In 2015, a franchise called the corporate office of Wayback Burgers and said he’d like to open a location in Newcastle, WY.
“We said no, it couldn’t work,” says Patrick Conlin, president of Jake’s Franchising, parent company of the 150-location fast-casual chain. Newcastle, he explains, with its population of 3,500, could not possibly provide the volume Wayback Burger restaurants need to be successful.
But the franchisee, Bart Loebs, was adamant. After several phone calls, he visited the head office, “and we realized he was really passionate about this town,” says Conlin.
In April 2016, Wayback Burgers opened a location in Newcastle, and today it’s among the top ten restaurants in the chain in terms of sales.
Underserved locations such as this offer both an opportunity and a risk for chain restaurants. On one hand, they’re markets with no competition and, presumably, a population hungry to eat out. On the other hand, perhaps this demographic doesn’t want or can’t afford to eat out, and maybe the logistics are too difficult to overcome.
What really makes the Newcastle location successful, Conlin says, is the passion of the franchisee and his customer service. Without the franchisee’s persistence, this resturant would have never opened. “He was adamant that he knew his market better than anything we could look at on a map or with demographics, and he knew he was going to be successful,” he recalls. “He was right on the money.”
Six months after the Newcastle location debuted, Wayback opened another restaurant in an out-of-the-way town: Firebaugh, Calif., whose population is around 8,300. This location, too, is now in the top ten in terms of sales for the chain.
But the Firebaugh location is different. It’s at an interstate exit in rural farm country. Again, Conlin initially said no. The franchisee pushed back. “He said this is a major highway and there’s no other exit for 25 miles, so people have to get off here to get gas, get food,” he says. This location is the opposite of Newcastle: Here, sales are all from passersby; in Newcastle, the restaurant’s full of locals.
After being persuaded by the franchisees, Conlin and his team did their due diligence, though he admits, “Sometimes you can do all the research, but if you have a smart person who knows that area and is embedded in that area, they are a lot smarter than anything you can read.”