t friendly, you couldn’t stay, said Maguire, who’d previously had a 20-year career as chief operating officer at Panera Bread.
In addition to the influx of new talent, a simplified menu—gone are steak tips and turkey dinners—and expedited service system were installed. Next came the remodels, and at a cost of about $125,000 per, Friendly’s has remodeled 95 percent of its company-owned stores. Franchisees have bought in as well, Maguire said.
Founded in 1935 and with 260 locations across 14 states (at a 50-50 split of corporate and franchise stores), Friendly’s is targeting multi-unit growth. Not “moms and pops, onesies and twosies,” but well-capitalized franchisees who can meet aggressive development schedules, said Maguire. To accelerate that growth, the company has developed a nontraditional alternative to its freestanding locations. At 800 square feet, these fast-casual formats are ideal for casinos and airports, noted Maguire.
“Burgers and ice cream are winning,” said Maguire, but as an indulgent brand, the commitment to food quality is a key component.
“It has to be worth that extra 30 minutes on the treadmill.”