If you haven’t seen a Jersey Mike’s sub shop in your town, chances are you will soon. The company opened its first store in Point Pleasant, N.J., on the famed Jersey Shore in 1956, and years of slow growth have given way to last year’s record unit growth of 15%. The company has 750 locations open or in development in 30 states and the District of Columbia, with plans to open another 100 units this year.
According to company President Hoyt Jones, the recipe for such explosive growth is simple. “Success breeds success,” he said. ” Our existing operators are excited to extend the Jersey Mike’s brand by opening additional restaurants in their markets or in new ones. In turn, this momentum is attracting interest from new multi-brand, multi-unit franchisees that share our passion for fresh, quality products, extraordinary customer service and giving back to the community. Fortunately, we are also seeing the financing piece loosen up a little.”
Jones said the interest of potential franchisees speaks to the strength of the company’s business model. “When we meet with prospective franchisees, they are surprised to hear that a 550-restaurant chain is planning to open another hundred units this year. Well, we are already about halfway to our goal, having opened nearly 50 restaurants since the beginning of the year. We do not believe in growth for growth’s sake, however, finding the right partners is essential for growing the brand,” he said.
Another key to the success of Jersey Mike’s is the brand’s ability to stand out in a market full of sandwiches. With competitors like Potbelly Sandwich Works, Quizno’s and juggernaut Subway, it might seem like a tough time to be in the sandwich game, but Jones said the brand thrives because it offers an experience. “Step into any Jersey Mike’s restaurant, and you’ll feel you are at a neighborhood deli at the Jersey Shore. … Of course, the center of the Jersey Mike’s experience is our sub sandwich,” he said.
Jersey Mike’s subs are served in what the brand calls “East-Coast style,” and “passionate Jersey Mike’s fans insist on having their subs served ‘Mike’s Way,’ with freshly sliced onions, lettuce, tomatoes and a signature blend of olive oil, red wine vinegar and spices,” Jones said. “It’s ‘The Juice’ — the olive oil and red wine vinegar — that gives that authentic East Coast-style sub taste. Once you try it, you crave it.”
Another thing fans of the brand may crave is the sense of community it fosters. Jersey Mike’s makes an effort to help the community and connect with its customers through various programs and partnerships. “Making a difference is part of our culture and business model, and that will never change,” Jones said.
Community involvement is “a philosophy that Jersey Mike’s Founder and CEO Peter Cancro emphasizes to each and every Jersey Mike’s store owner. … Last year, Jersey Mike’s locations throughout the country raised more than $2 million for worthy local charities and distributed more than 200,000 free sub sandwiches to help numerous causes,” Jones said. Projects including the Month of Giving and Wreaths Across America allow Jersey Mike’s and its customers to lend a hand to various groups in the community.
The brand also has a partnership with Christie Rampone, captain of the U.S. women’s soccer team. Rampone is the first celebrity spokesperson in the company’s history. Jones said Jersey-born Rampone, who created a series of instructional videos for the brand’s website, is the ideal spokesperson to help the brand reach busy families because she is the “ultimate soccer mom — she is the only mother on the team and yet remains the fastest and best-conditioned player. She tells us that whenever she returns from a trip abroad, she heads straight for Jersey Mike’s with her husband and kids and orders her favorite #5, The Super Sub.”
In addition to appealing to customers with fresh food and community outreach, Jersey Mike’s also keeps customers coming back with its new customer-loyalty program, which Jones said is “the perfect way to stay connected to them by allowing them to earn free subs and receive special offers.” Diners can sign up by using a traditional membership card or a mobile member ID tag and sticker that use near-field communication technology. The tag or sticker can be tapped to a reader at the register, and points are added to the customer’s account. “The program also helps us keep an open dialogue with our customers as we have the ability, via a dashboard, to deliver national, regional or even hyper-local messages to our customers through easy-to-use templates,” Jones said.
And communication with customers doesn’t stop there. Jones said, “Jersey Mike’s was built on grass-roots enthusiasm from our customers who actively spread their love for the brand. In our restaurants, we share our lives with our customers and they share theirs with us. Social media tools like Facebook and Twitter provide a natural extension of this dialogue.”