Saladworks CEO Patrick Sugrue talks about learning curves, mastering the millennial mindset and becoming your brand’s best ambassador.
In 1982, Patrick Sugrue began his 15-year journey in consumer packaging with E. & J. Gallo Winery and the Coca-Cola Company. The path proved to be lucrative, introducing him to future opportunities with AHL Services and HoneyBaked Ham--eventually allowing him to start his own management consulting firm where he was able to continue serving prior employers. In 2011, Sugrue became the President and Chief Executive Officer of Fearmans Inc., one of the oldest and largest pork manufacturers in Canada--further strengthening his consulting skills and understanding of private equity firms. It was through this exposure that he was introduced to Saladworks, a brand that he believed had immense opportunity.
By joining Saladworks, there were a number of modifications Sugrue had to make to his marketing approach in order to target a new group of consumers--the millennial. He acknowledged three trends that were essentially nonexistent throughout his early career that evolved when this group emerged.
“Everything was previously about the boomer, but now, the number of boomers are declining and so is their consumer spend. There is a very different dynamic when looking at the dominant buyer in the market,” said Sugrue. “Millennials have a more holistic approach. They care about buying local to support local farmers. They want to know where their ingredients are coming from so they know how fresh their food is. They want to understand the kind of impact they are having on the carbon footprint.”
In tune with this trend is a craving to eat healthier and an enhanced understanding of unique ingredients. According to Sugrue, this recognition and fluency was strengthened by stations like the Food Network that have gained popularity with shows like Chopped and Master Chef.
“The convergence of these three trends led me to believe that there was a tremendous opportunity for someone like Saladworks as the originator of the fresh, chopped, customizable salad concept,” he said. “What I realized was that Saladworks was tired because the ingredients had remained stagnant for 20 to 25 years. They weren’t the craveable, more exotic toppings that today’s intelligent consumer sought out on a menu.”
To supplement and help further the brand’s evolution, Saladworks diversified its offerings to include ingredients like braised carrots, butternut squash, and Brussels sprouts. The thought was that if Saladworks added those elevated toppings, they could attract millennials without alienating their original consumers. Aside from these additions to the menu, the brand also revamped each store’s interior to cater to their growing tech-friendly customer base.
“Our goal was to find a way to invite the millennials in because it would offer our brand great growth potential,” said Sugrue. “One year into this change, and I couldn’t be more excited about how accurate that assessment was. If you look at our consumers today after we started our remodel program, the response is that they feel like they are in an environment where they can refresh, reconnect and recharge. Same store sales are our best indication of the health of the brand, and the numbers show a 14 percent increase in year-over-year growth. Consumers who are eating out are choosing healthier options and this is the sweet spot for Saladworks.”
This validation was one of the proudest moments for Sugrue, as Saladworks continues trending in the right direction with the support of their franchise system.
“After a year of increasing same store sales and profit, we met with our franchise advisory council (a team made up of 10 multi-unit franchise owners) to talk about the changes that would shape the future of our organization. We laid out our plan for 2017 and it is aggressive,” he said. “It involves a significant investment from each of our franchisees to change to our new logo, transition to a state-of-the-art POS system, and remodel each store to have a more modern look and feel. The FAC reviewed the plan and said, ‘We’re all in!’ The execution has already started and will be finalized by the end of the year. Their belief and support in the vision and strategy was a great moment for our team because we recognized how fortunate we are to have those franchisees on our team.”
It was this meeting that also helped Sugrue recognize one of the biggest challenges many leaders face when confronting change—and that’s earning the trust of their organization as a key decision maker.
“I think particularly when you’re in a changed environment that leadership has to listen a lot more than they talk,” he said. “Take everything your employees say to heart and learn from it. That’s what ultimately defines the brand’s vision. It’s also vital to have enough passion to be convincing and believable enough that your team will align with your vision. In our business, in order to make significant growth, it requires capital investment. When you’re asking people to part with their hard-earned dollars, you have to have enough knowledge to understand the readiness of the organization and have a track-record for success. Once that thought is seeded and there’s a viable mission in place for success, you can continue to build credibility with shareholders, franchisees and consumers – making them feel as though they’re part of a system that’s winning. It’s about creating a feeling, a swagger, and a confidence that together, we can do this.”