A Facebook Grand Opening

Looking to open a new franchise location? You might want to consider using Facebook. That's what franchisees like Adam Saxton are doing - and they're getting results.

When the Saxton Pierce Restaurant Corp. was looking to open a new McAlister's Deli location in Texas last spring, the company called on Facebook.

"We created a Facebook page for our new store in Weatherford about 60 days before it opened," he says. "We used targeted ads and created a fan base with several hundred fans before the store had even opened." He kept the page active by posting photos of the store throughout the building process and by reading and responding to "fan" posts regularly.

Saxton is director of development for Saxton Pierce Restaurant Corp., which operates 26 McAlister's throughout Texas. He says half their restaurants have their own Facebook pages and it's all happened in just the past year.

McAlister's corporate team sets up the individual franchisee pages and the franchisees take over from there, managing their own content--which helps maintain consistency, uniformity, and quality across the brand while also providing a local touch.

Saxton says the various social media offer numerous advantages. He especially likes its instantaneous nature. "Customers can eat at our restaurants and then post their thoughts about the experience to their Facebook pages almost immediately." Saxton then can see that feedback, which he says is much more frequent and informative than customer comment cards, which might take weeks to filter back to him, if ever. Also, he says, customers are much more likely to write about their experiences on their Facebook page than seek out a store manager and discuss it in person.

His company, he says, is trying to use Facebook not just to promote the restaurants, but also to create dialogue with customers. "We like to respond to things our customers write on the 'wall' and find out more about what they liked and didn't like," he says. "Facebook fans are the ones who are really passionate about the brand so it's important to have regular dialogue with these customers," he says.

Saxton says he's been so pleased with the Facebook results he experienced with the Weatherford opening that he plans to follow the process with all new store openings. "We used Facebook to invite our fans to our store's grand opening and were so pleased with it that we probably won't even do printed invitations anymore."

Building brand awareness through social media is another bonus, he adds. And he expects to soon be using social networking to recruit employees. "Job searching has gone online almost exclusively anyway," he says. "Whether it's markets we're already in or markets we're coming to, social networking is a great tool."

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