The Next Generation of Convenience

Mike Lawshe, President and CEO, Paragon Solutions

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Have you been to the Golden Arches lately? They have gone through a major transformation. It is not your father’s hamburger joint anymore. I drove past my neighborhood McDonald’s after the new remodel and had a hard time finding the actual Golden Arches. Have you noticed? I asked a number of people this series of questions: Have you seen the McDonald’s remodel? Did you see the Golden Arches? Where did you see them?

The answers were all over the map. Most had seen the remodels and loved the new look, but they couldn’t pin down what they liked most about it. And they were certain that the Golden Arches still played a prominent role in the architecture and signage of McDonald’s.

The Golden Arches are one of the most recognizable, iconic symbols in today’s world. The origin of the arches was not in the logo but the architecture. In 1953, architect Stanley Meston created the McDonald’s prototype and, at the direction of the McDonald brothers, placed matching yellow arches from the front to the back of the new building. In the ’60s, the McDonald’s logo incorporated the arches. The ironic thing is that the buildings of the ’60s eliminated the arches, but the logo remained.

For more than 50 years, the Golden Arches have been a part of our lives. Who can forget that commercial from 1975:“Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese …” Were you able to complete the jingle? Now I can’t get it out of my head. I had the opportunity to go on a mission trip to St. Louis a couple of years ago with a group of teenagers from my church. When in St. Louis, we had the opportunity to go to the Gateway Arch. It is an amazing piece of architecture.

 I had my group convinced that this was a part of the McDonald’s empire and that a full-scale restaurant was at the top. I was buying burgers and fries for everyone. To these kids, the Golden Arches were way more important and recognizable. So of course this bigger version was a part of the McDonald’s empire! My apologies to architect Eero Saarinen and the city of St Louis

My McDonald’s

What is my point? First of all, it is the fact that McDonald’s has embraced a series of rebranding and refreshing, going all the way back to its inception. Second, the changes have resonated with each generation. I still remember the white sack filled with burgers and fries as a special treat when my brothers and sisters didn’t kill each other that week. My children have an entirely different image of McDonald’s, strewn with cappuccinos and lattes. What will my grandson’s McDonald’s look like? If history is any indication, it will be uniquely different and uniquely McDonald’s.

While I think McDonald’s is taking a risk by minimizing the iconic arches, I think it is doing it in a brilliant way. The company was able to analyze its core objectives and create a new prototype that in my opinion meets and exceeds expectations. McDonald’s objectives are probably similar to what yours would be if you were going through a remodel and rebranding process. They are continuing to go after the elusive millennial sand women, but I sense they are also preparing for the next generation. Isn’t that what we hear at every meeting and trade show? We are supposedly pursuing the same customers.

With McCafé and its dollar menu, McDonald’s has modified its menu to give the next generation what they want. And now, with this latest image, the stores look the part. The price of the remodel($600,000) may seem steep, but initial returns are in—and sales are up. Equally important is that the company continues to look forward, not backward, as it maps out the future of fast food.

Different yet Same

How has this changed the landscape of the fast-food industry? Just lookaround and see how the competitions responding. Wendy’s, Burger King, Jack in the Box, Dunkin’ Donuts, the list goes on: All are implementing new branding strategies and remodel initiatives. From what I see and read, they are all resulting in increased sales, to different degrees.

So what do they have in common? I break it down into four important similarities:

Each of these successful chains continues to change its menu to meet its changing demographic. And they are not afraid to try new items: Whether with a simple seasonal offering such as lemonberry slushes, or a dramatic retrenching such as McCafé, all of these chains continue to reinvent themselves.

The current generation of architecture has a contemporary feel, with clean lines and timeless materials such as stone, brick and metal incorporated into the buildings. As we can see from the rollouts, these changes can be retrofitted to varying degrees, depending on existing conditions.

There is a bold splash of color incorporated into the architecture that defines the brand. For example, McDonald’s has a bold yellow, while Dunkin’ Donuts has orange with a background of brown. Both are distinct and recognizable. If you look, each brand has chosen a strong color or colors to define itself.

Each brand has taken this opportunity to update its logo and how it is portrayed throughout the brand. Sometimes these changes are minimal. but they can be dramatic. Every circumstance dictates different solutions, but the key is that they are changing with the times.

Looking Ahead

All of this is well and good for the fastfood industry, but what does it have to do with you? Everything! With this latest evolution of the fast-food industry, these retailers continue to attract our customers with their offerings.

Make no mistake: They are your direct competitors. Your customers have choices. They can purchase their coffee, tea, water, soft drinks, energy drinks, frozen drinks, snacks, breakfast, lunch and dinners at their local c-store, or they can purchase those same things at any number of QSRs. And they can do it through the drive-thru. How do you stand up to the competition? What is your strategic plan when it comes to your next-generation store? Do you have a strategic plan for not only your next-generation store but also how to retrofit your previous generation of stores? Gone is the time when the major oil companies would tell us what our next generation would be. Thank goodness! They were not doing our retail business any favors. That said, something is better than nothing. They did push us kicking and screaming toward improving our cleanliness and image over the years.

So what are you doing in the absence of major oil dictating your image? Many are running to Circle K, 7-Eleven and other franchises, essentially turning over their branding and image to a new authority. In these cases, you still do not have an image or brand of your own. You are still subject to the whims and direction of another. For some, this is the right approach, because they do not have the ability or desire to establish a brand and maintain it. Going through the process of updating an existing brand and image, or creating a new brand or image, has proven to be an excellent investment that results in improved sales, customer satisfaction and profits. Whether in the forecourt, the retail store or the foodservice program, branding can help the bottom line.

Where to Start

Begin by establishing a strategic planning committee that includes people inside and outside of your company. Take an honest assessment of who you are and how you are perceived by your customers. Look to the future and determine who you want to be and how you want to be perceived in the future. This will include product and service offerings, customer service initiatives, logo, brand, architecture and other areas that will be revealed through the process.

Once the strategic planning is far enough along, it should transition into an implementation team. This does not necessarily have to be the same committee, but it should include a few of the same members to maintain continuity. Empower this group to think big. Or, as I like to say, “Go big or go home.”

The process of brand development is not for the weak or faint of heart. Your brand is everything you do to communicate to your customer, from logo and architecture to signage and customer service. So the real questions are: Who are you today? Who do you want to be tomorrow? Does your brand reflect your image today? What are you doing to create your next-generation store? Take a page from the history of the Golden Arches. Be bold, and change with your customers.

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