So much of the restaurant business, and by extension the grocery business, is about big numbers … Deep looks at algorithms to determine a numeric dance through the lily pads of the business swamp. So many food business leaders turn to charts and graphs to tell them which step to take so they can avoid the quagmire that lurks just beyond the next misstep.
The problem with spending too much time on the numbers is that you miss the inspiration that comes from letting the numbers settle and allowing the intuition that drives all great entrepreneurs, and that drove Bob and Jewel Evans to build an impressive business. If the business were just about reaching a billion dollars in sales by selling off the Bob Evans grocery division, like Thomas Sandell claimed in a recent conference call, or to “make the restaurants operate better” as mentioned by John Gordon from Pacific Management Consulting Group, life would be easy for everyone involved.
But the reality of Bob Evans Farms growth problems goes much deeper than the numbers. The real problems for both Bob Evans restaurants and Bob Evans at the grocery store have more to do with psyche than calculus. What plagues so many terrific brands today is their lack of soul.
Bob Evans CEO Saed Mohseni has taken the first step to getting his business back on track by pulling the plug on most of the discounting. And outside of inducing trial, discounts only hurt the business long-term. The next step for Bob Evans as a brand is to build the soul back into the business to give their consumers a reason to visit more often. I’m sure there was a time in the distant past when there were a lot of customers who dined with Bob and Jewel more than once per week, and in some cases more than once per day. My guess is today that’s not as much the case.
But What About Bob (and Jewel)?
There is a little information about Bob and less about Jewel, their history, and how they built the business way back when … too little to make a connection to a consumer today. The Bob Evans brand has been polished smooth and sterilized. Maybe Bob did that before he left the business, or maybe it was done by employees who came later and didn’t understand the significance of who Bob was and why he was important. Selling off the retail division would do more long-term harm than good, however. I know this because I watched the Poppers brand slowly die at the hands of McCain and H.J. Heinz. Which is what would happen to Bob Evans sausage and other retail products. And the death of their namesake would also have a negative impact on the restaurants, especially because the sausage brand at retail is what started the restaurants in the first place.
The essence of Bob, and to a lesser extent Jewel needs to seep back into the business to drive the spirit of the brand. Who Bob was (and is) in the restaurants and grocery products needs to guide the look, voice and personality of the business, so that the echo of the life force that started the business in the first place can live on.
Take A Lesson From The Movies
People flock to one of our client’s restaurants in ever-greater numbers. Record numbers in fact. This past year The Original Mels Diners have grown in double digits in both new store openings and same-store sales. People come for the food, which is not really that much better than any of their competitors. But Mels has one thing their full-service American restaurant competition is lacking: American Graffiti. They have the rights to use the movie memorabilia in their restaurants, and use it we do. And it works. Consumers flock to Mels mostly because American Graffiti has a cult following, and because the movie is about a time that was so innocent in American culture, a time that Americans of any age long for today more than at any time in history.
Bob Evans restaurants are as much about Bob and Jewel and a rekindling of the past as they are about online orderings and being redesigned to fit a modern landscape. I would argue that Bob Evans at both retail and foodservice is more about the story than it is about the food. To get Bob Evans as a brand to attract more customers who pay full price and do it more often, Bob Evans needs a better story. One that tugs at the heartstrings of an American population that so desperately wants to take the crazy, vile world they find themselves in and leave it at the door for an hour or two, so they can eat wholesome, perfectly prepared foods in peace.
Create A Mental Image
Since Bob was a real person, there are stories that can be fished out of the past, given a double dip in the story bucket, and told over and over again. That’s what legends are made of. And that’s what makes your brand different from everyone else’s. The thing is, people don’t relate to tangible things; they relate to the intangible that supports the thing. You know, people don’t buy drills; they buy the opportunity to make holes.
It’s the same for you. They don’t buy breakfast, lunch, and dinner; they buy what those things mean to them. They buy a satiated feeling, along with a deep drop of love from Bob and Jewel, and they take that with them throughout the day.
A Better Menu & Story For Fun & Profit
The menu itself, what it’s made of, how it’s printed, what it says all have a huge impact on your business. It’s the difference between consumers picking something out and falling in love with your food.
To get people to fall in love, we have to tell them better stories about the very best items on your menu. As an example, what if I told you that Bob Evans loved his wife’s apple pie, which is why Bob Evans restaurants sell only Jewel’s Farmhouse Apple Pie. And the story goes that everywhere Bob went, all across the country on his travels, he would take his wife’s recipe with him. This was the only way he would eat an apple pie, the way Jewel made it, to the point where he would even give the recipe to bakers on his trips and tell them: “Make the pie like this. It just gives me so much love and comfort to have my lovely Jewel’s pie, even when I’m on the road.” Now, do you think that story would make you more or less likely to want to try Jewel’s Farmhouse Apple Pie?
And so we do that with various points around the menu. And with that, we make sure all the recipes actually fit your brand perfectly. Do we make meatloaf? Yup. Do we make it with portabello mushroom gravy? Probably not, but instead, we make Bob’s grandmother’s recipe that has a honey and tomato glaze with bacon bits and comes from a time when Bob was just a kid on the farm.
Once this is all figured out, you need to have a plan to communicate these stories to your employees, customers, and investors in a way that will get them to love you because of Bob and Jewel. The stories and personality go through the entire marketing plan and emulate through everything you do. Bob becomes more real than when he was real, with social, billboards, and even packaging carrying his message of integrity, honesty, and comfort.
Mark and Kelly Laux have been working in the food industry since the mid-1980s, developing award-winning, profit-generating marketing and advertising programs promoting national brands to foodservice companies and restaurant operators all over the country. Mark can be reached at 800-316-3198 X302