WAUKESHA óThe fast casual restaurant industry is highly
competitive, but at 45 years of age, Cousins Subs has a
handle on the Wisconsin market and is starting to expand
Christine Specht is the
CEO and president of Cousins Subs, which is celebrating
45 years in business.
Christine Specht, president and chief executive officer
of Cousins Subs and daughter of Cousins Subs co-founder
Bill Specht, is passionate about quality sub sandwiches,
especially her favorite, a half tuna with hot pepper
Cousins Subs, headquartered in Menomonee Falls, was
founded by Bill Specht and his cousin Jim Sheppard in
1972. Throughout its 45 years, Cousins Subs has
committed to using fresh and quality ingredients. Itís
now also courting millennial consumers with more
technology and Project Henry, an assembly-style
ordering system at some of its new and remodeled
Recently, Christine Specht took a few minutes to share
her vision for the company with The Freeman.
THE FREEMAN: What has helped Cousins Subs
survive and excel during its 45 years of operation?
CHRISTINE SPECHT: One of the things that we really pride
ourselves on is the consistency of our product
offerings. So very little has changed in 45 years in
terms of our approach to quality, the type of meats, and
as anything, itís been enhanced through the years. Our
focus on working with local companies, making sure the
bread is baked twice a day in our restaurants, the kind
of the recipes really have been consistent over the
FREEMAN: What are the plans for the
companyís future? How will you keep it competitive?
SPECHT: One of the things we have been doing over the
last few years is really embarking on a branding
campaign and that we believe is going to help secure our
footing for the future. And what I mean by that is we
have had everything from a logo change to an ambitious
remodeling program for our franchise-owned stores and
corporately-owned stores that really help to tell the
story of Cousins, what we stand for, whatís important to
us. And at the same time, fashioning in a way that is
appealing to not only our existing consumers but our
consumers that we hope to gain in the future.
Some of the things we talked about with our brand
remodeling and our refresh, we talk a lot more about our
history, the fact that we were founded here in
Milwaukee, Wisconsin. We talk about that itís a real
family business. We talk about the product offerings and
the quality and our commitment to the community and what
we have done on a philanthropic basis.
FREEMAN: What are you doing to retain
customers other than through the quality control you
mentioned? And to attract new customers?
SPECHT: One way is we always look at our menu items to
make sure that we are on trend with different flavors
that we have. For example, the limited time only
offerings right now with our Wisconsin pulled pork and
our Cubano. Those are flavors that have been very
popular amongst our guests and that we think are really
appealing to new consumers. Again, it just gets to the
of the things we have also done is some of our
restaurants have launched a new prototype. Itís called
Project Henry and itís an assembly-style method of
ordering so itís fashioned off Henry Ford and the
assembly line he created. And really with that it is
meant to appeal to all consumers, but particularly the
young consumers, the millennials, who order with their
eyes. We want them to see the choices in front of them.
They walk down the line, they know the options, they can
create their own sub in their own unique way. They donít
have to order as it is specifically on the menu. You
donít have to at any of our restaurants, but having the
design of the restaurant with the guest flow the way it
is, really emphasizes the fact that you have choices.
FREEMAN: Are more stores having the
Project Henry assembly lines?
SPECHT: Yes, all new stores and new developments will
have that assembly- line style of ordering and then
stores as they are remodeled in the Milwaukee area, some
will and some wonít, there is just a number of factors
that will determine whether we want to pursue that and
it just depends a lot of times on the market.|
FREEMAN: Are you offering ordering ahead
and delivery services? How are you incorporating
technology into the business model?
SPECHT: What we believe now is companies, particularly
that are B (business) to C (consumer), they are really
shaping themselves to be technology companies that just
happen to sell, for us, sub sandwiches. How are we going
to get there? Technology is playing such a huge role in
how people perceive the brand and how they actually
receive their good or service. For us, we have had
online ordering for many years. We continue to encourage
our guests to, itís no longer the fax machine, you can
call in and order, but really online ordering is the way
to go because itís easy, itís clear, thereís no
mistaking what you are ordering. And that is sent to our
kitchens in our restaurants. Itís a very efficient
process and we have seen good results with that. People
really like online ordering because itís convenient.
They want convenience.
Technology in other ways, we are in the middle of
rolling out a point of sales system throughout our
entire system that will have guest-facing terminals so
they can see what they are ordering so again you are
ensuring that itís accurate and what the guest wants.
There are conveniences that will come along with that in
terms of how gift cards will work and what our future
loyalty program will look like.
Those things are all really on trend with where
companies need to go to stay relevant, particularly to
the generations that are completely tied to their
smartphones. For us, itís how do we draw the
connectivity. In the future, as we have seen, could you
have kiosk ordering? Certainly. I think kiosks are
certainly something that we will take a look at and
explore because itís what the guests are asking for.
FREEMAN: How important is growth to
Cousins Subs and what is your growth strategy?
SPECHT: Growth is very important. Businesses in general
should be wary of remaining the same or being stagnant.
For us, our approach has always been, at least since I
have been president, letís have intelligent growth, not
growth at all costs. I think when companies do that it
can be problematic and operators are inviting issues
into your systems that you didnít have to so our growth
has been very calculated and it is important.
have signed three multi-unit operators. More recently,
we signed one in the Chicagoland area and we are very
excited about that because they have committed to
building out 10 restaurants in the Chicagoland area and
they are confident that is really just the beginning.
Growth through franchising is very important to us.
Corporate growth could be a potential opportunity, as
well. We take the opportunities as they come across our
FREEMAN: What is getting you excited
these days about Cousins Subs and being in business as a
SPECHT: Some of the things that are really exciting for
me, I think as a brand we do so much for being the local
person, being smaller than the rest. I mentioned before
that we are very nimble and I am excited about rolling
out our new technology platform. I think it is really
going to increase customer satisfaction, and that it
will increase the data that we are collecting so we have
a better understanding of what our guests want. And our
ability then to be able to adapt and adjust to that.
think itís exciting that we are on the forefront of
growth in a new market and we have multi-unit operators
that want to grow with us, that want to be part of this.
I think itís exciting that we have our existing
franchisees who are willing to make the reinvestment in
their business in support of making their brand
consistent as a whole in terms of the environment.
economy is plugging away, I am optimistic. I think
people are feeling pretty optimistic these days. I think
that all is good. We are excited about being 45; not
every restaurant company can say that. It has not been
an easy road, but itís one that we can be proud of.