The growing fast-casual brand plans aggressive expansion in the Steel City
On the heels of a year of strong growth that saw McAlister’s Deli establishing restaurants in a host of new territories across the U.S. and bringing their total unit count to over 400, the franchise is now rolling out their development strategy for 2018. Key to that strategy is a development push in Pittsburgh.
With locations in 28 states, there aren’t many markets where McAlister’s does not enjoy wide brand recognition. Still, the development team is careful to target new markets that are particularly primed for success. According to Taylor Bennett, vice president of franchise sales, that means growing out from existing markets.
“We try to grow out in concentric circles from our more successful territories,” said Bennett. “By keeping our new locations close to our most successful locations, we can ensure that new owners enter their markets with the best possible brand recognition and access to the support of other franchisees.”
McAlister’s has pegged Pittsburgh as a strong candidate for development because of the brand’s success in nearby markets, including a McAlister’s Deli in University Park.
“McAlister’s has been a big hit in the surrounding markets,” Bennett said. “The Penn State location has been a huge success, and we’ve been able to develop rapidly throughout Ohio and Virginia.”
The success of the Penn State location bodes particularly well for new McAlister’s restaurants in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is home to dozens of colleges and universities, including the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University, and The Art Institute of Pittsburgh, and McAlister’s has found enthusiastic customer bases on and near college campuses across the country.
McAlister’s Deli President Paul Macaluso attributes the brand’s success among college students to their menu of affordable, high-quality American fare.
“McAlister’s has a unique menu with a ton of attractive options, and those are options that tend to be familiar and comforting to college students,” said Macaluso. “Sandwiches, loaded spuds, sweet tea, soups—all really satisfying, familiar foods that college students crave and can’t find at most other affordable, quick-service restaurants.”
That value proposition is one that has traditionally appealed to upper-middle income consumers in general, a demographic that is represented in larger numbers in Pittsburgh than most other markets.
To support strong openings in brand new markets, McAlister’s will often run a slate of consumer promotions to build buzz around new restaurants. Those promotions may include complimentary food, raffles, gift cards for early-arrivers, and limited-edition t-shirts. In some markets, those promotions have even garnered attention from local press outlets.
The grand opening marketing efforts are just one of the ways that the brand supports franchisees in new markets. Macaluso said the franchise’s entire model is built around franchisee success.
“Our franchisees are ultimately the driving force behind our successful expansion initiatives,” said Macaluso. “That’s why our strong support system is such an integral part of our franchise system. We want our local owners to receive the best possible advantages in today’s ever-evolving restaurant industry.”
To that end, McAlister’s offers new franchisees a comprehensive and ongoing suite of support services, including ground support before and during the grand opening and an open line of communications with the corporate team afterward.
Bennett expects that support will be a boon to new franchisees in the Pittsburgh area.
“New McAlister’s restaurants in Pittsburgh are going to have a lot of benefits, including favorable demographics and strong brand recognition, and our field marketing team will work to ensure that each of those benefits is taken advantage of. I think we are going to see some of our strongest performing stores in the Pittsburgh area."