September 20, 2011
Wendy’s new Dave’s Hot’N Juicy Burger was a disappointment today. We blame the Wendy’s franchisee.
UnhappyFranchisee.com spends a lot of time and energy defending franchise owners. Not today.
Today, we ask the question: Are franchisees often their own worst enemies?
Are there times when the serious and intensive efforts by a franchisor to create systemwide improvements are sabotaged, at the unit level, by the franchise owners who have the most to gain?
What prompted this question was a trip to Wendy’s today to experience the first reinvention of the company’s hamburger in 42 years: Dave’s Hot’N Juicy hamburger.
Wendy’s new Dave’s Hot’N Juicy hamburgers were the result of a 2 year research initiative called Project Gold Hamburger.
Wendy’s sought not to tweak, but to reinvent its signature burger. They scrutinized every aspect, traveled the country on a burger-tasting quest, did extensive consumer research to determine the best choices for buns, meat, condiments, onions, lettuce, etc.
Wendy’s produced TV spots featuring the company namesake Wendy, daughter of founder Dave Thomas. They did a masterful job getting widespread press. Media outlets from Howard Stern to USA Today were promoting the story of the care and research that went into the burger reinvention.
Everyone seemed to be buzzing about the relaunch of Wendy’s main product. Everyone except the managers and staff at Wendy’s restaurants, that is.
[Photos, left: top shows Wendy's video of idealized Dave's Hot'N Juicy burger, bottom is what I got. Top photo credit: Wendy's International]
How to Kill a Promotion, The Franchisee Way
So I went to a local Wendy’s to see if the buzz was justified. The first franchise location had no posters or sign of Dave’s Hot’N Juicy hamburgers so I kept driving to a 2nd location.
That one had no mention of the new groundbreaking product launch either, but I went in anyway.
The menuboard and point-of-sale materials made no mention of Dave’s Hot’N Juicy , so I thought perhaps they hadn’t converted yet.
The man ahead of me in line was asking the manager (let’s call him Dwayne) about it, but Dwayne knew nothing about the Dave’s Hot’N Juicy launch. Dwayne didn’t even know the name. The man had heard about it on Howard Stern and said the buns were toasted, etc. Dwayne said yeah, they now toast the buns with a new toaster and have different meat, but he knew nothing about the naming or significance of the new product.
The man behind me also had come in because he had read about it in the press. The order-taker also knew nothing about it, but said they had converted to new 4 oz.patties a month ago, and the 2 oz. patties were supposed to change soon. When the man told her that they had an article about the new burger in the local paper, she said “Hmmm, I guess I gotta start reading the paper.”
The wait for the burgers seemed interminable, but the manager put the fries and drinks on the tray so they could get cold and watery, respectively, while the workers laughed and swore at each other in the back. The second man said “Maybe they should find a new term for ‘fast food’.”
I asked Dwayne which franchisee owned this location and he said didn’t know. “They own like 10 or something,” he said but didn’t know where his own employer was headquartered. There was no plaque or information anywhere in the store.
My 1/2 lb. Dave’s Hot’N Juicy reinvented burger was wrapped in the same sandwich wrap as usual. No special packaging, no fanfare, and no resemblance to the promotional photos whatsoever.
It was OK, the meat was more like it used to be at Wendy’s, but it was a gloppy mess with a few strands of red onion and a single flat leaf of lettuce.
Somehow, I think the burgers in the test kitchen (and certainly in the photos) bore little resemblance to this franchisee version of Wendy’s great next hope.
“Franchising Would be Great if it Weren’t for the Franchisees”
I have no doubt that Wendy’s International put forth an honest and erstwhile effort to put out an excellent product and stop the erosion of its market share against those who are kicking its ass (McDonald’s, Five Guys). If my experience is typical, though, that effort will have been sabotaged at the unit level by lack of execution by Wendy’s franchisees. In fact, two of the largest Wendy’s franchise groups refused to purchase the required equipment and are being sued by the franchisor.
Franchising works great when franchisors, franchisees and franchise vendors can align their own self interests and work together to beat the competition. Unfortunately, they so often end up putting more effort into fighting each other than fighting for the customer.
In this case, the franchisees can’t blame the franchisor for that.
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