What is in this article?:
- CMO Perspectives: Corner Bakery Café's Diana Hovey
- Thriving in fast casual
This interview is part of CMO Perspectives, presented by NRN in partnership with the National Restaurant Association’s Marketing Executives Group. The monthly feature explores how leading executives are navigating the ever-changing restaurant marketing landscape.
Diana Hovey, chief marketing officer for Corner Bakery Café
Since 2006, Diana Hovey has been chief marketing officer for Dallas-based Corner Bakery Café, shaping the branding and messaging strategy for the bakery-café pioneer that considers itself “the ultimate neighborhood gathering spot.”
The past two years have been an exciting time for Hovey and the 150-plus-unit chain, she said, as Corner Bakery’s 2011 acquisition by Atlanta-based private-equity firm Roark Capital put the brand on a path toward accelerated franchise growth to more neighborhoods in new markets around the country.
Corner Bakery’s change in ownership meant a major increase in marketing resources going toward franchisee support and growth, particularly for local-store marketing in new territories. But every brand decision is still made with the guest experience in mind, Hovey said, and the newer demands on ensuring franchisee success have been met with Roark’s resources and experience.
“From a marketer’s perspective, it’s a dream to have an owner that thinks like a consumer and understands what it takes for a brand to succeed in today’s marketplace,” Hovey said in an email conversation with Clay Dover, chief marketing officer ofand board member of the Marketing Executives Group.
She discussed Corner Bakery’s recent successful franchise expansion — in major cities like San Francisco and Miami as well as smaller markets like Corpus Christi, Texas — and near-term prospects for growth and menu innovation.
It’s been two years since Roark Capital acquired Corner Bakery. What has been the biggest change?
First of all, it’s hard to believe it’s been two years. The last two years have been an incredible time for Corner Bakery Café, as we’ve readied the brand for the fast-paced growth path we’re on. Joining the Roark family of brands has been a match made in heaven. Roark saw a well-positioned brand with strong heritage and great potential for growth. While we were comfortable growing steadily through primarily company development, we knew we had a lot to learn about franchising. Roark not only brought the resources to help us accelerate our growth, but we’ve found that their vast experience in franchising provided the coaching and system development we greatly needed.
What were your biggest concerns about the acquisition, and how did you address them?
When the acquisition was first completed, I had some concerns that we’d be able to maintain the uniqueness in our brand in Roark’s vast portfolio of restaurant companies. Admittedly, from a marketing perspective, I had concerns that we’d be able to keep our distinctive look and feel in our communication and materials.
I discovered quickly that my concerns were totally unfounded. The Roark team is in our test kitchen on a regular basis, and their pride in our culinary points of differentiation reassured us from the beginning that they want to protect the brand as much as we do. I can remember my first meeting with my fellow CMOs from other Roark brands. Nothing like a room of competitive, type-A personalities protecting their individual brands: We found immediately that we could share best practices, knowledge of industry resources and be each other’s go-to person for quick insights, but we were also able to respect each other’s desire to keep certain marketing strategies to ourselves. There’s rarely a week that goes by that I’m not in touch with fellow Roark CMOs, which was a great, unexpected benefit.
What has the company allowed you to work on which previously had not been a focus?
The biggest benefit from joining the Roark team has been the help they’ve provided us with franchising. We brought on quite a few new resources, including expansion of our franchise sales, operations, development and marketing teams, as well as made a significant investment in our IT infrastructure. Most importantly, we are looking at every brand decision through a franchisee lens, ensuring all programs and operating systems can be consistently and efficiently executed in large and small markets across the system.