Three Keys to Modernizing a Legacy Brand

Operations & Training

What turning a 47-year old brand into a relevant icon taught me.

By Christine Specht, Cousins Subs

Since the doors to the first Cousins Subs restaurant opened in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1972, the brand has become a staple of Midwest fast-casual cuisine. However, with the growing presence of competition and the need to bring new life into our tired and aging restaurants, we knew the business could not be scaled successfully if it maintained the status quo. 

So, we put a plan in place to modernize and adapt to the changing consumer landscape. At the core of our plan was our communication — how we announced the system changes and the impact they would have on franchisees, crew members and customers. With a plan in place, we were confident we’d achieve success like never before. While rebranding isn’t a one-size-fits-all model, these three tactics can help inform your strategy to refresh your brand.

Original Cousins Subs

1. Clearly communicate the remodeling process. 

We know first-hand that enhancing a brand isn’t as simple as a fresh paint job or the introduction of a new tagline. To appeal to guests and employees, your business should be visually appealing and connected. 

In-store enhancements — like updating décor and technology — are costly and time-consuming undertakings that may not resonate with your entire franchise system. To prove their need and demonstrate the positive impact they’ll make on your bottom line, develop and share a comprehensive communications plan that clearly articulates the cost, how the in-store changes will build up your brand and what the return on investment is projected to be. 

At Cousins Subs, we found it is best to meet face-to-face with all parties impacted by store changes to have transparent conversations about what the remodeling process will look like and how each location will be impacted. When having these conversations, keep in mind that "cost" will be a buzzword. Just like many other business owners, franchisees need a sound reason to fund large-scale changes. Often, they are not focused on the holistic impact of the remodeling process. They are focused on the initial cost and need to be assured the undertaking will positively impact their bottom line.  

It’s important to also articulate that the remodeling process will take time and should not be expected to happen overnight. At Cousins Subs, we don’t require our franchisees to remodel their location(s) until their franchise agreements are up for renewal. This structure eliminates surprises and gives franchisees time to decide if they want to continue running a Cousins Subs store and modernize their location to meet our brand standards. If franchise partners are not receptive to a remodel, it’s important to afford them the necessary amount of time to properly exit the franchise system. This can be done by closing their store or selling it to another franchisee or to corporate. When a franchisee opts to sell the business, facilitate the sale as a franchisor. 

Renovated Cousins Subs Location

2. Rebrand to educate. 

Often legacy brands assume their guests and employees know their brand proposition because they are proud, loyal supporters. However, that’s not always the case. Some guests choose to support a company because of its best-in-class product, convenience or price point and don’t realize the company shares their values. 

According to a study conducted by the Harvard Business Review, 64 percent of consumers say that shared values are the main reason they have a trusted relationship with a brand. To better connect with current guests and build a connection with new ones, we used rebranding to educate. Because, after all, every successful brand has an interesting story tell.

We rebranded our stores to more clearly communicate our commitment to our communities and our cuisine philosophy.

As business owners, it’s our responsibility to adapt to the technological landscape and connect with our guests and employees when and how they want to receive communications.”

Since 1972, we’ve proudly donated to nonprofit organizations that improve the lives of children and families. And in 2013, we founded our Make It Better Foundation. Through the foundation we scaled our community giving to provide grants to hyperlocal organizations that address the vital community needs of youth education, hunger and health and wellness. We also support large-scale cause-marketing campaigns that benefit organizations that fall within our three pillars of community giving. 

3. Improve connectivity. 

Our world is more connected than ever before. As business owners, it’s our responsibility to adapt to the technological landscape and connect with our guests and employees when and how they want to receive communications. We enhanced our technological suite to easily and quickly communicate with our brand enthusiasts both in-store and online. 

Earlier this year we introduced a new point-of-sale (POS) system and installed Wi-Fi in all our locations. Our new POS system supports all restaurant ordering needs and enables us to streamline our front-of-house operations by reducing the number of screen touches at the register to ensure our crew members can serve guests quickly and accurately. We also implemented a back-of-house management system to allow us collect real-time transactional data. This data enables franchisees to keep a steady pulse on operations and see how their location is performing in real-time.

Cousins Subs Interior

Now more than ever, customers want to eat where and when it’s most convenient to them. To bring our offerings to more sub enthusiasts and increase sales, we introduced third-party delivery at nearly 85 percent of our corporate and franchise restaurants in Wisconsin and Illinois. This introduction compliments our online ordering offering, which is available online and via the Cousins Subs app. 

Franchisors need to think hard about what they want to accomplish by modernizing their brand and refresh their business with great sensitivity to franchisees. A successful rebranding will not only increase sales, but elevate your brand in the eyes of consumers, crew members and current and prospective franchisees. By fostering open and honest communication with franchisees and store teams, making store changes at a purposeful speed and celebrating your company values, your brand can modernize and enter its next phase of growth while maintaining and cultivating valuable franchisee, employee and customer relationships. 

It’s been eight years since we implemented our rebranding strategy and we’ve enjoyed so much more than a modernized look and feel. We gained valuable insights on the importance of self-reflection, best practices for implementing large-scale system wide changes and the right methods to analyze store data to measure the impact of our actions. 

Christine Specht is the CEO of Cousins Subs, a quick service sandwich shop. Find out more about Cousins Subs here