Arming field agents with Spackle paste is one way that Jimmy John Liautaud can “keep it simple” at his rapidly growing Jimmy’s John’s sandwich chain, he said.
Liautaud’s Champaign, Ill.-based chain of about 1,500 restaurants has grown its store base by nearly 55 percent in less than three years. It had estimated U.S. systemwide sales of more than $1 billion in 2011, aided, in part, by 10.97-percent growth in estimated sales per unit, to about $825,000, according to Nation’s Restaurant News Top 200 research.
“Six meats, one cheese, two breads and 23 different sandwiches,” are the statistics Liautaud likes to recite in summing up the menu side of his private, closely-held chain of nearly all franchised restaurants, for which he said he handles all culinary research, development and purchasing.
“With 1,500 restaurants, we’re in every single restaurant every 30 business days for a full day. That means we’re sticking the key in the door to open with the manager,” Liautaud recently explained during a panel discussion at the MUFSO conference this month in Dallas, an industry event hosted by Nation’s Restaurant News, Restaurant Hospitality and Food Management.
Those restaurant visits are handled by an individual with expertise in the brand’s systems, procedures and mission that Liautaud calls a “business coach,” but may be known as an “area director” or “franchise consultant” at other chains.
“All my business coaches carry with them Spackle, primer and all of my paint colors — that’s three colors — and they carry two each of my tiles so they can pop a [broken] tile off and put a new tile on, and they repair and fix everything they can in the store,” Liautaud said.
“And that store is graded on a scoring system that we have,” he continued, “and if the store scores less than 85 percent, that same day, by 8 o’clock that night, my chief compliance officer, my coach’s boss, who is called a ‘regional,' the unit manager and the active owner [have] a corrective action plan in place to fix that customer threat that caused the score to be less than 85 percent. “
Referring to his company’s commitment to fund full-day inspections monthly and its expectation of high unit-level scores, Liautaud said that his management team “only expects what we’re willing to inspect.”
He acknowledged that other sandwich chains are doing well with preparation methods different than those used by his chain and through expanded menus. But Liautaud added that Jimmy John’s remains committed to quickly assembling the foods it has been known for since its founding and letting “the main thing,” or signature sandwiches, “be the main thing.”
“I love toasted sandwiches, they are great, but Firehouse and Potbelly do a great job with them and they can have it. I’ve done soups and different things, but all it does is slow me down,” the restaurateur said. “With time being the new currency, it is important that we serve people so they can continue doing what they are doing.”
“What I do is simple, but I work hard to keep it that way.”