After investing in product news, Friendly’s drew customers in with a new Sweet Rewards Club loyalty program in which customers earn one point for every dollar spent and a $5 reward for every 75 points. Since launching in June, the program has received more than 500,000 signups and given away more than $1 million in free sundaes and Fribbles—a notable improvement over the previous program that relied on an email-based coupon system.
Further doubling down on technology, Friendly’s revamped its off-premises strategy with a curbside delivery component, something Erlich says will be an asset in the Northeast once winter arrives. And to provide greater visibility and access to customers on a local level, Friendly’s created Facebook pages and individual websites for restaurants.
Each of those implementations were an effort to reach Friendly’s core consumer—anybody and everybody.
“I think when you look at families and you just look at the memories that were created by the visits to Friendly's over the years, first dates, children's birthdays, everyday celebrations for adults—I think our customer can be anybody,” Erlich says. “When you look later in the new technologies of social media and some of the loyalty programs and some of the other components that we've launched this year, we're really going to go after everyone.”
With the brand transformation fully underway, Erlich believes unit development opportunities are starting to present themselves. Roughly 30 years ago, Friendly’s had 850 stores. When Sun Capital Partners purchased the chain in 2007 for $337.2 million, there were 515 locations. Then approximately two and a half years ago, the brand operated 173 locations.
Erlich says the development team is utilizing a two-pronged approach, with the first part focusing on stabilizing existing units and maximizing their performance. The other portion of the plan is layering in new channels of growth.
Soon, Friendly’s will debut a fast-casual model in Westfield, Massachusetts, built for quicker service and a more robust curbside and third-party delivery program. Erlich says the company was able to reposition a restaurant within the community and find better use of real estate. When the restaurant opens, Friendly's will join a growing list of brands turning to fast-casual offshoots as a form of growth, including Flip'd (IHOP), Hoots Wings (Hooters), Buffalo Wild Wings Go, and P.F. Chang's To Go.