Jack in the Box Inc. announced new CEO Darin Harris — formerly CEO of Cici’s Pizza — as the newest head of the San Diego, Calif.-based quick-service chain in April. Harris assumed the role of CEO in June, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis.
The company reported same-store sales down 4.2% during Q2, driven mostly by the negative effects of coronavirus, but they also reported an 8% same-store sales upswing for the first several weeks of Q3.
Here’s what we learned about the new executive’s ideas about and goals for Jack in the Box from Harris’ company-wide meet and greet and Q&A-style interview with Nation’s Restaurant News.
Unit growth will be his major focus
Coming from a chief operating officer and franchising development background at Arby’s and Captain D’s, Harris said that one of his biggest focuses for the brand will be growth.
“The brand has done a great job with creating a solid foundation, consistent same-store sales growth and pulling the levers they could pull,” Harris said during the meet and greet. “I get the benefit of coming in as a fresh leader and bringing about new growth and opportunity for brand and unit growth. The core component of growth is getting unit development growth going again. My background is robust in development and I’m eager to jump in and get that part of our engine started.”
Brand clarity and differentiation is another goal
Harris also emphasized that he wants to further narrow down brand image and differentiation amongst competitors saying, “I want to turn this into a river [of innovation], not a flood…we can’t be all things to all people.”
“We have to focus on why we’re different and better,” Harris said. “We need to be clear on what we stand for so we can capture more opportunities for competition. We already have a great brand and we need to continue to clarify those [differentiators] and go into the market with a clear voice.”
Expect continued menu innovation
One of Jack in the Box’s biggest menu successes was the recent creation of their Tiny Tacos meal, which was added permanently to the menu in February, and helped contribute to the company’s relative success during the pandemic.
“Menu innovation is an important part of the challenger spirit that runs deep at Jack in the Box,” Harris told Nation’s Restaurant News. “We will continue to listen to our guests and give them what they want. Tiny Tacos and popcorn chicken, for example, are great operationally due to their portability and convenience. Our guests crave them and they have driven results for us in the past. […] We are keeping Tiny Tacos permanently on our menu to capitalize on our craveable taco equity.”
COVID-19 is an opportunity for Jack in the Box
Although the pandemic has been a challenge for most restaurant companies, Harris sees the current state of challenge for the industry as an opportunity for growth and change, even though much of the work still has to be done over Zoom.
“On top of the traditional challenges, our organization and world are currently facing a global pandemic and civil unrest due to racial injustice,” Harris told Nation’s Restaurant News. “As a leader who wants to blaze a trail for the employees and teams, it’s been a unique challenge meeting and getting to know everyone in this new virtual environment. Though I know it’s the future, I am committed to listening, learning, and continuing to instill hope to our customers, employees, franchisees and other stakeholders.”
Jack in the Box’s focus on drive-thru has been a boon
Harris said that he attributes the growing sales at Jack in the Box to the company’s ability to pivot quickly, and he plans to continue that legacy of operations focus flexibility.
“What I’ve learned during my time onboarding is that businesses had to quickly shift to off-premise (drive-thru, carry-out, delivery) service, which accounted for the improvement in sales during the second quarter,” Harris said. “I’m proud of what Jack in the Box has done, and I’m excited to continue this amazing momentum.”
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