DailyVista catches up with Jersey Mike's Subs

Originally Published at DailyVista

President and CMO talk expansion, charity, agencies

As 2012 begins, DailyVista is looking back to some of its best stories of 2011 and reconnecting with people who provided our readers with thoughtful and insightful interviews. One of those interviews was with Jersey Mike’s Subs, a quick-service restaurant chain that announced plans to expand into new markets last May.

DailyVista recently caught up with Jersey Mike’s President Hoyt Jones and Chief Marketing Officer Rich Hope, who updated us on the sub sandwich chain’s expansion efforts, its philanthropic goals and agency plans for 2012.

DailyVista: In an interview with DailyVista in May you said you expected to open 60-65 units in 2011, and over the next five years expect to double in size. Did you reach your goal of opening 60-65 stores in 2011?

Hoyt Jones, President: Yes, by the end of 2011, we will have opened between 65-70 restaurants. 

DailyVista: What are your growth plans for 2012?

Hoyt Jones: Our goal is to open up to 100 units next year.  This will be done through a mix of new and existing operators. To grow the Jersey Mike’s brand, we believe strongly in finding the right franchisees who share our passion for fresh, quality products, extraordinary customer service and giving back to the community.

DailyVista: How do you expect the economy to affect Jersey Mike’s growth in 2012? Is the economic climate forecast positive for the company?

Hoyt Jones: We are optimistic about the New Year. We are seeing the financing piece loosen up a little. We continue attracting multi-unit, multi-brand franchisees, which speaks to the strength of our business model. Most importantly, consumers see that they are getting a great value for a quality meal: fresh sliced/fresh grilled meats on bread baked right in the store, served “Mike’s Way” with freshly sliced onions, lettuce, tomatoes and a signature blend of olive oil, red wine vinegar and spices.

DailyVista: Are there specific regions that are key for additional growth?

Hoyt Jones: Our focus is on markets such as Washington/Baltimore/Northern Virginia, Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Diego, Chicago, Dallas, Phoenix and Northern Florida.

DailyVista: In March, Jersey Mike’s did a “Month of Giving.” How big of a success was that, and do you plan on doing that again (or something similar) in 2012?

Rich Hope, Chief Marketing Officer: We launched “Month of Giving” to celebrate our 55th year in business and, at the time, it was our biggest fundraiser ever (surpassed by our Mike’s Way to a Cure initiative just a few months later!). Together with our generous customers, Jersey Mike’s raised more than $600,000 for 66 local charities throughout the country. The campaign brought needed funds to deserving, yet often under-capitalized, organizations from hospitals to youth organizations. The program was such a successful fundraiser, that Jersey Mike's is already gearing up for the 2012 Month of Giving.

DailyVista: In 2011, for the first time, you partnered with a national charity in Susan G. Komen for the Cure. How well did that partnership work out, and is that something that will continue in 2012?

Rich Hope: Earlier (in 2011), Jersey Mike’s Founder and CEO Peter Cancro attended a Susan G. Komen for the Cure event at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington. After hearing the founder of the organization, Nancy Brinker (Susan Komen’s sister), and breast cancer survivors speak, he pledged to make a difference by raising $1 million for the cause. Thanks to our committed franchisees and customers, Jersey Mike’s exceeded that goal by raising $1.1 million for the Komen organization. 

At the same time, we saw that this was a truly wonderful fit with the Jersey Mike’s brand and an opportunity to attract more women to our stores to broaden our core consumer base. It’s also been a beneficial partnership for Komen which was very interested in reaching our male customers with the message that they need to open a dialogue about breast cancer risk with their wives, mothers, sisters, daughters, etc.

DailyVista: Overall, Jersey Mike’s is very active in cause marketing and always has been. To what extent will that continue in 2012? What’s in the works that you can reveal at this time?

Rich Hope: Giving back to the community has always been a guiding principle at Jersey Mike’s. It’s a philosophy that Peter (Cancro) has emphasized to each and every Jersey Mike’s store owner: support the community that supports you. (In 2011) alone, Jersey Mike’s has raised nearly $2 million for local charities and distributed more than 75,000 free sub sandwiches to help different causes. In 2012, in addition to the Month of Giving, Jersey Mike’s will also continue partnering with these causes:

-Wreaths Across America: In 2011, Jersey Mike’s raised $100,000 for Wreaths Across America, a nonprofit organization founded to continue and expand the annual wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery which took place in early December 2011. We hope to raise even more next year.

-Dennis Walters Golf Show: Each year, Jersey Mike’s partners with inspirational golf phenomenon Dennis Walters, The First Tee Foundation and other golf organizations to encourage kids from coast to coast to overcome obstacles and reach for their dreams. In 2011, Jersey Mike’s brought the Dennis Walters Golf Show - and nutritious subs - to kids in 14 local communities and we plan to do this again next year.

From the very beginning and continuing today, Jersey Mike’s restaurants have held local fundraisers to celebrate store openings in addition to being actively involved in local community events and supporting community organizations, particularly those that are youth-based.

While individual franchisees will continue partnering with Susan G. Komen for the Cure in 2012, nationally our focus will be on Jersey Mike’s Month of Giving in March, the Dennis Walters Golf Shows and Wreaths Across America.

DailyVista: What other marketing channels does Jersey Mike’s plan on using in 2012?

Rich Hope: For the first time in Jersey Mike’s history, we are partnering with a prominent athlete to endorse the brand: Christie Rampone. Christie is captain of the USA National Women’s Soccer Team and three-time Olympic medalist. She is a perfect fit with our brand as she is the ultimate soccer mom. At 36, she has two young children and yet is the fastest and best conditioned on the team. Christie grew up in Point Pleasant Borough, N.J., and talks about running from field to field, eating the Jersey Mike’s subs her parents picked up between games and practices. Now her own kids are enjoying our subs. This partnership helps us reach an important demographic for us: youths and their moms.

Another initiative we are excited about is our enhanced loyalty program. It’s a multi-faceted customer reward program that allows customers to use a swiped wallet card, a surfboard key chain card, or new features using an NFC (Near Field Communication) chip as well as a Smartphone app for Android phones or iPhones to help manage it all. What is unique about this is that it allows, via a dashboard, marketing down to the local store level. We plan to roll this out in the first quarter of the year.

DailyVista: You regionally introduced a kid’s meal for those eight-and-under to get them used to the taste of subs. What does the company have in store when it comes to kid’s marketing in 2012?

Rich Hope: When it comes to reaching kids, they are a complement vs. a standalone initiative.  Families on the run are important to us. Everyone is busy and shuttling their kids from school to practice, etc. We want these families to stop in for a delicious sub in between.

DailyVista: Last time you mentioned that Sirius Advertising is Jersey Mike’s AOR and you handle graphic and social media in-house. Is this still the case? As Jersey Mike’s grows, are you interested in hearing from other agencies on how they can help your business goals?

Rich Hope: As of January 2012, all of Jersey Mike’s marketing will be handled in-house. We may look to niche-type agencies in the future, but for 2012 everything will be in-house.