LOUSY BRANDING, BIG MONEY
Here's the topline version of Dan and Penny's story: they turned a single food truck into minor franchise empire.
How does a fan of small-business branding not immediately want to know more?
Plus, you already know how your relentless scribe's brain works.
Small-business brand made good!
Husband & wife couplepreneur team make it big!
A screed AND a story for CoupleCo!
NOT SO FAST
If this is a husband & wife business, then someone is required to gouge out their own eyes.
Penny and Dan are mother and son.
Oedipal potential notwithstanding, they've built what one of the nation's "top emerging franchise opportunities." (Source: Franchise Gator.)
And to be completely candid, their branding elements are awful.
But what the business lacks in image finesse, they make up for in other brand elements that are too often lacking:
- The right attitude well honed;
- A clear identification of the core customer;
- A smart business model delivered consistently.
ABOUT THAT FOOD TRUCK...
Once upon a time, Penny had a business slinging calzones.
She did it from a food truck that debuted at an enormous state fair in New England.
After four years of mom popping cheesy-hot pocket pies out a window, Penny's son Dan decided to open a physical, brick & mortar location in the college town of Amherst, Mass.
Dan is no dummy.
The population of Amherst is just over 30,000. And the student body at the University of Massachusetts Amherst is just under 30,000.
Amherst has a lot of students.
And a college town with a lot of students always has a screaming need for a very specific kind of food.
HELLO, LATE-NIGHT DRUNK FOOD!
Doughy cheesy tomato-saucy late-night goodness.
As the brand likes to say of themselves, they are the "pizza alternative."
Think about how much more convenient a calzone is than a pizza.
It's small, whereas pizzas take up a lot of space.
Pizzas get cold, while calzone filling stays hot.
The calzone is made in a single-serving size.
And making the calzones available until 4am daily?
If you read the reviews of their stores, you're going to find 1) a lot of praise heaped upon them by students who've been drunk and needed a fix, and 2) a lot of fond memories from former students who loved their late-night calzones and packed on 40 pounds freshman year.
TODAY, THERE ARE MORE THAN TWO-DOZEN OF THESE STORES ACROSS THE NATION
And to a store, they are all in college towns.
And as the brilliant-red neon sign in the store window says, each of them is "OPEN CRAZY LATE!"
Whether they've consciously developed a customer avatar or not, it's pretty simple to name their core customer: Drunk Student!
And the management obviously understands how to motivate their employees and keep them customer-focused. The customer reviews reflect the good attitude inside each store.
Moreover, if you read the workplace reviews from employees, you see lots of sentiment similar to this: "an awesome team that really buys into the idea of teamwork. The pay isn't great, and the hours really aren't much fun, but the people there are incredible."
SO, WHAT'S THE NAME OF THIS GENIUS FAST-FOOD MODEL?
Well, this is where it starts to get dicey. Ready?
Yep. That's the name of one of the nation's top emerging franchise opportunities.
If your brand is the one way the core customer should feel about your business, here's the one way I feel about that name: Blech! Get that dough off my teeth!
The "D.P." part is from "Dan" and "Penny."
The "dough" part refers to the medium from which a calzone crust is made.
Does it make you cringe? Makes me cringe.
And their logo is equally challenging.
"OOH, LOOK! CLIP ART AND FONTS! YAY!"
There's a cartoon drawing of a running chef holding out a paper bag.
The name of the company is spelled out in a dated-looking, unsophisticated font. (At least they didn't use Comic Sans.)
And the overall color scheme is red, white and black. (Granted, so is Jimmy John's. But relatively speaking, Jimmy John's is far more refined--if you can believe that.)
Now, in defense of the graphic designer who created the current logo, he was presented with serious limitations. He did the best he could with what he was given, i.e. an even clunkier image that could be refined only, not dumped entirely. He has far better work in his portfolio, and D.P. Dough had a problem that could be solved only within limited parameters.
That said, it all started in a really unappetizing place and has remained there.
I AM NOT DRUNK STUDENT!
I am not the core customer. I am not 20 and wearing beer goggles and looking for a meat, cheese & carb fix at 2:00 in the morning.
Though sometimes, you might wonder.
That aside, here's the thing...
It's a business being shepherded by people who understand their core customer.
They understand how to motivate their employees.
They understand what they're selling and how they're selling it.
They understand consistency of voice.
They understand the customer experience.
And the entire operation's growth has been engineered by a fellow who figures he ate over 100 calzones during his college years, and joined D.P. Dough after retiring as a Vice President at a powerhouse brand: Verizon Wireless.
FOCUS IS EVERYTHING
The D.P. Dough brand image is cheezy and artless.
But how upscale do you need to look when your core customer is Drunk Student?
"Yay, I'm broke and this place is as unsophisticated as I am! Woo hoo!"
Seriously: if you visit D.P. Dough's own YouTube channel, there is low-grade video, shot outside a gas station late at night, featuring Drunk Students chewing with their mouths open, and blathering about how much they love these calzones and can't believe they never tried them before.
Now I just feel unclean.
This is the point where we should be talking about how potent the brand is despite the obvious shortcomings of the image system.
But now, I'm mired in the molten cheese and sauce of The Decline Of Western Civilization.
DON'T WORRY, I WILL NOT START TALKING ABOUT THE ELECTION
I understand my core customer here.
And the reader of the screed is a) too refined to discuss politics or religion in polite company, and b) is not someone who would stand outside a gas station late at night, drunk and drooling at a video camera while shoving a calzone into your maw.
Anyway, D.P. Dough is not the cause of our culture circling the drain.
But they do understand the person to whom they're speaking, and who might be symptomatic of that decline.
You, dear reader, are someone else. You hold yourself to a higher standard.
And we can only hope Drunk Student might eventually get there.
In the meantime, remember: no matter your brand, if you understand your core customer, dedicate yourself to serving that person consistently and well, you can overcome a whole bunch of shortcomings.
Long live artisan pizza and good wine.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
Blaine Parker is prone to ranting about any and all things related to brand. In many ways, he is a professional curmudgeon. While there is no known vaccine for this, the condition is also not contagious. Unless you choose it to be so.