Earl’s Restaurants: fun ads, serious food

Retailer of Distinction: Earl's Reason: AdvertisingStan Fuller, president of Earl's, a 39-location 'casual dining' restaurant chain in Western Canada, says the company's advertising is intended to give consumers an insight into its personality.'We're fun, we're casual, but we're extremely serious about...

Retailer of Distinction: Earl’s

Reason: Advertising

Stan Fuller, president of Earl’s, a 39-location ‘casual dining’ restaurant chain in Western Canada, says the company’s advertising is intended to give consumers an insight into its personality.

‘We’re fun, we’re casual, but we’re extremely serious about food,’ Fuller says.

A recent tv campaign, by the Vancouver office of advertising agency Scali McCabe Sloves, featured an animated pig talking about the great taste of Earl’s chicken, a chicken encouraging people to eat Earl’s beef, and a cow pushing chicken.

New campaign

Fuller says the agency is developing another tv campaign that will focus on the evolution of a product when it gets to Earl’s kitchen.

‘Our advertising is fun, it’s entertaining, but it always talks about the lengths Earl’s goes to to make sure the food is great,’ he says.

Asked what he demands of his advertising agency, Fuller says, ‘Get the customers in the door, we’ll take care of them after that.’

Q. In what order of importance do you place the following categories: merchandising, trade and supplier relations, product innovation, customer service, advertising, database marketing and staff relations?

A. Customer service, staff relations, merchandising, product innovation, advertising, trade and supplier relations, and database marketing.

You’ve got to have them all, but without customers, none of the rest of it matters.

Q. From where do you get your inspiration?

A. We’re not a one-person organization. Everyone contributes. We depend heavily on a lot of key players in the organization.

Trips

On alternate years, we take our chefs and restaurant managers to a different part of the world to look at food and wines, and we bring a lot of knowledge back with us.

Q. In your opinion, what have been the most startling changes in retail over the past couple of years?

A. I think that the biggest thing that has happened in retail is we’ve seen a lot of major players come in who are willing to take extremely low margins on extremely high volume. But that doesn’t really apply to the restaurant business. In our business, there was a big change about 10 years ago, when casual dining came to the forefront. People wanted table service without the high cost of eating at a formal restaurant.

Q. What trends can you see on the horizon that will most affect your business?

A. I think that government interference in minimum wage laws and taxation of things like liquor is going to hurt tourism. If we keep increasing the minimum wage, we’re going to have a hard time competing with the u.s., in terms of destination. Cross-border shopping is no accident. I believe that the Canadian restaurant business already takes lower margins than our American counterparts.

Lobby

All we can do is lobby our respective governments to put a hold on minimum wage and tax increases.

Q. What qualities does one need to stay ahead of the pack?

A. I think that you have to allow people in your organization great say in where the organization is going and what’s best for the customer. We’re in the hospitality business, and our best representatives are the people who are waiting on the tables or making the food, and if they’ve got an idea how to make things better, we had better be listening.

Organizational structure

All that said, there has to be an organizational structure to support those people and to create an environment for the customer that is the most comfortable and friendly place in the neighborhood.

Q. How do you stay on top of your concept?

A. It’s an on-going process. It’s an everyday job and we’re fortunate we’ve got great food people, and a restaurant designer [David Vance] and support group who are really out there looking to create a ‘wow’ experience. Everybody knows what’s going on and coming up with better ways to do it.

As far as research is concerned, we’re definitely a gut-feel organization. We’re a fresh-only house, so that prevents us from having a huge variety on our menu. We have two chefs that we have entrusted to product development. We test all our new products. The customers ultimately make the decision. If they buy into it, they do, and if they don’t, they don’t.

Q. Tell us how the recession has most affected your business.

A. We have never taken our customers for granted, even in the good times, so the recession hasn’t changed our attitude at all.

Discounting

Some restaurants are discounting and I believe that we will feel that discounting for a year or two, but one thing about discounting is you usually get what you pay for. In the long term, some of those people are going to figure out what’s going on.

The good operators, the ones that have the customer at heart, will be in good shape to grow in the future. And we are doing very well. Our annual sales, including our franchise stores, are about $70 million.