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VOL. 36 | NO. 47 | Friday, November 23, 2012

Gus’s knows Jack about re-using space

By Hollie Deese

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The former Jack in the Box location at 471 Old Hickory in Brentwood is being transformed for Gus’s Famous Fried Chicken.

-- Hollie Deese | Nashville Ledger

When Dennis Hollimon and Frank Cole were scouting Nashville locations for an outpost of Memphis-staple Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken, they must have looked at nearly 60 spots, none quite right for their needs.

It was hard work, especially since there were some available buildings in good locations that turned both of them off.

“There were several empty Jack in the Box locations in the Nashville area, and we drove past them,” Cole says. “At first we were just dead set against them. We never went in them.’’

That was until they checked out a former Jack in the Box on Old Hickory Boulevard in Brentwood. It had been closed a few years.

“When we drove up on the hill and walked in here, I think everyone got goose bumps,’’ Cole says.

In 2010 Jack in the Box closed 40 underperforming stores nationwide, 11 in the Nashville area.

With such a distinct look to the buildings, Jack in the Box is the first to admit that leasing the spaces has been a tough sell.

“It has been challenging,” says Brian Luscomb, DVP of corporate communications for the chain. “We have closed a number of locations in Nashville. With those locations we are actively trying to lease those restaurants, but we do not have any plans to close any additional locations.”

The remaining locations have gotten something of a facelift to make the stores look more modern and uniform, something that might be beneficial if those spots ever have to be anything other than a Jack in the Box. The company still holds long-term leases on those empty buildings.

Hot chicken or not?

The guys at Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken are learning they will have to overcome a branding problem other than the remodeling of an old Jack in the Box building.

What’s at issue: Nashville’s affinity for hot chicken, a totally different animal than what they have been serving up in Memphis.

“We call ourselves hot and spicy chicken, but it isn’t what people would consider hot chicken,” says Frank Cole of Gus’s. “Ours is more on a seasoned spice level than a hot level. No one calls their chicken hot and spicy – they call it hot. Only the brave touch that.”

Gus’s has opened its first Middle Tennessee location at 471 Old Hickory Boulevard in Brentwood. No other locations are planned at this point, company officials say.

“The reimaged locations are part of a system-wide initiative that we just completed at the end of last year,” Luscomb says. “We reimaged our entire Jack in the Box system, all 2,200 plus restaurants in the U.S., with new interiors and exteriors.” That includes things like lighting, painting and landscaping.

“Essentially it has given our restaurants a more consistent, more modern and more contemporary look,” he says. “Granted in Nashville, since we have only been operating in that market for the past dozen or so years, the restaurants weren’t that out of date, but Jack in the Box has been around since 1951, so some of our restaurants from the 50s and 60s looked like they were built in the 50s and 60s. This gives a more consistent, modern look to our restaurants.”

Rebrand the building

It was that modern look of Jack’s that was the hardest thing for Cole and Hollimon to overcome and what initially caused their hesitation to move in.

“It was because they had such an iconic look,” he says. “We did have our work cut out for us trying to rebrand this place without rebuilding the place. It was spacy looking, and it was kind of hard to get past that spacy look. We really had to revamp the look inside and out.”

For two months, their crew did what it could to make it Gus’s and not the new chicken place in the old Jack in the Box. They painted the circular roof to look like an awning using Gus’s signature white and yellow colors, then updated the landscaping.

The biggest changes were made inside, converting the dining room into the inside of a barn, complete with pitched roofs and light pouring through cracks.

“We really wanted to do the green thing on the inside so we did the inside with locally-sourced barn wood from a local antique guy,” Cole says. “And all of the relics that are in here are from the Nashville area.”

More franchises in Nashville?

Luscomb notes that in the past six years even more has changed at Jack in the Box than a new look. They have been transitioning to a new business model as they have been making franchising a large part of their system.

“About six years ago we were about 25 percent franchised, and we are currently about 75 percent franchised through the sale of company-operated restaurants to franchisees,” he says. “We’ve recently identified a couple of additional markets we are trying to franchise, one of them being Nashville, and we are actively looking for a local operators to take over those restaurants.

“We can benefit by leveraging the resources of a local operator to help us grow our business,” he adds. “In Nashville, we already have a high level of brand awareness, but a local operator there might have better insight into marketplace dynamics that can drive the business, and where to develop additional locations to optimizing local marketing opportunities.”

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