Like Togo’s Sandwiches’ tagline, Renae Scott is a “West Coast original,” born less than a mile from the original Togo’s location in San Jose, Calif.
She joined the company in December 2008 as vice president of marketing and branding. At that time, the brand had been “dormant” for years, she said, but she went about trying to recapture what she remembered about Togo’s from her youth, namely its vibe of being the “fun, irreverent place to get a big, meaty sandwich.”
“Since we were founded in 1971, several ownership changes had left Togo’s without a clear brand positioning,” she said. “Bringing the soul of our brand forward has been a very rewarding challenge.”
Scott since has overseen Togo’s brand rejuvenation efforts, developing new branding elements and a new restaurant prototype, as well as updating the menu, menu boards, uniforms and packaging.
She recently spoke with Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers' chief marketing officer Clay Dover, a board member of the National Restaurant Association’s Marketing Executives Group, about the very competitive sandwich category and Togo’s plans for the future.
Togo’s is in a very competitive sandwich segment. How do you stand out? What are the challenges?
Togo’s has been around since 1971 and has continued to do what we do best for the past 40-plus years: serve big, fresh and meaty sandwiches. Our focus is on our food, and that has served us well over the years. However, in the competitive environment it’s a challenge to get in front of consumers when they have so many choices. Togo’s does not have a big ad budget, so we must be unconventional in the way we approach marketing. I use many of the tactics learned as a field marketer for brands like Carl’s Jr. to reach our target audience.
Togo’s has a history dating back four decades. How did you maintain that while modernizing the brand?
I worked with various teams to back that brand identity, but in a contemporary way, including a new restaurant design, new logo, menu and uniforms, and then I set off to bring the brand to life for consumers with our “Big, Fresh and Meaty” marketing campaign in both traditional and digital media. Bringing Togo’s back into the minds of consumers and seeing positive sales comps over the past five years has been extremely rewarding. It took collaboration from key franchisees, internal team members and trusted agency partners, but we have ended up in a great place.
In May, we will be opening our first Utah restaurant in the greater Salt Lake City area, and have recently signed franchise agreements for further development in Colorado, Idaho and Oregon. It’s very exciting to see real growth out of our California stronghold after all our efforts.
How does Togo’s manage franchise growth and keep its branding consistent?
The sandwich segment is very crowded. We work continuously to make sure our brand is properly represented by our franchisees, as well as continue to evolve it over time. Togo’s has strategically focused on growing off-site sales through online, delivery and catering programs. These all impact the four-walls design and helps guide our continuing restaurant design evolution.
A key tenet of our organization is enabling franchisee profitability. This drives economically attractive restaurant design, menu development and a host of other areas. Working in partnership with franchisees to ensure profitability also ensures cohesive branding, as we are all working from the same strategic plan.
How would you describe the sandwich category and the competition?
It is highly competitive, from traditional quick-service sandwiches to local delis to grocery chains. But we really look to “share of stomach” for the lunch visit when we think competition. That includes traditional fast food as well as the host of new fast-casual competitors, including the new fast-fire pizza segment. We are right in the thick of it in Southern California, where we are essentially surrounded by every competitor you can imagine.
We pride ourselves in offering the biggest, meatiest and freshest sandwich around. In fact, our “No.9,” the best-selling, huge pastrami sandwich, even comes with our own Pastrami Guarantee, where we will provide customers with their money back if they are not satisfied. We’ve sold 40 million No. 9 sandwiches to date with fewer than 50 money-back requests. Togo’s has been known as superior to other sandwich chains in the quality and quantity of our sandwiches. We continue to leverage that against the competition.
Growing into new markets
(Continued from page 1)
What has been the most successful form of marketing for Togo’s?
We celebrated National Pastrami Day on Jan. 14 by giving away 10,000 free No. 9 hot-pastrami sandwiches. That’s a total of over 2,500 pounds of Togo’s premium sliced pastrami. To further celebrate the holiday, Togo’s held its annual Pastrami Pounder Challenge, and guests had 30 minutes to consume a two-foot-long sandwich piled with more than one pound of Togo’s premium sliced pastrami and topped with crisp lettuce, tomatoes and Togo’s classic mustard.
Through this promotion, which has become a brand pillar for us, we added more than 10,000 Facebook fans and 10,000 members to our email club while driving traffic at the restaurant level. We considered this a big success with gaining social media traction that delivered guests at the restaurant level.
How do you introduce Togo’s in new markets and inform guests about your menu and West Coast vibe?
We have been strategically and diligently opening new West Coast markets for development over the past few years, and Colorado is currently our easternmost state.
When we enter a market we try to leverage the estimated 30 to 40 percent of Togo’s brand awareness that exists in outer markets coming from customers who know us from visiting California or moving from California.
These West Coast transplants enthusiastically reach out to us to find out when Togo’s will be coming to their town. We leverage their brand love by making them our “Brand Ambassadors” with invitations to VIP parties and ribbon-cutting ceremonies and encourage them to spread the word virally about Togo’s in their own social networks. We give them Togo’s t-shirts and other branded gear to wear around the community, which results in fantastic guerrilla marketing for us. It’s all about creating that buzz before we get to market.
What have you seen in other industries that could be applied to the restaurant industry?
My whole career has been in restaurants, but I am truly impressed as to what Amazon has done, from originally selling books to now easily allowing consumers to have anything delivered to their doorstep without even getting off the couch. It’s truly a phenomenon. This ease of ordering has reset customer expectations and must be implemented in the restaurant industry. How can we create this ease and convenience through our own services? Even with the best restaurant online-ordering service, it doesn’t come close to what Amazon offers. We need to get better at that.
What restaurant chain other than your own do you think is doing a great job and why?
In-N-Out Burger. It is a pure concept and has stayed true to who they are for over 50 years, staying clear on message and executing flawlessly. They don’t chase trends in menu or design. Their simplicity is the key to their success.
How do you find good restaurant marketing talent?
I am at a point of my career where I first look at my immediate circles to see if they know of any qualified candidates. The last six people who have joined my marketing team have been recommendations from trusted colleagues and are all playing a significant role in helping grow the Togo’s brand. These are strategic thinkers with experience outside the brand that bring valuable insights. There is nothing that beats a trusted recommendation when looking to grow a team.
Clay Dover is chief marketing officer for Raising Cane’s and a board member of the National Restaurant Association’s Marketing Executives Group.