HT Talks Tech: Kristen Hartman, President, Specialty Brands at Focus Brands
HT caught up with Kristen Hartman – President, Specialty Brands at Focus Brands, to get the scoop on its dual branded store concept and the technology being used behind the scenes. The parent company behind Auntie Anne’s, Cinnabon, Jamba, McAlister’s Deli, and more, boasts 175-plus open dual branded units with at least 65 more in various stages of development.
HT: Tell me about the multi-brand brand store concept and how it came about?
Kristen Hartman – President, Specialty Brands at Focus Brands: Focus Brands has long pioneered the concept of co-branding, predominately in malls and non-traditional locations with Auntie Anne’s and Cinnabon. Now, the company’s portfolio of brands have found new opportunities with streetside co-branded units, which is paving the way for immense franchise growth, especially on the specialty side of the business. Additionally, there is opportunity for enhanced revenue with co-branding, which is appealing for franchisees looking to grow with our brands.
HT: Size-wise, is this the same or larger as the other locations?
Hartman: For us, dual branding works in a wide range of venues – malls, streetside locations and non-traditional locations like airports. With that, there are a variety of formats and sizes available for co-branded units depending on the venue and brand combination. The back of house is shared, so our dual brand locations share many common items – sinks, shelving, office, refrigeration, freezer space, etc. Dual branding allows for the total space to be more like 1.5X the size of the space for BOH and FOH instead of 2X the size if it were two separate brand spaces
HT: How many dual locations are there? About how many will open this year?
Hartman: Currently, Focus Brands boasts more than 1,100 branded units globally that are co-located or co-branded with another brand in the Focus Brands portfolio, with even more in various stages of development.
HT: Do these locations include the option for drive-thru? Is that a popular option?
Hartman: Yes, many of our freestanding and end-cap dual brand locations include the option for a drive-thru. We know drive-thrus provide an additional, convenient access point our guests are looking for and they remain a popular option for many of our co-brand units.
HT: What does this mean for the technology and the 2+ brands?
Hartman: The POS systems in a co-brand location are integrated and include both brand’s menus so a team member can select all the items a customer orders at the counter in the same POS and the items will all appear on a single check.
HT: Do these concepts use digital menu boards, kiosks, drive-thrus?
Hartman: The exact technologies used in co-brands varies by brand combination, but most existing units in the Focus Brands portfolio do use digital menu boards.
HT: How has digital ordering, mobile app and loyalty evolved in recent years? What's next?
Hartman: We believe that the future of co-branding at Focus Brands means multiple brands seamlessly integrated into a single location. This includes design, signage, loyalty programs and all in-restaurant technology. While loyalty programs remain separate for each brand right now, ultimately, we can envision a single loyalty program where you can earn and redeem across all four brands – adding value for the consumer.
HT: When it comes to workforce, what does this concept mean for them? Do they work for both brands?
Hartman: When it comes to co-brands, franchisees and their managers are given the training and tools they need to cross-train their teams in both brands.
HT: How are you using technology to reduce friction in their environment and experience? Daily pay? mobile app for training, scheduling?
Hartman: For co-brand concepts to be successful, there needs to be seamless integration of technology (including digital experience, loyalty programs, POS, etc.) as well as the physical space and the overall guest experience. From our experience, the back of house layout needs to be done in a thoughtful way to ensure maximum efficiency and overall speed of service. We have a team dedicated to co-brand growth, and they work on bringing the brands together in one space, creating integration, maximizing BOH operations, consumer messaging, prototype optimization, team training, drive-thru technology and many other things. Our goal is to optimize the model so that it drives unit volume and profitability for our franchisees.
HT: What's next?
Hartman: We believe this is going to be a big year for co-branding at Focus Brands. All of the current dual and co-brand combinations in our portfolio have a great opportunity to grow in core venues and territories, as well as new markets. For 2023, we expect to open more dual brand locations, most of which are Auntie Anne’s + Jamba locations or Auntie Anne’s + Cinnabon locations. We’re also looking forward to the opening of the first Cinnabon Swirl with Carvel Soft Serve. In addition to net unit growth, we expect the benefits for franchisees to grow in the coming years as we continue to analyze P&Ls and buildout costs to understand economics and gain valuable insights for us to optimize.