Moe’s Southwest Grill, Dominic Losacco; Celebrating Originality: How Musicians, Outlaws, and Entertainers stay authentic as they transition from regional player to national stardom.

Dominic_Losacco_logo_quote“Welcome to Moe’s!” The signature greeting was something that Dominic Losacco, CFE, Vice President of Global Marketing for Moe’s Southwest Grill, admittedly struggled to get just right. “We have some crew members (we call them Roadies) that just own it. That signature welcome is a significant part of what makes Moe’s a true original and it delivers an instant smile for our guests.” He is so invested in the Moe’s culture (which is an acronym for Musicians, Outlaws, and Entertainers), Dominic is taking up guitar lessons. It’s been a meteoric rise for Moe’s since this quirky culture of individuals embraced authentic, fresh southwest fare in a fast casual atmosphere more than 15 years ago. Now we get to witness the evolution of this FOCUS Brand portfolio company making the quantum leap from 36 states and 600+ locations to national stardom all while preserving and celebrating the culture that got the brand to this point. We wanted to understand the brand levers that make this shift happen.

CMOO: Moe’s has taken the concept of fresh Mexican from non-traditional roots in Atlanta to the beachfront of category giants. How does Moe’s create “whitespace” around the brand and get people to see you differently?

DL: “We’ll never be a stuffy corporate brand. Everything we do emphasizes the idea of just being yourself and celebrating originality. We head into these new markets with our brand positioning front and center and clearly in focus. Moe’s stands for musicians, outlaws, and entertainers for a reason. It was founded by entrepreneurs who were passionate about creating a unique fast casual dining experience that inspires customers to become artists, creating their one-of-a-kind meals. This is a key cultural element that we are working on bringing back to life, especially at the restaurant level. Our playlists are not your ordinary top radio hits – they are comprised of great artists who have passed or by contemporary artists covering their songs and helping their music live on. The uniqueness of this culture and the fact that everyone from corporate to franchisees to Roadies to customers buys into that culture is a huge advantage that cannot be duplicated.”

CMOO: What challenges are you facing as you undertake this expansion?

DL: “The brand wasn’t broken when I started – it was growing and strong. However, from a consumer angle, I felt that some of our most attractive elements weren’t being communicated fully. Having recently experienced a huge growth spurt, as I see it we’re now in our awkward teenage years, which can be clumsy at times. Like most teenagers, the decisions we make now mean everything to our future success. One thing is certain: as we evolve certain aspects of the business to support a national model, such as our financial, real estate, and marketing strategies, we must preserve the uniqueness that is the essence of our brand. My previous experience at Sonic Drive-in during their rapid expansion in the 2000’s is going to help me here as we reach critical mass…it feels similar in many ways. I do know that I’m going to need new thinking to make that shift to a national brand. I continually challenge myself to set a bold new vision for the brand.”

CMOO: So what needs to change about your thinking and strategy to break through that national threshold?

DL: “I’ve learned that to lead I need to be a good listener. With growth comes greater and greater opportunities, risks, and scrutiny. The system is bigger and the budgets are bigger so, in every aspect, the effect of key decisions is amplified. I also need to trust my team and franchisees and let go of some of the non-strategic tasks. Do I need to look at media plans for Atlanta? Not necessarily, but if I set the right expectation and surround myself with the right team we can get something greater than the sum of our individual efforts. To me, that is exceptionally rewarding.”

CMOO: So it seems that the uniqueness of the Moe’s culture is everything for the future success of the brand.

DL: “Yes, it’s who we are and what we own. Our brand is all about celebrating originality and it flows from the Moe’s brand pillars, which are rock-star service, honestly awesome food, and shareable experiences…helping customers become “food artists” with one-of-a-kind meals they create. For customers to feel this, the corporate team, franchisees, and every Roadie must be genuinely excited about that promise. To do this we encourage Roadies to be engaging. The enthusiastic “Welcome to Moe’s!” greeting is sometimes part of the Roadie interview process. We have lip sync contests at headquarters to keep our corporate teams excited, but the songs have to reflect one of our brand pillars. We build engagement into all aspects of our business — and it makes the difference. It’s even inspired me to learn guitar. But our pillars, like our brand, are not static. They are reviewed every year and we make adjustments to make sure they are in alignment with where we are headed and what our customers not only want, but are truly excited about. The brand positioning has to be simple enough that everyone gets it…celebrating originality is accessible for everyone.”

CMOO: It sounds as though there is room for some freedom within your franchising framework.

DL: “Well I think the very nature of franchising is flexibility. Our franchisees buy into this culture, but where they truly execute on the brand pillars and support the system comes from the fact that they really understand their markets so they can make adjustments accordingly. We have to build the latitude to make adjustments, but also the forum to listen to them and value their ideas.”

CMOO: Are your relationships with individual franchisees important to the process?

DL: Of course, our franchisees are a vital piece of this process, with Moe’s being 99 percent franchised.” Trust is still a huge part of the equation and trust comes from listening. The franchisees execute on our vision and brand promise and without them really buying in, things would be much harder and we probably wouldn’t have this incredible growth.”

CMOO: What else motivates you on a personal level?

DL: On a personal level I get motivated when I see success. Success for the Moe’s brand with positive comps and profitable franchises, success for my team with increased opportunities to advance their careers. I’m a competitive person by nature so it’s these things that motivate me to keep pushing, keep striving for positive results. And I’m personally motivated because of the opportunity that I have been given…the opportunity to lead a great brand like Moe’s as we continue this journey to becoming a national brand.

If all goes well, a year from now I won’t be the same person I am today.”

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