It's not common for a brand to attract both millennials and baby boomers at the same rate, unless it’s Cousins Subs. The Midwest-based sub sandwich franchise with nearly 100 locations in Wisconsin and additional growth underway outside the state, has benefitted from strong roots, organic development and forward-thinking business models and marketing plans to resonate across generations. The uniqueness of this broad appeal gives Cousins a leg up on the competition and has become an integral part of the brand’s continued growth.
Tom Jones, a Cousins Subs franchisee based in Milwaukee, has been with the brand in almost every capacity and has seen its cross-generational draw firsthand. He explained that the brand’s legacy has built a loyal base of customers who grew up with the brand, while recent strategic initiatives have increased Cousins’ younger guest base. For that reason, Cousins’ marketing efforts are largely poised at millennials.
“Cousins has been around since 1972, so we have great brand recognition throughout our home state of Wisconsin,” Jones said. “People have grown up with us and bring their kids to our stores. At the same time, our implementation of online ordering and delivery systems are two main adaptations that have helped us appeal to younger generations.”
In 2016, Cousins underwent a largescale rebranding to unify each of its restaurants in look and feel and deliver a refreshed image. The brand added features like Coca-Cola Freestyle machines, digital menu boards, and incorporated a mix of retro artwork, industrial finishes and modern seating that appeal to guests who have been with the brand since the beginning while attracting its growing millennial fanbase.
“As a 47-year-old brand, it’s important for us to remain relevant to our original guest base,” said VP of Development Joseph Ferguson. “However, today's consumers demand a modern environment that still shows off our unique identity. It took a lot of work, but we have struck a balance between honoring our roots and building a foundation for the future.”
The brand’s extensive presence in the state of Wisconsin has given it a strategic advantage as competing concepts have attempted to enter the market. The familiarity of Cousins has proven a powerful tool in customer retention, and, as Jones pointed out, the product itself remains the brand’s primary draw.
“Millennials appreciate our fresh product made with high-quality deli meats, cheeses and veggies,” he said. “We try to promote the fact guests tell us what they want, and we’ll find a way to make it. Tons of tough competition has moved in, yet we still hold our own. Other brands fight over the sandwich segment, but we have the base. They're coming to us from a relational standpoint. The grills in our stores differentiate us from other large sandwich concepts which is a big reason our brand works, plus items like fries and Wisconsin Cheese Curds go over well with both generations. The perfect combination of what we offer really helps Cousins appeal to a wide base.”
Community involvement is another way Cousins reaches a broad customer base that Jones said he holds in high regard personally. His franchise location works to create partnerships with sports teams at area high schools and other local organizations to find ways to give back so their partners make a profit. Creating a connection to Cousins brand at a local level has been an effective way to build lasting, loyal relationships.
Jones said the brand’s ability to draw multiple generations of customers adds value for him as a multi-unit franchisee and that he believes Cousins will continue to benefit from its broad appeal as it expands into new markets throughout the Midwest and beyond.
“Cousins is a family brand with a strong recognition that appeals to multiple segments of the population,” he said. “There's always room to grow, but the fact that we’re seeing people who have grown up with the brand pass it on to their kids and grandkids, speaks to its appeal and staying power.”