turnaroundIn 2008, the restaurant chain Bennigan’s declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy. That might have been the end of the story, as it is with many chains that file for bankruptcy. But Bennigan’s is growing again under new leadership.

In an article for Fox Small Business Center, Michele Hieles outlines the “lessons learned” from this experience, courtesy of its current president and CEO Paul Mangiamele.

According to Mangiamele, Bennigan’s didn’t falter because of a lack of consumers. Instead, the culprit was what he calls “brand drift".

Brand drift occurs “when the brand moves away from the many elements that made it successful in the first place,” he says. To be successful, “You need to constantly reinvent yourself so you don’t lose relevance.”

As part of the turnaround effort, the plan is to “respect the Bennigan’s legacy” while launching such elements as a “chef-driven menu, a refreshed drink line-up, updated training methodologies, and forward-thinking marketing initiatives.”

Mangiamele is also overseeing efforts to invest in the “fractured” franchisee system. “All of us together will always be smarter than one of us,” he says.

Here are Mangimele’s turnaround strategy tips to franchisees of all industries.

Turnaround Strategy Tips 

Know your mission, vision, strategy, tactics, and culture. Start with a solid mission and vision statement. Then put together a team, develop strategies, and determine tactics.

Initiative development is another critical factor, as illustrated by these five initiatives fueling the resurgence of the Bennigan’s brand:

  • Create and sustain momentum.
  • Develop habitual dependability.
  • Maintain a continuous connection at every level of the business.
  • Envision the “big picture” outcome.
  • Develop a key point of differentiation to make the brand unique.

Put together a team of “business athletes.” Mangiamele firmly believes the most important characteristic to look for in an employee is attitude. There’s no way to force an employee to smile or to feel genuine enthusiasm for your brand. Instead, you can “find team players that have a 25/8 work ethic—employees who can help not only achieve your objectives, but also exceed them.” The A+ team must consist of dedicated workers “who will make sacrifices to contribute to the team objective.”

Go ABCD. To achieve success, Bennigan’s must create a “legendary experience”—and the only way to do that is to go ABCD—“Above and Beyond the Call of Duty”. Mangiamele expects everyone in the organization (“from executives to busboys”) to forge an emotional connection with their customers. This approach is reinforced by programs that recognize and reward stellar employees. Best of all, “ABCD-type performance is contagious.”

Get out in the neighborhood. “Given the competitive marketplace, you can’t open your doors at 11:00 a.m. and just wait for people to come,” Mangiamele says. Instead, focus on what he calls “neighborhood marketing”—a system designed to promote your business within a five- to 10-minute drive from your company’s front door. Get out and introduce yourself and your business, making “emotional connections” with neighbors within that 10-mile radius.

Today, Bennigan’s operates nearly 100 domestic and international restaurants, with agreements to develop many more in the coming years across the U.S., and in Mexico, El Salvador, Panama, Cyprus, Korea and the United Arab Emirates. It looks like the company’s turnaround efforts are paying off.

What have you done to turnaround your brand?