Stories from the Covid-19 Front Lines: CEOs Share How Coronavirus Is Affecting Their System
As part of our ongoing special coverage of Covid-19 and its impact on franchising, we’re asking franchise leaders how they’re responding to Covid-19 at all levels of their business. Here, five franchise brand leaders answer our question about the impact of the pandemic on their brands, and how they’re coping. If you have a story to tell about what you’re doing to support your brand, franchisees, customers, or suppliers please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Scott Deviney, President & CEO, Chicken Salad Chick
It’s no secret that the restaurant industry has been affected tremendously by Covid-19, and that the pandemic has hit in waves. Like all restaurant brands, we’ve had to be quick in modifying our operations to ensure our doors stay open and that we can keep our company-owned and franchised stores afloat. With mandated shutdowns of dining rooms across the country, we’ve moved to online ordering, curbside pick-up, and local Quick Chick delivery options at all our locations. The Quick Chick deliveries allow us to provide pre-ordered and pre-packaged sizes of our chicken salad flavors to more communities in the cities we serve, with our restaurants choosing local meeting places like schools and conveniently located parking lots to distribute Quick Chicks directly to guests in their vehicles. For added convenience and to further limit interaction while providing our communities with quality meals, select locations have introduced pop-up drive-thrus and/or have started testing third-party delivery.
A significant piece of our business was dine-in, so operating solely within this “off-premises” model, we’ve seen our revenue affected – as have all brands. However, we’re continuing to remain innovative in our approach and, as a result, are now seeing week-over-week sales increases. For example, on the last Tuesday of March, we hosted a Triple Points Takeout Tuesday to help drive sales from our loyalty members. Coupled with our Quick Chick deliveries, we saw our sales increase by 56% compared with the previous Tuesday. Also, with many of our stores managing deliveries by having guests place their orders online, we’ve seen a significant increase in sales coming through that avenue. In fact, we’re now seeing 25% of our total sales coming from online ordering compared with less than 5% before this crisis began.
Roger Lewis, CEO, CMIT Solutions
As small and mid-market businesses transitioned from working in offices to working from home, there was an immediate need for IT services to support this transition. Clients needed help to create the infrastructure for a virtual workforce, which included setting up workers’ computers at home with VPNs (virtual private networks) and videoconferencing technologies such as GoToMeeting or Zoom. The goal was to ensure that the security infrastructure that existed at the office would also exist at workers’ homes. In addition, we launched a weekly “Lockdown Lunch and Learn” webinar series focused on helping businesses ease that transition into working from home. An example of a few topics we have covered are how to make the most of the collaboration and videoconferencing at home with apps like GoToMeeting, Slack, and Microsoft Teams. Another example would be our webinar on the dangers of the dark web during the Covid-19 crisis and how to know if your data is protected at home.
Roy and Tara Gilad, Co-Founders, Vitality Bowls
The main impact of Covid-19 on Vitality Bowls has been similar to many other QSR concepts. In the wake of restaurant dine-in bans and stay-at-home orders, we needed to find a way to enhance our pick-up, takeout, and delivery options. Many of our stores are operating on a curbside pick-up model to follow social distancing protocols. We have signs and floor markers to make it easy for customers and employees to adhere to social distancing. We’re also making sure all the communities we serve know that we’re here for them during this crisis. We’re all going through this together, and we feel it’s important to show that support for our customers at this time.
Michelle Fee, CEO & Founder, Cruise Planners, an American Express Travel Representative
At first, at the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, cruising was singled out from the rest of the travel industry as headlines flooded the news with images of cruise ships. People began thinking cruise ships alone were the conduits for this illness, while people were getting ill from doing everyday things like going to work, attending school, or working out at the gym. I went on Fox Business to dispel the myth that this was not a cruise ship illness – that, in fact, it was a public health crisis – and to address people’s concerns regarding cruise ship health procedures and their air ventilation systems. This public health crisis has inhibited our customers from traveling, reducing our bookings for the spring and summer of 2020, but our industry has proven time and again to be resilient. We are already seeing a spike in our 2021 total bookings as there will be pent-up demand from consumers looking for a vacation after being stuck home in quarantine for so long.
Michael Abt, CEO, Huddle House and Perkins Restaurant & Bakery
We are a full-service restaurant brand, and the impact of Covid-19 has been immense, as with others in our segment. Research shows that breakfast-forward brands have been hit particularly hard, with up to 90% of commuting Americans working remotely or not working at all. However, a majority of our restaurants have managed to remain open as we have accelerated and highlighted our off-premise ordering and dining options. At both Perkins and Huddle House, we have added online ordering to more restaurants than before the crisis; partnered with additional third-party delivery vendors; aggressively promoted through a variety of media channels phone-in and counter or curbside pick-up for restaurants not covered by online ordering or delivery. And we’ve found better ways to serve families by quickly launching family-sized meals that are portioned, packaged, and priced for families. This in particular gives people a break from having to cook as they’ve been doing for much of this period. We have also launched Huddle Market and Perkins Market to sell grocery staples to our guests. These are everyday items that everyone needs, but that can either be hard to find or priced higher at local grocery outlets. Some of the highest-selling items include bulk burgers, bacon, sausage, chicken breasts, steaks, produce, paper towels, and even toilet paper! We know this has been a huge help to our guests, who can limit their exposure by combining two stops into one: picking up dinner and groceries at the same time, while interacting with fewer people.
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