Iconic Big Boy burger chain to stage comeback in SoCal
After a nearly 20-year absence from the Southern California region, Bob’s Big Boy, one of the country’s most recognizable brands due to its rich history, has announced plans to expand in San Diego, Calif., according to Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)
The Warren, Mich.-based company’s newest restaurant addition is slated to open in El Cajon, Calif., next month, and Matt Pike, who already owns three other Big Boy locations, has signed an agreement to build 10 San Diego franchises over the next five years.
Big Boy made a huge impact as a 10-seat burger joint in Glendale, Calif. in 1936. The company boasts its most notable menu item, the “original double-deck cheeseburger,” which became a staple food throughout the country in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
Founder Bob Wian eventually sold the burger and fries chain to Marriott in 1967, and now, the diner-style comfort food restaurants that brandish the Big Boy name in some fashion amount to almost 1,000.
He added that each of the new restaurants has undergone a site selection process, and in coordination with this planned expansion, Big Boy has brought on a few new executives that joined at the tail-end of last year that have assisted with this procedure.
“We’ve also added site selection consultants called Tango Consulting, and we’ve dropped a kiosk in each one of our locations and have pinpointed where the consumer is coming from and where they’re going,” Crawford said. “We’ve gotten sophisticated in a short period of time.”
Crawford said that he “hopes” that Pike builds out the 10 new restaurants as planned, but reiterated that these too must go through the site selection process, emphasizing that Big Boy is taking its growth one step at a time and becoming very particular in its old age.
“We want real growth with the right franchisee. He (Pike) is a current franchisee, but with new franchisees we’ve gotten a lot of interest out there,” he said. “I think Bob’s is such a recognizable, fun brand, and the economy is such that you kind of turn to your roots again – the nostalgia of great burger and fries – and we’ve put a quarter of a million dollars into consumer segmentation and what we’ve found is that we’re perfectly suited in Southern California for a perfect burger and fries.”
Our source said that Burbank, Calif., has been the cornerstone for Big Boy and one of the last remaining Bob Wian-built services. Burbank has been growing in terms of sales volume, due to its deep roots as a historic Big Boy site; it’s likeness has graced the screen on many levels, from television pilots to current TV series and motion pictures, “because everybody wants to shoot at Bob’s,” Crawford said.
It’s this type of national recognition that makes Crawford’s job a breeze. The most effective way for Big Boy to advertise is via a “Coming Soon” promotional sign right outside the designated site. He said that because people have such fond memories of Bob’s Big Boy from their childhood, it’s typically the quickest and easiest way to encourage word-of-mouth promotion.
“It (Bob’s) originated in California, so it has that local flavor,” he said. “It’s a ‘non-chain’ chain if you will, so it still has a strong independent flavor as well. I can’t say ‘great burger and fries’ enough. A common misconception is that people in California are overly health-conscious, but people who love a good burger and fries, we over-index with them, so we don’t have to change the menu or anything like that.”
Local restaurant marketing is also a key component of Bob’s strategy. A lot of franchisees get the word out by participating in community events and organizations, and while some of these folks are investigating social media efforts, Big Boy’s corporate efforts have yet to lead in that direction. Crawford said that in 2010 and 2011, the restaurateur intends to delve further into this marketing method.
“It’s hard to buy traditional ads out there, just by the sheer number of restaurants you need to be on the air in this market,” he said. “Social media, as we found, is perfect for us because there’s a brand story and a personality of the brand that people want to identify with.”
Crawford said that franchisees do well in terms of community and local restaurant marketing, and added that Big Boy will search for a way to balance the traditional elements with the non-traditional methods. Along with radio, cable and outdoor advertisements, Big Boy’s marketing team will also look for a way to piggyback with social media in an effort to be even more successful.
Big Boy has also tapped into new types of demographics with the opening of its latest stores, targeting those that don’t have time to stop, or those that appreciate the past menu offerings and the American classic aspect of the Big Boy restaurant brand.
“We have a segment we like to nickname ‘Burger Buffs’ – people that just crave a good burger and fries, and if the location makes sense, we’re looking at drive-thru and that’s new for a midscale family restaurant chain,” Crawford said. “In terms of time and our on-the-go attitude, it’s part of the culture. At one of the last restaurants we opened in the past 30 to 45 days, we added a drive-thru, so there’s another target we pick up with what we label ‘Fast Food Junkies’ – people who like eating in drive-thru lanes or on their way to the next location.”
Crawford currently works with a few external marketing consultants, but said that Big Boy doesn’t have any formal agency relationships right now. He said that this may change, but right now he enjoys working with consultants.
“They constantly have to stay hungry and help us move the business, and we’re not entered into a long-term commitment where it’s slow growth,” he said. “They’ve got to produce results, so it helps both parties.”
According to The Nielsen Company, Big Boy Restaurants spent about $2.6 million on national advertising in 2008. About $1.9 million was spent on spot television ads, about $500,000 was spent on outdoor ads and about $200,000 was spent on spot radio ads.
Our source said that Big Boy is certainly open to strategic partnership and/or project-related inquiries, especially in California. Crawford said that at this point he’s leaving his options open, so he’d be willing to speak with someone in California who “knows California,” whether it’s a local marketing agency or a public relations firm.
Big Boy Restaurants International
1 Bigboy Drive
Warren, MI 48091
Senior Vice President, Marketing
Chief Executive Officer