Fresh from signing up its Australia master franchisee, Dickey’s Barbecue Pit CEO Laura Rea Dickey speaks to Global Franchise about Oz expansion, the complexities of signing international development deals amid a global pandemic, and why she believes the barbecue brand is firing on all cylinders.
Interview by James Fell, editor of Global Franchise
Tell us about the Australian deal: who’s the master franchisee, what are their intentions, and where will they be opening their 50 units?
LRD: Australian restaurant group QSR Foods Pty LTD out of Alexandria, New South Wales, will develop 50 locations across the country. It was early in our conversation that Dickey’s understood the intention and commitment of our partner. Evident to us was their desire to replicate our domestic success, suggest necessary modifications required by the Aussie consumer and build out profitable locations.
What about the Australian market appeals to the brand? I presume an affinity for barbecuing is a huge plus?
LRD: While Texas-style barbecue and Australian-style barbecue look much different, Australia still possesses a strong nationwide passion for slow-smoked food as evidence by the coin-operated grills you see at parks all over the continent. With barbecue culture so engrained in the Australian way of life, Dickey’s is a natural fit. We’re excited to expand how Australia enjoys barbecue.
How long was this Australia deal in the making and had the global coronavirus pandemic affected it at all?
LRD: This deal came to fruition in less than a month and for scale, most international development deals of this size usually take three or four months to formalize. Typically, we would arrange pre-market trips between our partners to introduce them to the brand stateside and discuss in person how we would work together to bring Dickey’s to their country.
“Many folks want to partner with us, but few end up doing so as our rigors for brand protection and a cooperative mindset is an absolute requirement”
With global travel at a standstill, we relied heavily on the United States Department of Commerce to help us facilitate an Australian partnership and stayed in close contact with our chosen Australian partners through virtual introductions and consistent communication.
We were both learning how to build trust virtually in this new coronavirus landscape and I would say we were both committed to figuring out how to make it work together and keep the process moving while being based thousands of miles apart.
How has the brand and its expansion strategy been impacted by the crisis?
LRD: A nimble culture, proprietary technology infrastructure, and multiple revenue streams have enabled Dickey’s Barbecue to grow during this challenging economic climate where major brands are contracting. Dine-in sales have recovered 71 per cent against pre-COVID dine in levels, and digital sales are exceeding pre-COVID performance by 283 per cent. Dickey’s has continued to drive assertive franchise development with the opening of 24 new locations in Q3, including eight kitchen locations, a new model launched in August of 2020. Along with its new openings, Dickey’s also executed two franchise development agreements to bring additional Dickey’s locations to Wyoming and Florida.
How have you supported your franchisee network during 2020 and what has feedback been like from franchisees?
LRD: We provided immediate relief for franchisees by cutting – not abating – franchise royalties by 50 per cent for 14 weeks to free up cash flow for our owner/operators at the onset of the pandemic.
We purchased reusable face masks and PPE for all locations to protect both our guests and our pit crew members and save our owners that direct cost.
We also helped franchisees shift their operations and retrain their teams to succeed in the evolving landscape with such a dramatic increase in off-premise and delivery business. We rolled out enhanced safety seals and to-go labels.
We revamped our system-wide marketing plan and shifted our media spend in March within five business days for the remainder of 2020 to be a 100 per cent digital spend with a free delivery and value-based focus. We also implemented a nationwide first responder support program so that all locations could donate sandwiches to local first responders in their communities each week with the Dickey family matching donations.
Lastly, we developed a new rebate program, the brand champion program, to honor franchisees who advance the brand and give back to their local communities each month. The qualifying candidates receive up to one per cent of royalties back for good works.
Under your leadership, Dickey’s has really upped the ante when it comes to international expansion. What is your overall objective when it comes to global expansion and which markets and territories interest you most?
LRD: We are always looking to grow our brand and tell our story to new folks around the globe, but particularly with international expansion, it boils down to finding the right partners who will take our vision and story to their community and share it as passionately as we would here in Texas.
Both quantitative and qualitative work goes into where we go. With whom we partner becomes the next opportunity. Many folks want to partner with us, but few end up doing so as our rigors for brand protection and a cooperative mindset is an absolute requirement.
What qualities must a good franchise leader in 2021 possess and why?
LRD: Adaptability, absolute resolve towards being adaptable to ever-changing daily needs. The will to succeed.
Resolve to learn though this, move through this and accept where we are, while pushing forward and capitalizing on new opportunities. Embracing that we are the masters of own success despite circumstances, leaning into finding ways through challenge and evolving to better.
“We were both learning how to build trust virtually in this new coronavirus landscape”
A collaborative spirit. Having a welcoming table. Communication skills and a folks-first mindset, to reduce barriers amongst us and create vertical relationships. This will move us a long way as an industry.
What does the future look like for the QSR industry, in the U.S. and beyond?
LRD: Deeper investment in technology. At absolutely every turn of the business, the use of technology will not only drive connectivity but drive collaborative profitability. A return to comfort food and a strong emphasis on value.
And what does the future hold for Dickey’s?
LRD: Resilient brands, like ours, always take challenging times as an opportunity to reinvest, renew and emerge stronger than before. Dickey’s is stronger than ever and we’re proud to be able to serve our communities across the globe, even if that does look a bit different right now.
We’ve seen an influx of new leads from those who are interested in joining our family and want to be a part of our mission to give back. A lot of people are spending their extra time looking for future opportunities and they are watching which businesses are going to come out on top and how they’re doing during this time.
We’re proud to have so many new folks join our family who see the actions we’re taking in local communities and want to be a part of our mission to give back.