CiCi’s Pizza opened a new restaurant in Little Elm, Texas, last week that reflects many of the changes the brand is undertaking.
The 2,550-square-foot restaurant occupies a smaller footprint than most of CiCi’s 445 locations, executives said, and also features new interior design, furniture, and updated signage and graphics.
Darin Harris, who was named CiCi’s CEO in July 2013, said the company has spent the past 18 months reevaluating the pizza buffet brand’s business and working on a revitalization strategy.
“We started with spending a lot of time with our franchisees and gaining alignment from them on a strategic plan to drive future performance,” Harris told Nation’s Restaurant News last week.
CiCi’s owns 33 restaurants and franchises the remaining units in a group of about 185 individual franchisees.
Harris said CiCi’s sales have begun to grow again after the recession.
“Over a two-year period now, we’re tracking at about a 9.4-percent same-store sales growth rate,” Harris said. “The fun part now is the tools and strategies come to fruition.”
Harris outlined CiCi’s strategy for NRN.
How have you seen units perform under the new strategy?
We’ve had the highest AUV [average unit volume] in 19 years. We’re close to $969,000-$970,000 AUV, and we’re pushing a million [dollars] this year. … We’ve also had eight quarters of positive same-store sales growth.
To what do you credit the sales improvement?
A lot of it came down to just putting a plan together for all aspects of our business. Recently, we rolled out a new marketing campaign dubbed “Better. Believe It.” That’s all about listening to our guests and finding out what will get them to come back more often.
How have you updated the menu, which includes new limited-time offers like Chicken Bacon Ranch pizza?
We’ve improved the quality of all the recipes and product. We rolled that out in September, and we’ve seen almost a 20-percent improvement in guest “likelihood to return” and “willingness to recommend” scores.
And the look of the restaurants?
We rolled out a new prototype. We also reimaged one restaurant, and we’re seeing success with it.
You said some of the reimaging is to enhance “individuality.” How does that translate?
We designed zoned family and adult sections. They can have a themed game room. … Right now we have game rooms in all our restaurants, but this is one that supports our brand positioning and platform.
Any changes in operations?
We focused on the basics. We’re going back to the cleanliness of restaurants, with new procedures and programs there. We still have work to do there. We also have new operating procedures to deliver a better experience for our guests.
What growth do you have planned for this year?
We’re planning to add 15 to 20 new restaurants. Our goal is to stay in the markets where we operate today. That’s 32 states. A lot of the growth is happening in the Washington, D.C., and Maryland markets, and also the strongholds in Texas and North Carolina.
What makes the business exciting for you?
For me, it’s all about the people. … When you see people and franchisees winning and having fun, that’s exciting.