Last year Taco Bell's 5,800-plus U.S. restaurants generated over $6 billion in sales, serving food to more than two billion consumers. The challenge is to keep those hungry customers returning. The answer is a steady stream of innovation, whether in menu items, special promotions, or store decor.
Randy Rodrigues and Rich Low, owners of Hacienda-based Dolan Foster Enterprises, a Taco Bell franchise with 67 Bay Area stores, have each spent almost 40 years in the quick-serve restaurant business. Having survived and prospered, they are used to a steady diet of change that makes every day different.
One of the constants for them is a long string of remodeling, at the rate of five to six projects per year. Current efforts are giving the stores "a much more contemporary look," according to Rodrigues. "We want them to be lively and colorful - and unique, to match our brand. We're not a burger place, we're a Mexican food-service restaurant." The goal of making them "fun" is also part of the equation. "When you see an 18- to 20-year-old walk into a store and think it's really cool, that's a good feeling," Low adds.
Although design elements originate at the corporate level, the new building features, especially on the exterior, are adapted to community tastes and needs. "It's not a cookie-cutter approach," insists Rodrigues. "A local architect modifies the design for specific locations and helps us through the local planning and building department approval process. We are elevating the design, with the intention of giving people the feeling they are in a restaurant rather than a quick-serve establishment."
Menu innovations also figure prominently in the strategy of change. The latest twist is the "Why Pay More?" value promotion, with eight to 10 items on the menu priced below one dollar, in the 79-, 89-, and 99-cent categories. "That's doing very, very well for us," Rodrigues remarks, pointing out that Taco Bell "has always been about the value approach." A new beverage, the Fruitista Freeze, recently made its debut. Current flavor options of the fruit-based drink are strawberry and mango/strawberry. Three new fruit and cream combinations will be introduced soon.
The updating initiatives have been effective, but Low points out that there have been other significant factors in the company's success, which "has not so much been determined by income or demographics, but by store location, our ability to manage well, and giving customers a great experience. Consumers know which restaurants they feel good about, which they don't, and why."
Looking ahead, both Low and Rodrigues note that given the remodeling progress, "it will soon make sense to be aggressive about new locations. Now is the time to start looking at opportunities to do new things. Commercial real estate in the Bay Area is always challenging, but now it might be a little less painful to acquire," the partners conclude.
For more information, contact the company at (925) 621-2600 or visit www.tacobell.com .
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