Way back in early 2008, Popeyes prices languished in quick-service mediocrity. A whole new management team led by Cheryl Bachelder, a one-time president of rival KFC, was charged to steady the 1,900-unit company, but a litany of internal and external pressures complicated the work.
Same-store sales, average unit volume (AUV), and transaction counts had suffered years of declines, and people downward trends placed the organization at odds with its franchisees, many of whom considered the Atlanta-based company mismanaged and self-serving. Just as if that wasn’t enough, the Great Recession struck, spurring a precipitous drop in consumer confidence that further challenged gains.
Then, in March 2008, Popeyes founder Al Copeland, who had built the fried chicken-peddling chain from one unit right into a global enterprise of some 800 units, died at age of 64. Though Copeland had not directed the company for longer than 15 years, his death seemed a symbolic public blow to some brand clamoring for good news-anything good news. “The brand hadn’t been managed well,” says Di.ck Lynch, one of Bachelder’s early management hires as well as the company’s chief brand officer, “and we needed to get back on track.”
And that’s just what Popeyes did. In the last eight years, the chain has turned into a reinvigorated, lively force inside the quick-service game, shifting its results, public perception, as well as its future prospects.
In 2015, Popeyes added nearly $700 million in systemwide sales for the year-leapfrogging Papa John’s to enter the top 20 in the QSR 50-and captured same-store sales gains of 5.7 percent at its domestic units, the seventh consecutive year of positive comp sales. The enterprise also reached two new development milestones: opening an archive 219 restaurants in 2016-125 of those in the United states-and crossing 2,500 total units, an army of restaurants scattered throughout the U.S. and over two dozen other nations around the world.
In 1972, Copeland opened Chicken on the Run in Arabi, Louisiana, a brand new Orleans suburb on the eastern side of the Mississippi River. Within months of opening, lackluster sales prompted Copeland-a 1-time local doughnut magnate unafraid of bold ideas-to alter course. He altered his eatery’s menu from traditional Southern-fried chicken to spicy, New Orleans-style chicken and in addition installed the Popeyes moniker, a nod to Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle, the detective character inside the French Connection portrayed by Gene Hackman.
Through the mid-1980s, Popeyes had been a growing phenomenon. The chain boasted greater than 500 units, including restaurants outside of the United states, and had get to be the third-largest quick-service chicken chain.
But Copeland’s ambitious appetite proved too mighty. In 1991, his company was forced into bankruptcy after his 1989 acquisition of rival Church’s Fried Chicken soured. The company reorganized as AFC (America’s Favorite Chicken) Enterprises shortly thereafter.
Through the 1990s and into the modern day, Popeyes Catering menu with prices struggled to discover solid footing. It acquired and after that sold brands like Seattle’s Best Coffee and Cinnabon. It lacked direction and purpose amid a revolving door of CEOs, as well as persistent sales, profit, and store-traffic declines. Franchisees became increasingly frustrated.
When Bachelder was appointed CEO in 2007, the organization was drowning in a surging wave of missteps. “It was the land of silos,” says Amy Alarcon, Popeyes’ vice president of culinary innovation, who joined the organization in 2007. “Franchisees considered us with lots of suspicion, so we needed to break through that noise and unite.”
Bachelder and her leadership team responded by introducing a Strategic Roadmap created to fuel results, unify the brand, re-establish trust with franchisees, and propel the brand’s floundering marketplace standing.
There was the launch of brand new products, including snack items and lighter options to the core bone-in chicken offering; a shop remodeling project; new menuboards; and a new advertising agency. The multi-million-dollar efforts were made to drive traffic and quit consistent same-store sales declines.
“We weren’t a national advertiser in 2008, and were only within 30 percent in the United states,” Lynch says, calling the company’s advertising spend “completely inefficient.”
Shortly after, Annie, a fictional character played by actress Deidrie Henry, had become the brand’s new spokeswoman, a situation designed to share blunt talk about Popeyes’ authentic and tasty food. There npdcjl also a revised name, as Popeyes dropped its “Chicken & Biscuits” tag in favour of “Louisiana Kitchen,” an effort to celebrate the brand’s heritage of Louisiana-inspired home cooking.
“We wanted to tell the brand’s story and provide Popeyes menu prices brand relevance … which started with bringing the brand returning to its Louisiana roots and making it authentic. We believed we couldn’t tell our brand story without a new brand identity,” says Lynch, who developed brand strategy and innovation plans for concepts like Burger King, Ruby Tuesday, and Buffalo Wild Wings before his arrival at Popeyes in 2008.