An Interview with Genghis Grill's CEO, Al Bhakta
Genghis Grill Talks Loyalty, Expansion, and Health
Al Bhakta, CEO of Genghis Grill Franchise Concepts, sat down with Paytronix for a one-on-one interview that delves into how important data is to the chain’s sustained growth and plans for future expansion.
Paytronix: Tell us a little about Genghis Grill. What makes it special?
Bhakta: Genghis Grill is uniquely positioned as a hybrid fast-casual/casual-dining/Asian-stir-fry concept. It is a build-your-own, interactive service model where consumers are completely in charge of what goes in their stir fry bowl. At Genghis Grill, we cater to every diet in the world. It’s a place where Dad can chow down and have a beer, Mom can eat healthy, and the kids get a sense of empowerment when they load up on proteins and avoid the veggies!
Paytronix: A few years ago, you were running a punch card. Why did you decide to initiate a Paytronix-powered loyalty program?
Bhakta: We realized early on that we needed to embrace technology in order to identify our core customer. The old, paper punch cards were very effective, but we wanted to do something to take it to the next level. We wanted to recognize our devoted fans with something a bit more professional, and we wanted to capture more data about individual dining habits so that we could target individual guests with relevant promotions and information.
Paytronix: In 2009, you experienced an excellent year of expansion and were named #2 in FastCasual.com’s Top 100 Movers and Shakers. To what extent did the presence of your loyalty program influence your decisions for such expansion (or vice versa)?
Bhakta: Yes, we experienced pretty much double-digit growth in 2009 and 2010 and are on the same track for 2011. The ability to identify our core customer and demographic has grown with the implementation of loyalty. The demographic and behavioral information we have on our loyalty members helps with new real estate and growth decisions throughout the country. As an example, we know that our most loyal fans visit a Genghis Grill, on average, 2.2 times per month. This is great data and gives us the ability to better project/pro forma our sales in new markets.
Paytronix: What business benefits did Genghis Grill experience as a result of your highly publicized Health Kwest (weight loss challenge) campaign?
Bhakta: Health Kwest was a monster campaign for us! It was social-media euphoria for a brand. Paytronix was a great partner for us in the execution of this campaign. We were able to track the progress of the participants automatically and not impact operations at all. One of the business benefits for our organization was driving more members to our Khan’s Rewards. In the months following the launch of the Kwest campaign, we saw a 67% lift in new Khan’s Rewards members. This promotion really put our brand on the map within the industry – and in the eyes of our fans – as a restaurant that not only has great-tasting food, but health benefits as well. Health Kwest speaks to new fans who now look at our brand as a healthy dining alternative.
Paytronix: Can you give us an example of how some aspect of the Khan’s Rewards program has helped you win over franchisee support for the program?
Bhakta: Sure. We launched a We Miss You Campaign in two stores: Little Rock, Arkansas, and Ellisville, Missouri. These were both stores that had lost some guest counts in 2011 versus previous years, and we felt frequency was impacted as well.
We used Paytronix to identify the lapsed guests and send an email with a time-sensitive promotional offer loaded on their loyalty account. Paytronix tracked the redemptions and the incremental spend for each guest. This allowed us to see that the We Miss You Campaign was profitable and had immediate results (an 18% return). The incremental dollars that came in with subsequent visits from these “lapsed” customers was huge for both stores. We are in the process of implementing this strategy as an ongoing automated campaign for all stores in the system.
Paytronix: Over the course of operating your loyalty program, what has been your biggest surprise?
Bhakta: The excitement from our members...they actually love the fact that they get rewarded for being a Genghis Grill fan. We provide a free bowl after their 10th bowl is purchased, and we also provide a free bowl on the member’s birthday. The members are very appreciative of this, and it provides a great sense of accomplishment for our marketing team.
Paytronix: You’ve set a goal to attain one million loyalty members by the time you open your 100th location. Why is this goal important to the entire organization?
Bhakta: We have 70 restaurants open today, with another 50+ in the pipeline in the next 12 months. We currently have over 650,000 fans in our Khan’s Klub database and/or fans that follow us on Facebook and Twitter. The goal is still to have one million connections by the time we hit 100 stores. The goal is important to our organization because we value our fans and feel that in order for us to stay in touch with their needs; we need to focus on these connections.
Paytronix: How do you measure the success of Khan’s Rewards?
Bhakta: On how effective the marketing works for us. Every email that we send, every birthday bowl redemption, usage, activity, etc. are all factors in how we measure the success, and that is why Khan’s Rewards has become so important to us. Essentially, does it put “butts in seats”? The program provides us a window into the actions of the customers so that we can treat each one of them special, in a manner that is profitable to us and enjoyable to them.