Hoyt Jones is president of Jersey Mike’s Subs, which opened its first store in Point Pleasant, N.J., in 1956. Last year, the company saw record unit growth of 15% and planned to add 100 additional units. Jersey Mike’s currently has 750 locations open or in development in 30 states and the District of Columbia.
What was the greatest challenge for restaurants in 2012? How did they overcome it?
Overall, 2012 was a good year for restaurateurs with welcome stabilization in financing and commodity pricing. An important challenge in the fast-casual/quickservice arena was the large amount of dining choices for the consumer. How do you create customer loyalty with all the opportunities out there? How do you cut through the clutter with so much messaging through social media and other technologies?
At Jersey Mike’s, we continued to stick with the fundamentals — authentic brand, quality product, strong customer and team member relationships — and saw positive growth both in terms of sales as well as a pipeline of new locations.
Finding the right people to fit your culture — whether team members or franchisees — is also critical and often challenging. For instance, for us, giving back to our local communities is part of our DNA, and we spend time determining if candidates truly embrace this philosophy. After Hurricane Sandy, which devastated the Jersey Shore, our home, we were so moved by the genuine outpouring of concern and acts of kindness from our team members and franchisees from coast to coast.
How will the Affordable Care Act affect the industry in the coming year?
This was a big topic of discussion at the Restaurant Finance Conference recently. As an industry, we don’t know yet all the details of the act and how it will affect us. It is important to be in touch with health care providers now to be educated on the possibilities. At Jersey Mike’s, our franchisees offer health care and it’s a matter of tailoring programs to make sure they fit with the guidelines. We caution that it is important to avoid making drastic changes. Employees are on the front lines and an important link with our customers. When our team members are happy, they exude that to customers, which, in turn, makes them happy. We don’t want that to change.
What’s your best advice for restaurant owners and managers in 2013?
Our best advice is to take care of your existing customers to the best of your ability. Equally important is taking care of your employees. Great team members are hard to find, so treat them well and invest in them. For instance, we have a countrywide Back-to-Basics training program in place through 2013 where we want to interact with every single employee. We’ve already reached about 2,500 team members with the program, about a quarter of the way there. We love to see how fired up our teams are about the brand and our customers after they go through the program.
More and more restaurants are investing in technology to boost their business. What is the most important piece of technology in which you think restaurants should invest in 2013?
In the new year, a big focus will be on using technology to communicate with and reward customers.
We’ve had great success with our Shore Points Rewards Program, our mobile loyalty program, and have an even more advanced “Super App” in the works for next year.
Many consumers are concerned with balancing health with a delicious restaurant experience. As we approach the new year, what do you think is the best way restaurants can offer patrons exciting menu items while still letting them keep their New Year’s resolution to be healthy?
It’s important to offer customers choices, and some of these must include healthy options. Restaurateurs should take a close look at their offerings, and if they don’t have them already, consider adding more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other delicious, healthy items.
We are lucky at Jersey Mike’s because we’ve had healthy options on our menu since we opened back in 1956. These offerings include our low-carb Sub in a Tub (one of our subs without the bread), our #7 (99% Fat Free Turkey and Provolone), the high protein #6 (in-store cooked Roast Beef & Provolone) and, of course, our #14 (The Veggie). A regular sub is packed with protein and, served Mike’s Way with onions, lettuce, tomatoes, olive oil, red wine vinegar and spices, offers more than a serving of vegetables.
This question-and-answer session was produced as part of SmartBrief’s 2012 Best Of reports, which capture the year’s most important stories in each industry. Sign up now for Restaurant SmartBrief to get tomorrow’s report on the top must-read stories from the restaurant industry.
Image provided by Splash Communications.