Although the locals have reacted positively to the concepts, the biggest challenge has been marketing, especially for the Coffee Lodge. It saw strong sales during its first two months of operation, but traffic dropped off in the hotter months. At least once a week, McCarty hands out coupons for free and discounted items to customers pumping gas. Most of the customers she meets haven’t stopped at the Coffee Lodge yet, saying they don’t drink coffee or that it’s too hot to drink coffee.
“I assumed incorrectly that everybody would understand that of course we’d have all that other stuff that Starbucks has, too,” she said, referring to iced coffee and frozen coffee drinks. Now, when she talks to young women, she promotes the Coffee Lodge’s iced coffee or smoothies, and when she talks to male customers, she points out the cafe’s “man-friendly” food, such as cheddar sausage biscuits.
“The question is: Did we limited ourselves with the name?” she said.
The concepts’ customer bases were another surprise for the Douglass team. About 80% of the Coffee Lodge business comes from travelers, not the locals they anticipated. A proprietary foodservice program can be a tough sell to out-of-towners. “Our biggest concern about getting away from Burger King was that we’re on the highway. Can we put in two proprietary brands and expect a traveler to give us a chance?” McCarty said.
The answer is yes. Douglass still plans to work with other franchise food partners, but believes it can replicate the concepts’ business models. However, McCarty is working to get more local folks in the door with a second round of mailer ads and a freebie card for local Chamber of Commerce members. For Mi Taco, promotions such as “Taco Tuesday” and “Free Queso Fridays” have helped maintain a steady business. The goal is to get as many people to try the product as possible with aggressive sampling and buy one, get one deals.
“The food is really good,” McCarty said. “I can be sure that you’re going to like it if you try it. But I’ve got to get the opportunity to get it in your mouth.”