Having Words With: Karen Guido, Vice President of Marketing, Qdoba Mexican Grill

Karen Guido joined Qdoba Mexican Grill in 1998, only three years after the fast-casual chain was founded. Before joining Qdoba she had been director of marketing at Vicorp Restaurants Inc., owner of the Village Inn [3] and Bakers Square [4] family restaurant chains, for eight years. At Vicorp she headed the development of a $3 million marketing budget for more than 200 corporate and franchised restaurants. She honed her skills in a variety of areas, including market research and developing ad and marketing material for TV, radio, print, newspaper and internal collateral material. Before joining Vicorp, Guido was a regional marketing manager for Domino’s [5] Pizza and was in charge of marketing efforts for more than 300 restaurants.

What drew you into working for the restaurant business?

It was kind of accidental. I think the restaurant industry is not one that, if you’re going to college, you’re thinking of as a possibility. I had planned on going to work for an advertising agency. When I graduated I ended up selling ads for a newspaper to support myself while looking to get into an advertising agency. I kind of got the idea that the grass is greener on the other side, and I’d like to be the one making the decision to buy instead of selling. I had some contact with Domino’s and ended up in the marketing department.

FAST FACTS

AGE: 43

HOMETOWN: Boulder, Colo.

YEARS IN FOODSERVICE: 19

EDUCATION: bachelor’s degree in advertising from the University of Colorado

HOBBIES: skiing, hiking, spending time with family

How would you describe the challenges you face at Qdoba?

Growing a business is very challenging, especially when you’re going into a new market. We’re fast casual, and fast casual has only been around for 10 years, 15 years, and trying to educate consumers about an unknown brand in a new market, with a limited advertising budget, is a big challenge.

What’s the key to successful marketing?

Marketing is always about sending the right message to the right prospect and meeting the consumers’ needs. You have more and more competition, your customers have more choices than they’ve ever had. You have more media vehicles to reach them. So many chains are growing and their [marketing] budgets keep increasing. We knew from day one that we had to compete with a lot of these restaurants. We knew we had to compete in a different arena.

What did you decide?

Let’s connect with consumers, build more of an emotional connection. Local-store marketing is the foundation of how we built our business. It’s going out into the community with samples and feeding people. We always say, “Have we fed anybody new today?”

Is traditional marketing giving way to new media?

I don’t think traditional marketing is dead. We do it where we can, and it’s been very effective. I think it will evolve, but it won’t drop off the face of the earth. We are in the process of doing our media plan for next year, and my media people told me the average person still watches television four hours a day, and only 12 percent of homes have TiVo and only 4 percent skip through the commercials. The perception is that it’s a larger number.

What has pleased you most about your job?

The people I work with are fabulous. It’s also nice to work on a brand that is well-received by the customers. Restaurants in general are a lot of fun to work at. I started at this company eight years ago when we had 20 restaurants, and now we have over 300. It’s nice to see the change and know I’ve been a tiny part of that growth.