Local Marketing Before It Was “Cool” With Justin Bartek
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Local marketing is one of the best ways to market to your audience. Creating a personalized relationship with your audience can help elevate your brand above the competition. Evan Brandoff brings in Justin Bartek, Marketing Director at JINYA to share how he executed local marketing strategies before it was the tried and true method it is today.
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Local Marketing Before it was “Cool” With Justin Bartek
In this episode, we welcome Justin Bartek to the show. He is the Marketing Director for JINYA Holdings, helping to anoint them as the number one ramen chain in the world. I’m excited to have him on. Let’s get into it.
Justin, thank you so much for coming to the show.
No problem, Evan. How is it going?
I’m doing well. How are you doing?
I’m doing good and staying busy.
What’s that wall art? Are those the core values?
Yes, it is.
I love some good core values. Can you talk us through them?
The core values are authenticity, creativity, hospitality, integrity and teamwork. Besides that, the real core value though, we operate under the Japanese business practice of Kaizen, which translates to continuous improvement. Throughout our organization, we are always trying to find newer solutions, better solutions and way to do things. It’s a nice way to work because that parallels what I believe as well very closely. We have the freedom to explore new brand partners or different things that we haven’t done before.
You have worked at some incredible companies like Qdoba, The Halal Guys, and so many more, to name a couple. Are the core values just fun artwork to put on your wall? How much does it mean to the culture and performance of the company?
I feel like it depends on the brand. There are some brands giving lip service, and maybe that’s because the brands are so big. They lose focus on it, and it’s not a priority. Most of the brands I have worked at have been small enough where it does matter. The teams are small, and you need everybody pushing in the same direction.
When you are open to opportunities, opportunities will come to you.
Here, it makes a difference. We do believe all these things that we talk about. We talk about them often, trying to align what we are doing with the core values. The main one that I take away is this message of Kaizen and continuous improvement. I call it constant elevation. I always want to go to the next level and try new things to help the business. The best for me is the Kaizen. Once I heard it when talking to them, I was like, “I can fit there. I know I can.”
How are you able to translate Kaizen to people that work in the kitchen? How does that translate from the top down to the entire team at JINYA?
From the top, that part is easy. I feel like to what you are talking about, it does get more difficult when you get into the store-level employees and how you present that. What we try to do is have that focus. It could be small things like small team shift lead meetings five minutes before we open. I have been at the restaurant when we have had these and it’s, “What can we improve on this day? What is our focus?” We were always trying to focus on things where we were deficient and talk about them. I see that inside the stores for sure. It could be a five-minute thing but it could be like, “Our ticket times were longer yesterday. Let’s focus on that.” We try to break it down in a very simple way at a store level.
On the big and brand level, it’s hard to do many different things at once. We are a small team. We do have to focus on, “What is the most important? What is the KPI? What is our driver? What are we looking at?” Strategically, we focus on listing them out, which ones are the most important, and then attacking and moving to the next. While that’s happening, there can be new partners, technologies or things that show up that we think we need. We explore that as well and always are continuously working through that process.
What kind of framework are you all using to determine the top KPIs? Is it the OKR framework or something else?
At this point, it’s in a place of we are building it from the ground up. Even though the JINYA brand has been around for many years, the team is new, within 2020. All the executives here started in 2020 or later. It’s a newish team. We come from different places and backgrounds but we have hit it off pretty well and think the same way or know the needs. We have a great team.
It was building systems first. We didn’t have a lot of things that restaurant brands even of this size need. We spent 2020 through COVID trying to implement specific technologies, online ordering, putting together deals with third-party delivery companies, which we didn’t have before, upgrading our tech stack for the restaurants, and getting them all on a higher-level software. These things are step-by-step but then once they do that, we get a better online ordering experience, and then we get X.
We are always trying to say, “We need to get to this standard because then we get to do these other things that are new and exciting or we will provide money for franchisees,” which at the end of the day, that’s what they are looking to get out of it. There are always steps to that, and there’s always technology. We are a small team. We are focusing on, “The POS has to be up to this level. If not, the franchisees can’t have online ordering so let’s get there first. There’s a new version of online ordering. If you are not up to this level of software, you can’t have it. Let’s get you there.”
It’s always continuous things like what we are dealing with but it has been foundational. It has been putting in tools that everyone can use. On my side, for digital marketing, we work with a company called Hyperlocology, where we are doing this hyperlocal, digital targeted ads for each location. We don’t look at it as a DMA targeting or we will send this ad to this state or city. It’s within 5 miles of the location, finding out who the customer is, finding look-alikes, rinse and repeat.
The creative is constantly changing. The ideas are changing, “Do you want to promote lunch, alcohol, happy hour or hiring,” which is huge for all industries now. We have tools for that. We focus on a hyperlocal level of like, “We are not wasting any dollars.” We are always building each location’s pool of people who will see these ads, and it builds over time.
Putting in the foundational pieces is what we spent in 2020 doing. We are getting into some cool stuff. I’m working on a movie tie-in with a show that’s coming to Netflix. It’s some cool stuff that we couldn’t do in 2020 because of what was happening in the world. Now, we’ve got more foundation here. We can look at doing the cool stuff or the things that the outside world would be like, “That’s interesting.” It’s not just, “We can do online orders now.” Everyone can do that.
There is a lot to digest there. A few things, one, I was sitting in on a presentation. Liz Bazner from A&W Restaurants talked about effectively maintaining your internet presence for all your local stores, ensuring that your Google and Yelp are right. It blew my mind as a consumer how much goes into the things that we assume happen automatically. Hearing about the system that you have set up is interesting. You said that I would love to dive into are hyperlocal marketing at scale and then Netflix. Let’s start with Netflix because that’s exciting. First off, can you share anything about the show that JINYA is going to be on?
I can’t share much because it’s not final about what we were trying to do. We have been in discussions with them. It’s a show that’s going to come out in March 2022 on Netflix. It’s famous. I can say the name. Michael Mann did it. He has done a ton of movies and shows. It’s legit, and it’s based in Japan. That’s why we fit. They reached out to us. We vetted it and said, “This is a great opportunity.”
I can’t say that much but I can say it does tie in well with the brand. There could be some cool activations in the store, either giving away a prize, making special ramen or things like that, which will uniquely tie to the show. We are working through it. We can’t say the name yet. There are a lot of details still to be worked out but that’s what we are talking about now. It’s super exciting because we know that thing will be pretty popular based on who is involved.
In this case, they came to you. I always wondered how does product placement in TV shows or movies comes to be? Ultimately, how does it come to life?
It’s usually on the creative side of people doing whatever the movie or TV show is. They are the ones that reach out because not for nothing but like restaurant brands. I don’t have this Rolodex of Hollywood producers. You have to know who to talk to in that situation. In the past, when I was at The Halal Guys, we did some crazy activations. We did a record release party at the carts in New York City, where we had the artists come out and the music playing. We gave away food and T-shirts at the cart. It was such a cultural event outdoors. It was cool.
I have done shoe collaborations with Extra Butter and Clarks. We made Halal Guys’ Wallabees shoes and sold them at Extra Butter in New York City, with a red and white sauce color. I have done things with Adidas and other brands where they retroed a shoe. They wanted our cart employees in New York wearing the shoe. We did a photoshoot. It was hanging in a gallery in SoHo. It’s things where it’s like, “The Halal Guys is a street cart but look at them now. They are in a gallery in SoHo doing this activation with Adidas in the mix.” Things like that are super cool.
Here, I’m scratching the surface. There are a lot of things we can tie into and stuff like that. All those other things came before that. We needed the systems. We are getting through that now. The creative stuff will start to come as we go. I chase it a little bit but I’m open to it, and it seems like when you are open to things, things come to you, and that’s what’s happened in my career. That’s how I live and work. It’s staying open, seeing the opportunity, and then doing the work because the work is the real part. There are a lot of things to do to get these things done. You have to be able to do the work. It’s about being open to it and then it will come to you.
If you remember the TV show Entourage, my brother was one of the principals of AviÃ³n Tequila. One of the guys he started AviÃ³n with grew up with Doug Ellin, the Producer and writer of Entourage. Doug agreed to put AviÃ³n into the show and he said, “I’m not going to tell you how I’m going to use it. You’ve got to trust me.” It went on. Turtle in the show brought AviÃ³n into the United States and ended up being a huge hit as AviÃ³n was launching but it was almost too successful in the sense that everyone thought AviÃ³n was fake and the team of Entourage launched AviÃ³n.
They then had to do a whole new ad campaign like, ” AviÃ³n, it’s real.” You touched on it a little bit here and it is something I thought was interesting. You said, “Life is made up of a lot of random meetings that impact the course of your life.” First off, has that always been your mindset? Was there an event or a point in time that you realize that that mindset is what’s going to yield you getting the most out of unique opportunities?
It has evolved over time. I can tell you a bit about my background. I was born in Los Angeles. My parents divorced when I was two. My mother remarried. We moved to Northern California. I grew up in Paradise, California, which burned down and Ron Howard made a movie about it. The houses I grew up in are gone.
My father’s and sister’s house burned down. They were homeless. When the fire happened, I was in New York. I was working for The Halal Guys. I’m getting texts from my sister like, “We are going to have to evacuate.” She called me in a panic like, “We have our car and we couldn’t go home to get anything.” That stuff affected me in a huge way.
Was everything okay?
Be open, do the work, live limitlessly, because there are no limits in life.
It worked out. This is years later now. They’ve got new homes. They are probably better off than they were but going through that trauma was rough. From my background, I look at myself like I’m very comfortable in my own skin. I know who I am and that’s what the guide is. It’s not about saying that I know more or less than someone. I don’t care. I don’t want to be the smartest person in the room. I’m a lifelong learner. How I have developed this over the years, every day, for me, is a success because I made it out of there.
What I mean by that is it’s a small town. A lot of people there would work at the grocery store. My father was a 40-year grocery store vet. My mother was a homemaker. I’m the first to graduate college in my family. There are many things in my life where realizing the world is bigger and your place in it because I didn’t have a guidebook. I didn’t have a CEO as a father that said, “You go to business school, meet these folks and do this.” I didn’t know anything so every day was learning. Over time, I developed this mindset, and it was like, “In my life, I have had meetings with people or met people where they affected my life.”
Once I sat back and looked at that random meetings where it’s like, “I made this one connection, and now it changed my life or career. I switched jobs or companies because I met someone randomly.” I’m open to it and thought about what my mantra is. It has developed into like, “Be open, do the work and live limitless because there are no limits in life.” For me, every day, I’m out of paradise. People would work at Kmart their whole life. There was no career path or book on what to do. I have looked at it like, “Every day that I’m doing this, it is better than doing that.”
That’s my foundation. I feel like I have these Northern California values but I’m in with the sharks in LA. It’s like, “I can go to New York. I can do this. I can be in any room. I’m comfortable being me. If they don’t accept me for me, maybe it’s not a love connection but it’s okay because we are all different and that’s all right, too.” I’m comfortable being me and it’s like, “I know my stuff. I know how to make these brands go.” I have developed a few brands now and it’s like, “I know what I’m good at. I know my place. I know that through my life, I have made these relationships. It has affected my life and helped me to get to the next place.”
For my life, it’s a constant elevation. In each job, it’s a little more money, prestige, stuff to do, and learning but it’s all good. It’s all on the up. It’s never going down and it never has for me. At this point in my life, I looked at it and said, “This is who I am. This is what I believe and it’s working for me.” I have been talking about it a lot and people react to it because they are like, “This guy is on something a little different. He has figured it out for himself.” By figuring out, for me, helps other people to think about their own situation.
That resonates with me so much. Here’s a question for you. If it doesn’t make sense, I could add more context. Do you think that events that happen are objectively good or bad like every event is neutral and you could perceive it to be good or bad?
It’s more than that and I can say this from personal experience. I will give you a real example. When I worked for Veggie Grill, they decided to change the department and with that, they were eliminating my job title. I was going to lose my job. How they did it was I had a three-week-old daughter. I was on paternity leave. It was the week of Thanksgiving. That’s when they decided to tell me. I thought, “This is very poor taste. I felt offended by the timing and the way they went about it.”
Plus, they told me on the phone. I couldn’t even go to the office legally because I was on paternity leave. What they said was, “We are changing the department. We are going to have a digital marketing manager.” I had come from a digital startup where we were doing localized marketing in 2012. I knew it front and back. I knew what to do but it was so offensive. They said, “You can come and interview for it.” Instead of giving me that job or moving me into that job, knowing my background, they didn’t even look at me or know about what I had done. They didn’t talk about it.
What I learned was, “The CMO wants to bring in her person. It was a life lesson. It’s not about me. It’s about her team wanting to build her thing.” I lost all that anger. It was like, “This is how life works.” What that allowed me to do though, was I didn’t get a job for eight months. I stayed home with my kid every day. I was with my daughter every day and my wife went back to work. I’ve got this time that normal people don’t get to spend with their kids. It ended up being positive.
The Halal Guys came around and then that was the best opportunity ever. To your point, it’s how you look at it. At that time, sometimes that’s tough. If you can take a lesson from it, you are going to be better off and that’s what I try to do. When the chips are down like that, there’s going to be something better that comes along always. That’s how the mindset has to be.
My wife and I are expecting our first kid. We are expecting a boy. We are super excited. For you, do you think that shift in mindset, how much of it was due to you were a parent now? I’m more so curious how much is my mindset going to change when I become a dad?
It has changed a lot, especially through COVID. COVID is another factor being a parent of a young kid. She had her birthday. What’s important is it changed. I have been doing a job remotely for a year and a half, getting everything done. Why do I need to come to an office and work eight hours a day at my desk? I don’t. I would rather go pick up my kid from school and never have to have a daycare in my life. I don’t want my kid to grow up in daycare. That became more valuable to me, “Let me work here six hours a day. Let me go get my kid and then work from home the rest. I already did it every day. I worked from home every day and we’ve got everything done. Let me do that.”
I’m more productive. I’m a happier employee. I can spend time with my kid, pick her up, do her homework real quick and keep working. It’s so much better for the balance of your life. It’s not about being chained to a desk. It’s about getting the most out of your employees but they need to be happy and involved. You need to do a little something for them instead of saying, “I need that control. I need you to be at your desk.” We have proven we don’t.
That’s a big one for me and that did change over time. Having kids, having COVID happen and the way that we had to work affects everything. You will see when you have one, things will change a little bit. It’s not a lot but a little bit. You will say, “I want time with her or him. I want to spend as much time as possible with them,” because at the end of the day, as parents, it’s our job to take care of them and teach them the right things to do. If you don’t have time or you are not with them, how can you do that?
You are winning not just the Marketer of the Year but also the Dad of the Year by picking your girl up every day. We are a community marketing show. I want to shift gears and focus back on community and local marketing. You have been doing local advertising before it was cool. First off, how do you define local marketing and local advertising?
I can put it like this. In 2012, I was working with a company called Circle Street, which was founded by Alex Nocifera. His idea was, “We want to make big brands speak local.” That was it. How do we do that? What did we do? We worked with an ad company that had a ton of ad space. We negotiated with them, explained what we wanted to do and ended up getting their ad space for $0.33 on the dollar. That was the first part we needed to do what we wanted.
We started flying around to franchise brands like Domino’s Pizza. Let’s say there’s a Domino’s in Huntsville, Alabama. Let’s say it’s Friday night. There’s a high school football game with Martin Luther King versus Maine. If you saw a digital ad in 2012 that said, “Domino’s Pizza: Martin Luther King versus Maine. Two pizzas for $12 this Friday for the championship game,” would you not be like, “How do they know that first off? How has this brand as big as Domino’s given me this ad? It’s so relevant to me, my city and everything.”
That’s what we were doing and this was in 2012. Everything was manual. I would go search out these events and the weather. We had True Value Hardware. There was a blizzard in Boston. We were selling snow blowers but we knew the blizzard was coming. Having that relevancy, I saw the potential of it like, “This is huge.” It’s very hard to do it in 2012 but it’s like, “If you can nail this, this is the future.” I knew that early.
Getting a restaurant there, the partners weren’t there. It was not set up for that for years. Now, we are at a point where everyone wants hyperlocal. They know it’s valuable. I knew that years ago. For me, I looked at it like an advantage but now it’s about, “Who is the partner? How can we execute on the local level? How do we figure out who the customer is on the local level?” What I have learned here, a JINYA Ramen customer in LA is much different than in Tulsa, Oklahoma and Orlando. The cities matter, who they are, and how they skew age-wise and income-wise. Over time, if we are getting those learnings, hitting the right people at the right time, and then finding more of them in those cities hyper locally, to me, that’s the golden ticket and that’s going to win.
It’s not about a silver bullet in marketing. We talked about, “We need something that’s going to work now and raise sales 5%.” This is not that. This is foundational. This is a change in the way we do business. Over time, it’s going to get better. The other part of it is we want to be always on, which means always on Google search, Display, Instagram and Facebook. We want to have 1 of those 4 channels at least, always on for every location so that we are constantly marketing to those folks in different, new and exciting ways if we want to refresh the creative.
We always have things to talk about here because we do a quarterly menu refresh. There are always new things to talk about and shoot but now it’s like, “How do I make the TikTok better? What is the strategy? What do I need to do there? Should I work with influencers?” I’m figuring out as I go but I trust my gut and what I want to see first. I see what’s going on in the market with the age range.
TikTok needs the skew young. I don’t want to be making TikTok videos. I want to hire twenty-year-old kids to do it because they know what they are doing. I’m not dumb and I don’t think I have all the answers but I want people to know how to do it. That’s the best way to do it in restaurants because I don’t claim to know everything. I want to work with the partners that are the experts and help me reach my goals. That’s how I attack it.
Make big brands speak local.
A pain point that I hear often, especially in the QSR and fast-casual dining space, is companies have collected a lot of content from local sponsorships and local events that they have done but all of their digital strategy is done on a national level. They feel like all of that content that they have collected is irrelevant, and then end up reverting to a generic brand message that is relevant to everyone across the country. It sounds like you have figured out how to crack this code a bit. What advice would you give to a marketer that is having this pain point and constantly reverting back to the same generic content for the rest of their media marketing mix?
If they are not trying to get to a one-to-one relationship with the customer, what that means is I know enough about you. It’s, “If you are eating vegan every time, I’m not going to send you a pork ramen message because that’s not relevant to you.” That’s not only wasting your time. You might say, “I don’t need to hear these messages anymore because they don’t know me.”
In whatever way I’m reaching you, you could say, “I don’t need this anymore because it’s not relevant.” We want to get to one-to-one where it’s like, “I know enough about you where I send you messages and you go, ‘They know me and this is relevant. I’m going to open this because this is going to help me, serve me, help my day or whatever that thing is.'” Every marketer should be striving for that.
How you get there, there are a million ways. When you talked about the national problem, we can do this national branding stuff all day and that’s great but I want to get to know, “Who are these people that are coming into the restaurant in Tulsa, Oklahoma? Where do they go? How much money do they make? Are they families? Are they single?” The more I know about them, the more I can put that data to use and the better off I am.
There are a lot of ways to do it but if you have that mindset of, “I want to get to one-to-one,” because think of eCommerce, Amazon and eBay. They are sending you things that they know you are going to react to. They have all this data. They have data scientists working on it. I don’t have a data scientist. I’m a restaurant. I need to depend on a partner to help me go through that data, “What is relevant to me? How can I activate on it?” There are plenty of loyalty partners out there or digital partners. That’s where you’ve got to start, “I want to get to one-to-one so I know all my customers and send them relevant messaging.” That’s the starting point.
My Cofounder, Zubin, whenever he gets targeted with an Instagram ad, he typically buys it because he thinks that the algorithm is so smart that they know him better than he knows him and he is going to love any product that he gets targeted with. You mentioned something that you are setting up now at JINYA is a tool that essentially enables you to have hyperlocal content relevant to the 5-mile radius of different restaurants. You set that up from a central location. Can you speak a little bit more about what that tool is and how it works?
The company is called Hyperlocology. They are not an agency because they re not taking an agency fee out of every digital buy. A lot of agencies will take 20% and you know, “I’m not getting anything for that except them doing this work.” They don’t do that. You pay an upfront fee and it’s not that much even, depending on the size of your brand. All your money spends go directly to your ads. That’s the starting point.
Google has a document. It’s fifteen pages long where it’s every attribute, income, sex, and all these things that they track. We went through and said, “Who do we think is the JINYA customer?” That’s based on anecdotal data and Instagram data of who I see that’s looking at it. It’s all these things because we never had a Technomic study of who the customer is. We have never had that here because we couldn’t afford it anyway at our size.
I’m doing a lot of guesswork but what I do know is, over time, these things will improve and it will get more targeted based on who is clicking on these ads and who is looking at them. We are going to collect all that data. We are going to keep turning and going through in finding these folks in the local market within a 5-mile radius. The second part of what we are doing is I have 40 locations. I can’t babysit all 40. Meaning, I’m one person so I can’t set up a marketing plan for every location. I can’t do their work for them because it would be way too much to do.
It has a self-service tool where, say, I spend $100,000 on ads for the whole brand for three months, a quarter or whatever that is. We are building these audiences. What they can do on their own is there’s a dashboard and pre-approved creative. Let’s say they want to promote lunch, alcohol sales, dinner or hiring. In pre-approved creative, they can go in there in three steps. They can say, “I want it to run for two weeks, a month or whatever the time frame.” They put in their credit card and push go. That starts activating it locally like a Facebook local to their store, Display local or Google search local. It’s all local.
What they are doing is, if they are throwing in their own money on top, that’s adding to what I’m doing for them. It’s going to get better. The more they spend, the better the targeting gets. The more people they reach, the more people they hit over the head that have shown intent because we are tracking every click. If they click to order, it’s great. That’s a person we want to save. We want to hammer them with messaging at the right times. We are going to find more of them. We are going to find people that clicked on the website and looked at the location, “Who are those people? That’s a different group.”
Every click we are tracking, we are trying to do it super-intelligent where every dollar spent is impactful, not just the pray and spray is what they call it. Put that out there in the DMA. Let’s hope for the best. It’s not bad at all. This is highly targeted. It also allows a franchisee. In most franchise restaurant brands, you put in 1%, 2% or 3% of sales into the marketing fund but then you are always required to spend locally, probably 1% for every brand out there.
This is an easy way for, “Here it is. Here’s the dashboard. Here’s a bunch of work I have already done for you. Here’s what’s going on in your area. If you want to add to that, I will make it so easy that you can’t say no.” That’s how we try to attack that too because I don’t want to be a babysitter. I don’t want to say, “Can you send me those invoices for your 1% spend this month?” I want to go to a dashboard and say, “Charles spent the money. Great.”
That’s all I have to do. I don’t want to babysit them because, at the end of the day, in the franchise world, I treat them all as CEOs. They are their own CEO. Many of these guys have multi-brands and different businesses. They don’t put all their time and effort into it like I do or like our CEO does in our brand. I have to respect that but I have to provide them the tools, “Let’s make it easy then. Here is this. We have already done the work. All you have to do is put your credit card in there and you are going to start helping yourself even more.” It’s like, “Why wouldn’t I do this? I’m trying to build sales.” I’m trying to make it easy. That’s the real key.
What has engagement been like for the franchisees using this tool?
It has been good. It’s slowly growing. Like anything, you have your early adopters that are all in. Some people are a little more tech-savvy. Some people want even more than I give them. Meaning like, “What are the real details of this? What are we looking at in this?” That’s fine because Hyperlocology helps them. They will get on a call with any of my operators who will walk them through anything they want to know. It’s very much a two-way relationship.
I have worked with other brands where it’s like, “Once you sign, you are on your own. We have tech support. We will have a monthly meeting but there’s no strategy. There’s none of this.” These guys are diving into it. If a franchisee has issues with, “I’m not seeing it,” they will look and see the data, “Should we move here? Should we point here?” They work with us in that way, both myself and the franchisee.
They are unlike any other partner I have ever had. We are trying to solve this stuff. It’s not just lip service. They are not just taking our money and providing their product. We are trying to figure this out at the same time. They’ve got other clients across different verticals in the banking world or other franchises. They are taking in all that data as well and saying, “This is working over here. What if we tweak this?” Having a partner like that is huge but that’s the way that we try to attack this thing. The ones that have put in and have gotten that extra layer of customer service are like, “This is so great. Thank you.”
Now, it’s convincing the ones that we never even talked to. Every franchise brand has this where there are a couple of outliers, where it’s like, “They are one store. They are doing their thing. They are not doing any marketing that you can tell. You see those guys.” Now, the job becomes, “How do I get these guys involved in here? How can we get them on board?” That’s a me-job or sales job internally but the ones that are doing it are loving the results in what we are trying to build and they see over time this is going to win.
There are over 50,000 restaurant chains across the country. Let’s assume that the quality of the food is number one in importance. Please argue that if you disagree with what’s most popular. What do you think is number two in importance?
Location is still the most important thing. There are plenty of fast-food brands where you are like, “I don’t love this food but it’s so easy for me to get this and I’m hungry. I’m going to go there.” It’s not the quality of food always. It could be the taste. Craveability is big but it’s still location. Even though there’s less focus on brick-and-mortar and going into places, even if you are a cloud kitchen, it’s location because if I don’t live near it, I can’t use the cloud kitchen. I can’t get all these brands or access. It’s location, food, and then service because if you love food, you will put up with mediocre service because it’s so great. Service is third but it’s super important.
For casual dining, which is where I’m at mainly here, it’s way more important. We try to take care of the guests. When you start a franchise here, you do 40 days of training in our restaurant here locally. Forty days is a lot back-to-back-to-back. You are in there with your team, too. It’s not just the owner. Their managers are all in there for 40 days.
Every marketer should be striving for that one-to-one customer relationship.
When we go to the store to open the store, it’s two weeks of training straight before the doors open on-site so that every hourly workers we make sure they are trained. Training is hugely important but that goes back to the service piece. It’s location, food and service. You can mix that order a little but in my career, that’s how it has been.
In a franchise model, how is the location determined? Does the franchiser choose the location that they want to open a restaurant or is corporate selecting that location?
There are many ways you can do that. At brands I have worked at, it has worked in different ways. Some have real estate people that are out there looking at every city and location for the franchisee. Other ways to do it are, they hire their own local real estate person and then we say yes or no. That’s how it works at most brands. They present it to you like, “Here’s the spot. This is the information.” It becomes a yes or no from your CEO, COO and VP of Franchising. They would discuss it and say, “Yes, this looks good or it doesn’t.”
There are a few ways you can do it. Here, we are smaller. We do have a VP of Franchising that’s selling the brand. We use third-party tools to help us with like, “Let’s look at this area. What’s the traffic flow?” There are tons of tools like that out there as well that you can pay for and get good data on different targeted markets. We use those here. At Qdoba, we had hundreds of locations. We had real estate people out there doing this for franchisees.
I know you are super busy. This has been enlightening, inspiring, and awesome to sum it all up in one word. Before I let you go, I would love to do our lightning round. It’s four questions and you have a total of two minutes to answer the four questions, whatever comes to mind first for each question. Question number one, what’s your favorite youth sports memory?
I have a lot of them. When I was growing up, even though my dad worked at Safeway for 40 years, what he would do was he would always coach my teams. He would always set a schedule. He would work super early in the morning, get up early and get off in the afternoon so that he could coach soccer or baseball. For me, it’s a weird one. It’s very personal to how I grew up.
I remember I was 11 or 12 and it was the Little League Playoffs. My buddy, Tim, we were up one run in the bottom of the seventh because you only played seven innings in. This kid hit a single up the middle. My buddy Tim was playing centerfield. He threw the guy out at home. The guy was coming from second. We win the game on that play and I will never forget it. What makes it special is that Tim passed away in a car accident when we were in high school when we were seventeen. It’s a fond memory for me because I think of them in that way. It’s very personal. That was amazing. I will never forget everything about it. That’s the one for me.
That is a perfect example of you choosing a positive memory of him instead of the sad one. I’m sorry for your loss. The second question, what did you want to be when you grew up when you were a kid?
I think like everyone, “I will play baseball or do sports.” As you get older, you are like, “Maybe not.” When I was young, I probably thought I was going to play baseball for sure. You grow up. You are like, “That’s not going to happen.” Once that happened, I switched to business. I didn’t know what I wanted to do in business until I’ve got to college, like which way I wanted to go. I knew I was not going to be a doctor. I’m not into Biology.
It took me a while. I’m a late bloomer in that sense. I knew it would be business but then I liked marketing, selling brands, and putting brands together. Once I learned how that works, that’s the path I chose. I didn’t have a plan and it’s okay if kids don’t. That’s the other thing I would say. It’s okay not to know right away because also, if you think about it too much, and when it doesn’t work out, it can blow your self-esteem, too. It’s important to let it flow, figure out what you love, and then try to go that way. That corny thing they say about, “If you love your job, you are not working,” it’s true.
What is a brand whose marketing you admire most?
There are a few. In the retail space being from Norco, I’m a huge fan of what Sierra Nevada Brewing has done, giving back to the community like no other and being carbon neutral. All these things they celebrate make the world better. I love their product. All the other stuff makes me love them more. That’s one brand that is one of the greats for me and Nike because they can do anything. They can work with all these crazy cool people, artists, people making creative. It’s unlimited to what they can do, and it’s great to see. That’s a fascinating brand to study as well.
Finally, what is your go-to cause to support?
It has been about the restaurant industry. People say what they will about Guy Fieri. My personal interactions with him have been amazing. He supports a lot of different charities for restaurants and chefs, “Where are we going to get more restaurant workers? Where are we going to train our chefs?” He is very big into those causes. I have looked at those a lot and tried to put some marketing campaign things behind that and also my own dollars but helping our industry because it’s definitely a needed industry out there. People love to eat but where are we going to find the people to support it? Where’s the career path? There are a lot of things we need to do in this industry. What Guy has been doing has been amazing.
Another quick personal story about it, and I will try to take this very quickly. When the fires did happen, he drove up there with a 30-foot trailer and started cooking for everybody there. My niece, who was ten at that time, loved watching Triple D. My sister sent me a picture of her and Guy Fieri. He was making food with his people for giving it away because people were homeless. He did that.
I went to a restaurant show, and he was the keynote. I sat in the front row middle seat. He did his talk. It was more of an interview like we are doing, one-on-one. It wasn’t him standing there with a mic like a preacher or something. I walked right up to him, and he was talking to the CEO of Restaurant News and all this stuff. They all looked at me and I was like, “I want to thank you.”
I pulled out my phone and showed him the picture of my niece and him. I said, “I’m from Paradise. You went there, and you didn’t say anything. You did this, and it lifted the spirits of my sister and niece. Thank you. That’s all I want to say.” He looked at me and went, “No, man, thank you.” He turned away from these people, “How are you doing?” He had this full conversation with me, “Is your family okay?” I was like, “Yes, we’re good. It’s okay now. Thank you for that.”
I went outside. It’s drink time or whatever. It’s like happy hour. He has a line of people that he is getting photos with a professional photographer. I get stuck talking to people, and then I finally go do it. I was one of the last few, and he had to leave because he was like, “I’m going to Reno. I’m going to shoot Triple D. I’ve got to get out here.” He sees me in line and goes, “I know this guy.” He goes, “Get over here,” in front of everybody. We do the photo, and I thanked him again. That level was amazing. I will always be a fan. It’s real life.
Justin, this was great. Thank you so much for coming on.
Thank you, Evan. I appreciate it.
Thank you for reading our episode with Justin Bartek. As a recap, we discussed the importance of core values and how to scale them, mindset, and how to learn and take the positives from every event that happens in your life. Also, local marketing and some tools and tips like Hyperlocology to use for your teams. See you next time and play on.
- JINYA Holdings
- The Halal Guys
- A&W Restaurants
- Circle Street
- Extra Butter
- Sierra Nevada Brewing
- Guy Fieri
About Justin Bartek
Justin Bartek is the Marketing Director at JINYA Holdings Inc. and specializes in utilizing local relevancy to drive consumers at retail. He is truly passionate about building brands and connecting with customers. Justin pulls from years of experience working in the restaurant industry to share how focusing on local marketing makes a big difference.