You might think you know the Quiznos story, and whatever version you’ve heard has been told thousands of times, but it’s not the story the Quiznos’ brand is living today. With a new executive team, a new vision and new culture of transparency and listening, the brand revitalization process focuses on the core fundamentals of brand building. We talked with Denver native Susan Lintonsmith, Global CMO for Quiznos, about her passion and love for food, chef inspired recipes that are the DNA of the Quiznos brand, and her plans to make this once hot brand strong again.
CMOO: So you like a challenge.
SL: “I like a challenge. I’m drawn to opportunities where I can make a mark, can stand back and say ‘if I wasn’t here, that wouldn’t have happened.’ Quiznos started in Denver. I grew up in Denver and returned in 2000, so I knew this brand well and loved the innovative sandwich recipes then, and still love them today, so I have a personal passion for the brand and am invested in moving it forward. When I was presented the opportunity at Quiznos and learned about all the changes that were happening, I jumped right in. I knew going in that there were many business challenges but given my past experiences, I thought I could really help make this once hot brand really strong again.”
CMOO: A lot of the CMOs tell us how personal connections to their brands fuel great ideas and strategies. What else made this opportunity so appealing?
SL: “I love the restaurant industry. I started working in restaurants at age 15 and continued throughout college, so I’m at home in this industry. I also spent most of my professional career at food related brands. At my core, I’m someone who really enjoys a challenge. I like walking into an organization that’s in transition and being able to leave my thumbprint on something — to make a real impact. I’m not the person for the job if a company needs someone to continue doing things the same way it’s always been done. If you’re looking for someone who can come in, be part of a hardworking team that rolls up their sleeves, take risks, and makes marked change to drive different results, I’m up for the challenge. So it’s that spirit of adventure that motivates me.”
CMOO: Tell us more about the situation you walked into at Quiznos.
SL: “When I got the call from a recruiter, I was told a private equity group had recently purchased Quiznos and changes were being made to the executive team. For me, that represented a fresh start and an opportunity to join a team that was aligned behind the same goal of turning around the Quiznos brand. The new CEO came on board a few weeks after I joined. He and I were the first of six new hires on the executive team. We all knew Quiznos, loved the concept and menu, but knew there were business challenges to contend with. We believed we could step in, do our best to fix those issues, and return Quiznos, a strong and growing brand.”
CMOO: With a large franchise system like Quiznos, franchisee buy in must be essential. How did you help everyone understand and accept your vision?
SL: “First the executive team needed to be in alignment behind the brand vision…where are we going. We also knew we needed to rebuild relationships with franchisees. We needed to earn back trust within the franchise community. Our first step started with listening and assuring the franchisees that their voices would always be heard. We’re also very clear about what we’re trying to accomplish and why. I think it comes down to great communication and that is something we’ve been committed to from day one. Building trust and establishing open and honest communication is critical. Every franchisee has our contact information. In fact, I spent the first several months on the job touring different markets with the COO and CEO, talking to franchisees, gathering information, and sharing our ideas about how we’d like to grow. It’s important when you’re in the midst of a turnaround, in an organization that is 99% franchised with most franchisees who have been around longer than the executive team, to listen carefully and take the time to build relationships.”
CMOO: Tell us about some of the ways that you built that trust.
SL: “We have two franchise councils, one is a business advisory board and one is specific to marketing. We have frequent and very candid conversations with both councils, inviting them to set the agenda for our scheduled monthly meetings. It’s a great opportunity to dig deep into important issues. We also have system wide calls that have been going on for several years, where the executive team shares pertinent information and news with the franchise community. We discuss what’s working and what’s not, share sales results — good, bad, or indifferent — and explain what we’re currently working on. We’ll also address any questions or issues that are out there. We also have weekly updates available online. We try to be as open, direct, and transparent as possible.”
CMOO: Can you share an example of how this has worked?
SL: “Yes, we just implemented a major menu change. This very process of candid conversations drove the rollout’s success. We’re always looking to improve our quality and our recipes. They need to remain contemporary and relevant to guests, but also work for our team members because the most important part of our brand is the guest experience, which comes down to execution. So it’s really important to have a menu that we believe in, but can also be executed consistently across our company. We worked closely with our franchisees, testing the menus in three different markets.”
CMOO: A menu change is a major decision for a restaurant franchise. Tell us more about that process.
SL: “Our DNA at Quiznos is chef created, high quality recipes, toasted to perfection that delivers guests great-tasting subs. Team members serve a lot of people and need to know these recipes inside and out. We worked with franchisees to test different scenarios. We engaged the council and test market participants, making some critical changes, and rolled it out in Q4, 2015.
Our new menu offers different sub sizes, new specs, some ingredient changes and recipe modifications. We’re able to give guests a little more while simplifying the process for our team members. The result was a better guest experience and an easy ordering experience. I was nervous because these were big changes, but we received no pushback. In fact, we got compliments from the franchisee community. That’s when you know you’ve done something right.”
CMOO: So having franchisees involved from the start made the difference?
SL: “Exactly. They had a seat at the table from day one and we worked side by side with them, making sure they knew that they had representation regarding all of the decisions. We’re all really proud of how that rollout went and the participation and engagement we had from our franchisee partners.”
CMOO: Succeeding in an area that significant must give you the confidence to take on other challenges.
SL: “What really gives us the confidence is knowing that our process works. If we continue to follow that process of listening to guest feedback, partnering with franchisees, and making, not just changes, but real improvements that are going to help the business perform better and foster sales growth, we’ll be able to take those bigger risks in the future. As I said before, nothing happens without trust. This major success has gone a long way to foster that trust.”
CMOO: How is Quiznos different from other restaurants you’ve worked with?
SL: “After graduate school, I worked for Pizza Hut, whose franchisees owned very large, multi-unit territories with sophisticated operations. Quiznos franchisees own an average of 1.1 stores so working with that many individual owners around the country and the world requires a different level of attention. Relying on our councils to share viewpoints is really important. We can’t make everyone happy, but the decisions we make are always based on reliable data.”
CMOO: How does Quiznos view the competition these days?
SL: “There’s no doubt this is a very competitive marketplace and not just in the sub category. But Quiznos is in a solid place. We have a great brand personality and a strong position based on quality ingredients and carefully crafted recipes. We were the first to incorporate toasting to bring out the flavor of our subs. And we embrace innovation, catering to our fun loving guests and to the millennial segment, using our curated content hub, Toasty.tv to lead in digital and social engagement. We’re not marketing at them, but engaging them in conversation. As we continue to build those trusted relationships with franchisees, our premium hot sub positioning will only get stronger. So if we focus on our own opportunities to get better and innovate, we’ll continue to grow our core customer base and welcome new guests to experience Quiznos in new ways.”
CMOO: Any last thoughts on Quiznos new direction?
SL: “I’ve been in the restaurant industry for 25 years. There’s nothing like having that immediate guest feedback to inform your decision making. I like data-driven insights and I also enjoy cooking, dining out, and the food industry as a whole so it’s the balance between hard data and soft emotive intuition that drives me. There may be people in marketing leadership positions who are proud that they can sell anything, and that’s certainly a talent, but I really like working for brands that I’m personally invested in. That’s what makes this job so much fun. We have a great team, and every day brings us closer to the goals we’ve set out to achieve. That’s a direct result of teamwork, listening, and trust….most importantly trust, you can’t fake that.”