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CEO of Huddle House Discusses Trends, Branding & The Future of the Franchise

In business there are always things that come and go and those things are known as trends. However, it is those companies that are able to ignore those trends and stay true to its core mission and vision which results in longevity. One of those companies is Huddle House, which has been in business for over 50 years.

Hearpreneur had the chance to conduct an interview with the CEO of Huddle House Michael Abt to discuss Huddle House, not following trends and starting a franchise.

What is Huddle House?

Huddle House is an Atlanta-based, full-service family restaurant chain, well-known for serving “Any Meal. Any Time.” in communities around the country. Huddle House offers a wide variety of comfort food items such as country fried steak, stuffed hash browns, creamy grits and heavenly omelets and desserts, such as warm apple crumble pie a la mode. The core values on which Huddle House was founded in 1964 – serving quality food in a warm, friendly environment that brings the community together – remain intact today. Typically open 24-hours, Huddle House serves breakfast, lunch and dinner all day. There are currently 400 Huddle House locations in the U.S. throughout 21 states.

Why doesn’t Huddle House “follow trends?”

Brands like Huddle House have a core essence and must stay true to it. For example, if our customers decided they wanted to join the recent healthy/organic foods trend, they wouldn’t come to us for that, even if we did offer those types of foods because that’s not what they expect from us.  Brands have a positioning in the mind of its customers, and our positioning is Southern Comfort food, not organic/health-conscious foods.  Chasing the new fad is trying to be something you’re not.  When brands do this, they start blurring the boundaries of that brand positioning, confusing their customers.  However, we do follow relevant flavor profiles. For example, our new Big Bold Burgers are following the flavor profile trend of ‘better burgers’ with powerful flavors such as chipotle mayonnaise, BBQ, mushroom and swiss. So, our strategy is to provide those items that are appealing to our core customers, not necessarily to satisfy those that are watching what they eat, and to develop new products that fit the overall brand positioning and reflect the personality of our brand.

What is your background and how has it helped you being the CEO? 

I’ve spent my life in the restaurant industry – flipping burgers in high school, working at a casual dining restaurant in college, working with a Pizza Hut franchisee and then moving to Atlanta to work for the largest Arby’s franchisee in the system. I worked my way up there with numerous management and executive positions, eventually working for Arby’s corporate as Senior Vice President, charged with oversight of the 1100 Arby’s corporate-owned locations. I took some time off in 2010 and in 2011, Sentinel Capital Partners offered me the opportunity to become the CEO of Huddle House. I started here in October of 2012.

What advice would you give about branding?

Identify a position for your brand. What do you want a brand to be known for among the target audience? Stay true to your brand identity, avoid confusing your loyal customers and communicate that brand identity to potential new customers through marketing and advertising efforts. Make sure your front line team understands what the brand stands for and is capable of delivering the brand’s promised experience.

What do you see as the future of Huddle House?

As for the immediate future, we are putting a strong focus on both national and international growth, with the objective to open 175 restaurants over the next five years.

For people that are thinking about starting their own franchise, what advice would you provide?

Do your homework. Look for a brand that has good unit level economics, is differentiated from other brands, is successful in multiple geographic areas and one that has a management team that is committed to providing franchise partners with the support and resources needed to grow sales and profits! Most importantly, get involved with a business that you are passionate about.

What are the types of people that you find are successful franchise owners?

There are many characteristics that can contribute to being a successful franchise business owner. Of course they need to be passionate about the business that they are getting into; it can’t be just about the money. They need to be committed to using the standards, systems and procedures that the franchisor provides so they can provide a consistently great experience for the customer. Understanding the P&L and taking the time each month to review the financial performance of the business is really important. I see franchise operators fail because they don’t know the numbers. Finally, be committed to hiring great people. You can’t save your way to prosperity. You need to hire the best people you can afford, train them well and give them the support they need to create a great experience for the customer.

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Gresham Harkless Jr.

Gresham Harkless is a Media Consultant for Blue 16 Media and the Blogger-in-Chief for CEO Blog Nation. CEO Blog Nation is a community of blogs for entrepreneurs and business owners. Started in much the same way as most small businesses, CEO Blog Nation captures the essence of entrepreneurship by allowing entrepreneurs and business owners to have a voice. CEO Blog Nation provides news, information, events and even startup business tips for entrepreneurs, startups and business owners to succeed.

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