When retail renos ruin your brand

There's one in every city - a big name retail or fast food outlet that's undergone a quick and shoddy conversion. A letter's been changed in the name, the ubiquitous "arches" are cut in half, the drive-thru sits unused - but the window still advertises $5 pizzas. In Scarborough, people don't seem to have a problem with Funeral Hut (really called the Scarborough Funeral Centre).

As Bill Walsh, who recently held a memorial service for his father at the building, told the National Post: " ... everyone knew where it was, so it wasn't a hassle to give directions." These, he admits, consisted of: "Where the Pizza Hut used to be." (sub. req.)

Take a look at www.notfoolinganybody.com. It's a noticeable collection of renovated/reused/appropriated brand identities. The site's well worth the visit, even if they use the term "economic gestalt" in their manifesto.

Want the old-style Kentucky Fried Chicken, with a little more bite? Try Monte Vista Liquors. How about an Oreck Floor Care Centre? How about a Gilstrap Chropractic? Bet that isn't covered in the brand identity manual. And what does it say about the longevity of your franchisees?

Of course, other brands suffer retail reno ruin as well. Dairy Queen musn't be too happy about Big Bites - where they still sell ice cream and other treats. What do you bet they use the same machines?

There are two observations to be made about these sorts of buildings - they usually relate to a long-disappeared version of the brand identity, one that is ten, twenty or thirty years old, and they are stand-alone buildings constructed specifically for the franchise.

Their age means they came along before the popularity of the "pad" installation of box-style fast food outlets at retail "power centres." Have you noticed how easily YUM Brands converted their pad Wendy's into combination Wendy's/Taco Bell/Pizza Hut locations? It's much easier if all you have to do is change a sign and drive-thru awning.

There's a flip-side to the replaceable identity. If your marketing campaigns rely upon static appliques and pop-up Disney tie-ins, your customers don't really need to invest any effort in developing an allegiance to your actual products. After all, doesn't everyone have white meat chicken nuggets?

Consumers are now used to finding a "chain" restaurant available in every new power retail development. It doesn't matter what chain, as long as it's quick, cheap and reliable. Take a look at the exacting requirements revealed when a Virginia paper surveyed local residents about a new development:

... informally surveyed about three dozen Lake of the Woods residents about new businesses they would like to see in the area, a majority of the responses centered on food. Most wanted more sit-down restaurants with a pleasant ambiance, offering lunch and dinner and a variety of cuisines. Other suggestions included ice-cream and pizza parlors.

Many also mentioned a more upscale supermarket ... Some suggested a hotel and a boutique. A fitness center was also a popular request, with some specifying one with an indoor pool exclusively for fitness.

Fitness centre? What, was their Mom listening in on the other line? "Yeah! I'm looking for a Chinese buffet, a pizza place, maybe somewhere with a Tuesday shrimp special. Oh, and a pool. Gotta watch the weight!"