Since its inception in 1972, Cousins Subs has built a foundation of success on its quality made to order deli fresh and grilled subs that are crafted with fresh ingredients on its signature bread. This attention to quality has allowed the brand to expand to 100 units in its home state of Wisconsin. The product speaks for itself, but the growth of the brand’s rabid customer base has been supported by strategic marketing initiatives, both on the franchise and corporate store levels. In the past few years, under the leadership of Vice President of Marketing, Justin McCoy, Cousins Subs has taken its marketing up a notch by developing high-profile partnerships with the Green Bay Packers, Milwaukee Bucks, University of Wisconsin – Madison Athletics and Wisconsin Timber Rattlers.
“Wisconsin is a state filled with people that are very loyal, not only to products from different suppliers in the state, but also to our sports teams. Cousins has such a large presence in the state and is focused on local involvement, so we feel it is important to have strategic partnerships with larger sports teams who allow us to reach our core consumers outside our restaurants,” said McCoy. “With these partnerships, our focus is on raising consumer awareness across the entire system, but more importantly, doing so in a meaningful way, beyond just putting our logo in an arena or stadium.”
McCoy and his team work with sports organizations to create a variety of consumer campaigns that drive brand awareness as well as generate online sales. Together, they offer up enticing campaigns that focus on enhancing the fan experience by bringing Cousins’ local fare to venues, providing a way for fans to support their local communities through cause marketing initiatives, email and digital campaigns that offer online coupon codes, and social media promotions that capture the Wisconsin spirit and bring fans closer to their home state teams.
“Providing coupon code discounts on game days not only garners a direct return from our consumers in terms of sales, but allows us to offer an incentive that oftentimes leads to a greater reach and increase in product sampling at a local-store level,” said McCoy. “Our partnerships offer our franchisees an opportunity to build bigger consumer databases and capture online revenue. Online orders are typically about double the average in-store check, and is easier on our store operations, so it’s a win-win for everyone.”
Cousins next level game-day experiences through its sports partnerships also include reward-based consumer promotions for both football and basketball season—keeping the positive return on investment going throughout the year. Taking its local flavor to Madison’s Camp Randall and Kohl Center, Cousins sells select sub sandwiches during all Badgers football games at Camp Randall (in Badger Alley and near the Field House concourse area, sections Z2/Z3) and at the Kohl Center during all men’s Badgers basketball and select hockey home games. Entering another three-year agreement with the University of Wisconsin – Madison Athletics allows Cousins to include reward-based consumer promotions for both UW football and basketball games. For example, for its current promotion—Bucky’s Bash—Cousins invites fans to enter daily to win two tickets to the Badgers football game versus Minnesota on November 24th, ESPN Tailgate Zone passes, customized Badgers football jersey & free subs for a year. The prize on the basketball side is a trip to the Men’s Basketball Conference Championship Tournament in Chicago in March of 2019. Cousins is in its third year of its partnership with the Green Bay Packers and its “Best Seats in the House” sweepstakes, which started in August 2018 and will run through December 16. Through this campaign, fans are invited to enter for a chance to win two tickets to a Packers home game at Lambeau Field. Two winners are selected prior to each home game and get to cheer on the Packers from leather recliners in a special VIP section off the 50-yard line, watch replays from personal TVs and enjoy Cousins Subs catering.
Providing a superior customer experience is always top of mind for Cousins, but what really makes the brand stand out is its commitment to community involvement. Recently signing a vending agreement and three-year partnership extension with the Milwaukee Bucks, Cousins now sells select made-to-order deli fresh and classic subs including its Ham & Provolone, Turkey Breast, Club and Italian Special along with assorted Cousins’ chips at the Fiserv Forum during Milwaukee Bucks games and various other events in the forum annually. Cousins has also partnered with the Milwaukee Bucks for the fourth year to “Block Out Hunger” in Wisconsin. This season, Cousins will donate $50 to Milwaukee-based Hunger Task Force for every blocked shot made by a Bucks player. Each dollar raised will help Hunger Task Force provide nutritious milk to nearly 50,000 Wisconsin families. Cousins first teamed up with the Bucks in 2016 when they worked to provide aid to Wisconsin pantries statewide through food contributions and monetary support. Year-to-date, Cousins’ Wisconsin-based locations have collected a total of 14,437 pounds of food for 40 local pantries and with the help of the Bucks defense, Cousins has donated a total of $51,518 to support emergency food supplies at Hunger Task Force and its affiliated pantries.
“Being able to tap into the fan bases of these sports teams is a great driver of brand awareness for Cousins, but it’s equally as important to us to make sure these partnerships are meaningful,” said McCoy.
Teaming up in the Fox Valley market since early 2015, Cousins remains the official sub sold at the Timber Rattlers Fox Cities Stadium with select offerings available as a concession menu item during all special events. In addition, during every baseball game fans can cheer on their favorite sub mascot as they race during the third inning Cousins Subs Sub Run. The sub shop also participated in the Fang’s Reading Club, where it provided free mini subs for more than 20,000 kids that competed the program as a way to support an important local initiative.
The Wisconsin sports partnerships are likely to be the first of many, as the brand has launched a strategic Midwest growth plan to expand the brand outside of its Wisconsin roots. After signing a 40-unit deal in Chicagoland with franchisees Amit and Kalpesh Patel, McCoy has begun discussions with several Chicago area sports organizations to discuss similar partnerships to grow consumer brand awareness in a key new market for the brand.
“It took us a number of years to grow these relationships in Wisconsin. Today, we’re laying the groundwork in Chicago by actively starting the dialogue with potential partners.,” said McCoy. “Developing strategic local partnerships and being actively involved in the communities we call home will remain a primary focus for Cousins as we continue to grow into new markets.”