Corner Bakery Café is on a roll. The Dallas-based chain, purchased in 2011 by Roark Capital Group, is in the midst of an aggressive franchising drive that last year saw it open 20 new restaurants and more than double the number of area development agreements signed in any previous year.
Those agreements added 125 cafés, raising the total to 288 units under development. This year, the company is on track to double that pace and by 2015 plans to have doubled its total U.S. footprint. Leading the charge is Jonathan Benjamin, who in less than two years has set the wheels in motion for Corner Bakery Café to become a major national competitor.
rd+d: Corner Bakery Café has long grown relatively quietly, slowly and mostly through corporate expansion. Clearly, that's no longer the case. What's changed?
JB: Roark's business model leans more toward an aggressive franchising approach and they saw Corner Bakery Café as a tremendous vehicle to be able to expand rapidly into the bakery-café area of fast-casual dining. There was really only one dominant player and Corner Bakery Café has a lot of economic and menu advantages that would make it a legitimate contender in the field. So they hired me a year and a half ago to lead franchise sales. I worked to conceptualize a go-to-market approach that would really let the world know that we were making a big push into franchising. We started from scratch — there was no dedicated executive position for franchise sales prior to my arrival. They had a franchise sales person, but the approach was reactive. We're now actually going to market, announcing our presence and trying to welcome new franchise partners.
rd+d: What are some of the key elements of your go-to-market approach? Any new sales trends you're embracing?
JB: Our approach includes everything from new sales collateral to trade show activity to e-mail marketing to good old-fashioned cold calling. We've also developed a fairly robust PR effort and have completely revamped the franchise sales area of our website. As far as trends go, what I'm seeing is a move towards back-to-basics strategies. Over the past few years there had been a lot of hype with social media and some other online applications. They may have made the franchise salesperson's life easier but with rare exceptions you just are not going to make a sale via social media. One of the things that I've learned is that you have to be willing to try some old-school, boots-on-the-ground things that worked in the past, as well.