Investing in Innovation: Making Your Money Pay Off for Your Business

What is your business’s future worth?

It can be very easy to get caught up in the day-to-day operations that keep the doors open. The bottom line is always on your mind, making it easy to become laser-focused on what’s happening in the moment. Pressing questions take over: How is our supply chain doing? Do we have the right people? Are sales strong? These questions can make thinking about, let alone investing in, innovation feel like a luxury you can’t afford.

But here’s a reality check: Investing in innovation isn’t just about the future of your business. It’s an essential component of operations that can pay big dividends now and for years to come. My experience in prioritizing innovation has proven to be one of the best investments we’ve ever made for our restaurant brands.

Innovation is crucial to not just keep up, but to stand out 

The quick-service restaurant (QSR) industry innovates on a constant, consistent basis. In a crowded market of burgers, fries, sandwiches, salads, burritos, wings  and in our case, Cincinnati-style chili  innovation is crucial to not just keep up, but to stand out. The menu offerings, however, are just one aspect that make up a guest’s experience. There’s also speed, order accuracy, technology, quality of service, ambiance and atmosphere of your physical space, location, promotions and more. In short, numerous factors can connect customers to your brand or business; neglecting one or more of them can push them away quickly.

That’s why Gold Star Chili, one of the brands in the GSR Brands portfolio, invested more than $25 million in reimagining every element of our restaurant business and operations through the lens of the guest experience. We examined everything from kitchen equipment and layout to menu items, operations and service to ensure that we can deliver, and hopefully exceed, guest expectations in an ever-changing industry.

Our team took this extensive research and turned it into a new restaurant prototype that’s been rolling out to 70-plus locations over the past few years. We’ve seen strong results that tell us this big investment was worth it.

Remodeled restaurant locations made up 60.5% of our sales in the last fiscal quarter, but only represent 53% of locations. This innovation has been so successful that we’ve fast-tracked the pace of remodeling in partnership with franchise owners and anticipate having 80% of locations complete this process by the end of 2021.

Remodeled Gold Star franchises outperformed non-remodeled stores by 27% in 2020. Our remodeled restaurants see anywhere from 30% to 70% increase in sales post-remodel. That speaks for itself.

Don’t overlook important aspects of innovation

This isn’t to suggest that innovation simply consists of slapping a fresh coat of paint on the walls. Menu and training innovation has served us well too.

Our name is synonymous with Cincinnati-style chili, but we’re one of several brands serving this unique cuisine. We saw an opportunity to distinguish ourselves by going back to our roots and serving an expanded menu of burgers, fries and shakes that were original to the first Gold Star restaurant. This has allowed us to move past the “chili veto,” where one member of a family or group of friends might not want to have chili (likely because they just had it the meal before!), by offering other delicious, well-executed comfort-food classics.

Additionally, we introduced a new training tool  PlayerLync  to engage employees in training in a manner that fits the 21st century. Gone are the days of an outdated print manual. Now, an interactive tablet system engages employees across generations and is much more navigable to help them train and excel in all facets of the restaurant. Looking for opportunities to improve upon what is already working is innovation. Implementing training tools that engage employees in meaningful ways is innovation. When you have 70-plus restaurants in three states, consistent training is crucial to success.

We’ve taken everything we’ve learned along the way  from research to design to implementation, what worked and what didn’t  and are in the process of applying it to Tom & Chee, another brand in our portfolio. The specific tactics are different because the needs of the brand are different, but the spirit of innovation remains the same.

We elevated the brand with a new “&Crafted” restaurant concept that keeps the heart of Tom & Chee brand while elevating and streamlining to ensure we deliver an experience our guests want and deserve. New operational processes and equipment have created efficiencies and increased speed. Focusing the menu allows for improved quality, reduced costs and a better overall guest experience. The result is a revitalized Tom & Chee brand with restaurants opening in new markets, a better guest experience, and more efficient and profitable operations for franchise owners.

Regardless of industry, the same principles apply when it comes to innovation: Committing to it today can prevent regretting a lost future opportunity. Innovation can come in many forms. Instead of launching a new product, seeing how you can revamp and renew an existing one can give it a much-needed fresh feel. Your employees can be invigorated if you’re meeting their needs, which in turn will do the same for your clients or customers. Innovation can be whatever you need it to be if you are willing to invest in it.

In a world where change is the only constant, it might be a decision you cannot afford not to make. 

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