In early 2008, Popeyes prices languished in quick-service mediocrity. A whole new management team led by Cheryl Bachelder, a 1-time president of rival KFC, had been charged to steady the 1,900-unit company, but a litany of internal and external pressures complicated the work.
Same-store sales, average unit volume (AUV), and transaction counts had suffered years of declines, and those downward trends placed the organization at odds with its franchisees, many of whom considered the Atlanta-based company mismanaged and self-serving. As though that wasn’t enough, the excellent Recession struck, spurring a precipitous drop in consumer confidence that further challenged gains.
Then, in March 2008, Popeyes founder Al Copeland, who had built the fried chicken-peddling chain from one unit right into a global enterprise of some 800 units, died at age of 64. Though Copeland had not directed the manufacturer for longer than 20 years, his death seemed a symbolic public blow to a brand clamoring for good news-any good news. “The brand hadn’t been managed well,” says Di.ck Lynch, certainly one of Bachelder’s early management hires and the company’s chief brand officer, “and we needed to get back on track.”
And that’s just what Popeyes did. In the last eight years, the chain has become a reinvigorated, lively force in the quick-service game, shifting its results, public perception, as well as its future prospects.
In 2015, Popeyes added nearly $700 million in systemwide sales for the year-leapfrogging Papa John’s to get into the top 20 within the QSR 50-and captured same-store sales gains of 5.7 percent at its domestic units, the seventh consecutive year of positive comp sales. The enterprise also reached two new development milestones: opening a record 219 restaurants in 2016-125 of them within the U.S.-and crossing 2,500 total units, an army of restaurants scattered over the Usa and over two dozen other nations around the world.
In 1972, Copeland opened Chicken on the Run in Arabi, Louisiana, a brand new Orleans suburb on the eastern side of the Mississippi River. Within months of opening, lackluster sales prompted Copeland-a 1-time local doughnut magnate unafraid of bold ideas-to alter course. He altered his eatery’s menu from traditional Southern-fried chicken to spicy, New Orleans-style chicken as well as installed the Popeyes moniker, a nod to Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle, the detective character inside the French Connection portrayed by Gene Hackman.
From the mid-1980s, Popeyes was actually a growing phenomenon. The chain boasted greater than 500 units, including restaurants away from Usa, along with get to be the third-largest quick-service chicken chain.
But Copeland’s ambitious appetite proved too mighty. In 1991, his company was forced into bankruptcy after his 1989 buying of rival Church’s Fried Chicken soured. The organization reorganized as AFC (America’s Favorite Chicken) Enterprises shortly thereafter.
Throughout the 1990s and into the 21st century, Popeyes Catering struggled to locate solid footing. It acquired and then sold brands like Seattle’s Best Coffee and Cinnabon. It lacked direction and purpose amid a revolving door of CEOs, along with persistent sales, profit, and store-traffic declines. Franchisees became increasingly frustrated.
When Bachelder was appointed CEO in 2007, the company was drowning in a surging wave of missteps. “It was the land of silos,” says Amy Alarcon, Popeyes’ v . p . of culinary innovation, who joined the company in 2007. “Franchisees looked at us with plenty of suspicion, so we had to break through that noise and unite.”
Bachelder and her leadership team responded by introducing a Strategic Roadmap created to fuel results, unify the manufacturer, re-establish trust with franchisees, and propel the brand’s floundering marketplace standing.
There is the launch of brand new products, including snack items and lighter options to the core bone-in chicken offering; a shop remodeling project; new menuboards; as well as a new advertising agency. The multi-million-dollar efforts were designed to drive traffic and prevent consistent same-store sales declines.
“We weren’t a national advertiser in 2008, and were only in approximately 30 percent in the U.S.,” Lynch says, calling the company’s advertising spend “completely inefficient.”
Soon after, Annie, a fictional character played by actress Deidrie Henry, had become the brand’s new spokeswoman, a position designed to share blunt discuss Popeyes’ authentic and tasty food. There npdcjl also a revised name, as Popeyes dropped its “Chicken & Biscuits” tag in favor of “Louisiana Kitchen,” an attempt to celebrate the brand’s heritage of Louisiana-inspired home cooking.
“We wanted to tell the brand’s story and present Popeye menu brand relevance … which started with bringing the brand back to its Louisiana roots and making it authentic. We believed we couldn’t tell our brand story without having a new brand identity,” says Lynch, who developed brand strategy and innovation plans for concepts like Burger King, Ruby Tuesday, and Buffalo Wild Wings before his arrival at Popeyes in 2008.