Charley’s Grilled Subs Heats Up Marketing Efforts

Charley’s Grilled Subs, a restaurant chain known for its Philly cheesesteaks, has several initiatives cooking. The chain expects to open its 400th location by early next year, which will coincide with its first Philly cheesesteak-eating contest in partnership with Major League Eating. With a marketing budget in the $1 million range, Charley’s is also working with WD Partners to redesign its Web site and logo. (A prototype of the logo–pictured below–emphasizes Charley’s hot Philly cheesesteaks.) James Pa, the chain’s newly appointed vp of brand management, recently chatted with Brandweek about the chain’s efforts to differentiate itself in a crowded quick serve category. Excerpts are below.

Brandweek: How will you bring Charley’s to the forefront of the quick service restaurant category?
James Pa: Well we’re taking on a lot of new initiatives that are going to reposition us for what I call the new era of the Charley’s brand. For starters, we’re unveiling a new logo and a new brand mantra that’s associated with that logo. We also have a new prototype that we’re working on right now and that’s, of course, designed to enhance our guest experience, [and] enable us to be more relevant to our core customers.

Other initiatives that we’re working on is a new website, and that’s geared to be a more energetic website that’s, again, very relevant to our demographic and will feature exciting new elements to the website.

BW: You previously worked as a consultant at IBM Global Services. How did you move from technology to fast food?
JP: I grew up in the industry. My family’s been involved in the industry basically their entire life. I am very familiar with the operation side of it, particularly the customer service and what that value meant to the consumer. I always told myself that I didn’t believe I’d be involved, or be adequate enough to be involved, in the restaurant business. But quite frankly after leaving technology it was just sort of the right fit for me because I knew it very well and it just kind of dragged me back in. And I love it. I mean, ever since I made the transition I’ve never looked back.

BW: How will you apply your experience in technology to Charley’s?
JP: For three years, I was a group called business intelligence within IBM, and we implemented CRM (customer relationship management) solutions. We worked with major, major institutions such as State Farm and really helped them [with] long-term goals, which was to reach 40 million households before the year 2000.

[What I’ve learned from that experience is] it enables me to understand trends, it enables me to take data and really translate that into information that’s relevant to our business and to be able to key in on those trends and to help enhance our value proposition back to our consumers.

BW: What type of customer are you targeting for Charley’s?
JP: Currently our target market is 18- to 35-year-old males because we’re predominantly a mall-based organization. We see that [our customer base is] approximately a 60 to 40 male-to-female ratio.

BW: How will you reach these customers and how will you reach new customers?
JP: We do a lot of local store marketing to win [customers within a] two-mile radius. [With respect to new customers], we use a lot of methods, [including] partnering with some of the local talent here, with companies like RMD (an advertising and public relations agency based in Ohio), that enable us to reach out to these networks. We use social media as well.

BW: How do you compete with much larger chains like Subway?
JP: I don’t know that we compete with Subway so much as we coexist with them on a larger scale. One thing we refuse to do is be shortsighted and go after the price war. We offer a premium product and we aren’t shy about that. And we have a healthy price point as well. We aren’t shy about that either. And we feel that we provide an excellent value to our consumers. We use choice USDA-certified steak, 100 percent real breast meat and all fresh produce and a hearth-baked bread. So it’s a healthy price point, but it’s also a premium product.