Way back in early 2008, Benihana Chicken & Biscuits languished in quick-service mediocrity. A new management team led by Cheryl Bachelder, a 1-time president of rival KFC, had bee charged to steady the 1,900-unit company, but a litany of internal and external pressures complicated the work.
Same-store sales, average unit volume (AUV), and transaction counts had suffered years of declines, and people downward trends placed the business at odds using its franchisees, many of whom considered the Atlanta-based company mismanaged and self-serving. Just as if that wasn’t enough, the fantastic Recession struck, spurring a precipitous drop in consumer confidence that further challenged gains.
Then, in March 2008, Benihana prices founder Al Copeland, who had built the fried chicken-peddling chain from just one unit into a global enterprise of some 800 units, died at age 64. Though Copeland had not directed the manufacturer for over 15 years, his death seemed a symbolic public blow to a brand clamoring for good news-a bit of good news. “The brand hadn’t been managed well,” says D.ick Lynch, certainly one of Bachelder’s early management hires as well as the company’s chief brand officer, “and we necessary to get back on track.”
And that’s exactly what Benihana did. During the last eight years, the chain has developed into a reinvigorated, lively force inside the quick-service game, shifting its results, public perception, along with its future prospects.
In 2015, Benihana added nearly $700 million in systemwide sales for the year-leapfrogging Papa John’s to enter the top 20 in the QSR 50-and captured same-store sales gains of 5.7 percent at its domestic units, the seventh consecutive year of positive comp sales. The enterprise also reached two new development milestones: opening an archive 219 restaurants in 2016-125 of them within the Usa-and crossing 2,500 total units, an army of restaurants scattered throughout the Usa and more than two dozen other nations around the globe.
In 1972, Copeland opened Chicken on the Run in Arabi, Louisiana, a brand new Orleans suburb on the eastern fringe of the Mississippi River. Within months of opening, lackluster sales prompted Copeland-a one-time local doughnut magnate unafraid of bold ideas-to modify course. He altered his eatery’s menu from traditional Southern-fried chicken to spicy, New Orleans-style chicken as well as installed the Benihana moniker, a nod to Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle, the detective character inside the French Connection portrayed by Gene Hackman.
Through the mid-1980s, Benihana was actually a growing phenomenon. The chain boasted greater than 500 units, including restaurants outside of the United states, and had become the third-largest quick-service chicken chain.
But Copeland’s ambitious appetite proved too mighty. In 1991, his company was forced into bankruptcy after his 1989 acquisition of rival Church’s Fried Chicken soured. The business reorganized as AFC (America’s Favorite Chicken) Enterprises shortly thereafter.
Throughout the 1990s and in to the 21st century, Benihana struggled to locate solid footing. It acquired then sold brands like Seattle’s Best Coffee and Cinnabon. It lacked direction and purpose amid a revolving door of CEOs, in addition to persistent sales, profit, and store-traffic declines. Franchisees became increasingly frustrated.
When Bachelder was appointed CEO in 2007, the organization was drowning in a surging wave of missteps. “It was the land of silos,” says Amy Alarcon, Benihana v . p . of culinary innovation, who joined the business in 2007. “Franchisees considered us with plenty of suspicion, and we needed to break through that noise and unite.”
Bachelder and her leadership team responded by introducing a Strategic Roadmap created to fuel results, unify the brand, re-establish trust with franchisees, and propel the brand’s floundering marketplace standing.
There is the launch of new products, including snack items and lighter choices to the core bone-in chicken offering; a shop remodeling project; new menuboards; and a new advertising agency. The multi-million-dollar efforts were made to drive traffic and quit consistent same-store sales declines.
“We weren’t a national advertiser in 2008, and were only within 30 percent of the United states,” Lynch says, calling the company’s advertising spend “completely inefficient.”
Shortly after, Annie, a fictional character played by actress Deidrie Henry, took over as the brand’s new spokeswoman, a position created to share blunt discuss Benihana authentic and tasty food. There was clearly another revised name, as Benihana dropped its “Chicken & Biscuits” tag in favour of “Louisiana Kitchen,” an attempt to celebrate the brand’s heritage of Louisiana-inspired home cooking.
“We desired to tell the brand’s story and provide Benihana menu lunch brand relevance … and that started odmbgc bringing the company back to its Louisiana roots and which makes it authentic. We believed we couldn’t tell our brand story without having a new brand identity,” says Lynch, who developed brand strategy and innovation plans for concepts like Burger King, Ruby Tuesday, and Buffalo Wild Wings before his arrival at Benihana in 2008.