Roy Rogers has a new executive vice president who has been working behind the scenes to reinvigorate the 50-year-old brand and get it on track for the next 50 years. Now, after a year of work, Jeremy Biser says he’s ready to get the brand back into growth mode.
“This is my debut event!” said Biser at the 2019 IFE in New York. “We’re now actively out there recruiting along the Mid-Atlantic.”
Biser came to Roy Rogers a little over a year ago to bring some big-company thinking to the 52-location chain known for roast beef, chicken, burgers and a cowboy theme.
Biser spent time at Dunkin Brands for 10 years helping with development, strategy and international operations. And before that he was at Starbucks. He said coming to a regional brand took a bit of getting used to, but as a East Coast native, it piqued his interest.
“I grew up loving Roy’s, I love this brand. So when they approached me it was quite interesting,” said Biser.
His first year was perhaps not all that exciting, but consisted of a lot of foundational work to prepare Roy Rogers for what’s next.
“A lot of this first year was assessing rebuilding the team taking a look at all our partnerships. We re-signed a deal with Coke for 7 years, secured a new primary distributor and named a new agency of record,” said Biser. “It’s really taking a look at everything, turning all the rocks over to see what’s working and what’s not working so we can start growing again.”
The company has said this all before, claiming in the past few years that it was ready to grow again and eager to get started. But it never amounted to much. Which was part of the reason the owners sought out someone like Biser.
“They bought the brand in 2002, they had 70 odd stores, then spent the last 15 years trying to get the good operators successful, but they kind of hit the wall and saw they have to look at it different,” said Biser, who said even the old guard was mostly ready for a change. “Everybody wants to see it grow again and it wasn’t happening before. So it’s been mostly open arms.”
He said a big part of the process was just determining where the brand should go, the big strategic goals.
“One of the things I was really fortunate to do with Dunkin is take on strategic initiatives. So I was able to come here and, after the first three months, really sit down with the executive team and see where we want to be in three years, then break it down to an annual operating plan,” said Biser. “So we have a very thoughtful plan that has four pillars: quality people, quality products, quality experiences and quality business. If something doesn’t pass through those filters, we’re not doing it.”
Things that passed through those filters: getting a better distribution deal, restructuring how the teams were set up, locking in a beverage provider as he did with Coke and a cadence of menu innovation.
“We’re innovating on burgers and sandwiches, we just did the new Texas Pete chicken sandwich, which has more than tripled our spicy chicken sales,” said Biser.
Another big goal was reaching younger consumers. As a 50-year-old brand, customers skewed a little older. Folks in the Cal Ripken Jr. age bracket who grew up with the brand but—you know—aren’t famous baseball players. Ripken has been endorsing the brand, but millennials sometimes didn’t even know about a location nearby.
“We do have a strong brand recognition,” said Bisner. “But what was surprise was that despite that, millennials said they didn’t even know we were here, so it’s reaching them. And when we do, it’s convincing them to come to us. Do they know that we have fresh never frozen chicken?”
Shifting to millennial advertising streams like social and digital is happening now but marketing still keeps a close eye on keeping those existing customers engaged. Bisner said it was “more evolution than revolution.”
And a final piece of the puzzle was creating more efficient operations to help franchisees enhance unit economics and a new store design that is rolling out now.
Bisner said the company is now actively recruiting mutli-unit operators for development agreements in the Mid-Atlantic to spur growth nearby without stretching the team.