Balancing innovation with authenticity

Balancing innovation with authenticity

MUFSO chief executive panel discusses growth, change and staying true to a brand

This is part of NRN’s special coverage of the 2011 Multi-Unit Foodservice Operator conference, or MUFSO. The conference is taking place Sept. 25-28 at the Gaylord Texan in Grapevine, Texas. Follow all coverage on NRN’s ‘At the Show’ section [3], check out NRN editor blogs, The Reporter’s Notebook [4], and Tweet with us using #MUFSO [5].

Restaurant industry leaders today must focus on a balance between innovation and execution to continually move a company forward, while not losing sight of the elements consumers expect from a brand.

A panel of restaurant chief executives from Buffalo Wild Wings, Pizza Hut, Noodles & Co. and Sizzler International discussed the challenges and opportunities that exist today in a changing environment during a panel at MUFSO. Moderated by Bill Taylor, author and founder of Fast Company magazine, the session highlighted the biggest players in the restaurant industry offering advice on leadership and restaurant chain success.

The chief executives, Sally Smith of Buffalo Wild Wings, Scott Bergren of Pizza Hut, Kevin Reddy of Noodles & Co., and Kerry Kramp of Sizzler, each agreed that the authenticity of a brand — whether through its menu, culture or service style — is imperative to gain the attention of today's consumer.

"We are living today in the age of disruption," moderator Taylor said. "The only way to stand out from the crowd is to stand for something special."

Smith noted that guests today know what they want, and they want their experiences with brands to be true.

"Customers want something that is real, and they want it their way," she said. "You can't force guest loyalty or force a good time. [Consumers] have so much information today ... what you give them has to be authentic."

Smith suggested companies run everything past their own brand filter to make certain any changes, innovations or new processes fit into the culture.

"As we look at innovation and strategy, I think we need to use 'funnel vision,'" Smith said. "You have to look at all the ideas from your customers and employees, but then use your brand strategy as a funnel, and focus on just one or two."

Key takeaways from MUFSO's CEO panel on Monday:

What are your biggest challenges?
Kerry Kramp: At Sizzler, we had to ask, ‘Do we change, or do we embrace the past?' Sometimes the innovation is doing the basics again in a new way.

Scott Bergren: How do we make a better Pizza Hut for our core users and a more relevant Pizza Hut for our lapsed users? You have to do the hard stuff first; go back into the infrastructure of the brand.

What keeps you up at night?
Scott Bergren: It's really one big thing. It is the constant attack on the income statement.

Kevin Reddy: It's macro for me. People are behaving as if we're in a recession.

Sally Smith: Whether we like it or not, we'll have some form of healthcare. We'll be competing for the best talent, so its how do you keep the best team and face the expenses that undoubtedly face us?

Kerry Kramp: We'd love to see corn turn back into food. The other concern is on the nutrition side. It’s our goal to tell people what to eat, not what you shouldn't eat. So many regulations coming in, and we're trying to find a way to balance what we offer.

Best lessons in leadership?
Kerry Kramp: Be willing to trust your people, be able to create that relationship and play well together as a team.

Scott Bergren: Set high standards — no one is ever going to exceed the standards that you set. And personally, for me, I have to have think-buddies.

Sally Smith: Throw the impossible out to the team, set the bar so high as to almost be impossible.

Kevin Reddy: I was a little naive in how much work and effort it takes to make sure everyone is playing nice. Keeping incredible talent on the same page is key.

Contact Sarah Lockyer at [email protected] [6].
Follow her on Twitter: @slockyerNRN [7]