Put yourself in your customers’ shoes — why do they keep coming back? This helped me figure out which aspects of the brand needed revitalizing and which aspects needed to stay. People kept coming back to Grumpy’s because of the community it cultivated. This defined the messaging we wanted to push when rebranding the restaurant.
As part of our series about “Brand Makeovers” I had the pleasure to interview Daniel DeLeon.Daniel is the President & CEO of Grumpy’s Restaurant & Grumpy’s Restaurant Franchisor, a traditional Americana diner located in Jacksonville, Florida. Before taking on Grumpy’s, Daniel has grown six local and diverse businesses from the ground up. After owning multiple franchise units for various food concepts, Daniel continued pursuing his passion for the restaurant industry and worked on the franchisor side with Restaurant Brands International. When he found Grumpy’s, he saw all the potential the well-loved local brand had and decided to grow the business. After a top-to-bottom rebranding and renovation, Grumpy’s has launched its franchise opportunity and has big plans for expansion. Because of his hard work and expertise, Daniel was voted as one of the most influential restaurant CEOs in the country by Nation’s Restaurant News.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
When I graduated college, I had dreams of becoming an Investment Banker and took a job with Merrill Lynch as a Financial Advisor. I quickly realized my entrepreneurial mindset would drive me to want and do much more and ultimately open my own business. In 2007 I opened my first franchise business and that set the course for the rest of my professional life.
Can you share a story about the funniest marketing or branding mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I first purchased Grumpy’s Restaurant, I quickly realized I was doing things a bit backwards. I was trying to create a logo and marketing content to appeal to the masses. Ultimately, I should have focused on our core values, mission and vison and worked outward from there. I learned that developing our brand the right way easily set the tone and path for all things marketing and branding.
Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Is there a takeaway or lesson that others can learn from that?
Idon’t think I can honestly say there was an exact tipping point, but I defiantly became more successful as I gained more experience all while I continued my learning and education. A huge takeaway for me was to always be evolving, innovating and learning!
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Right now my biggest project is growing Grumpy’s. It’s become such a local staple in our community and I know that, now that the brand is freshly rejuvenated, new areas would welcome us with open arms. We have multiple new locations in development and are already eyeing new markets for where to go next. One of the biggest components of our brand, from the very beginning, was that it is a welcoming place for everyone. We say we serve a hungry man’s portion at a working-class price; we always want to make sure that anyone is able to come in and enjoy our food and hospitable atmosphere. I think Grumpy’s helps people feel a part of something — our waitstaff know all of our regulars and they even have their own personal mugs. We have a local veteran group that comes in every week and we get to watch people become lifelong friends before our eyes. It’s all about community and family here.
What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?
You need to go into an industry you love. Even then, it can be tough sometimes, but my passion for the restaurant business has always pushed me to keep going. It’s nice working in an industry that is so diverse, because if you do get burnt out with one type of restaurant, there’s always going to be a million other concepts out there waiting for you. When you find the one that’s a perfect fit for you, you’ll know.
Ok, let’s now jump to the core part of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?
Advertising gets the word out there about what your business is, where it is, what it sells, but branding is more about the experience you get when you walk through our doors. People know Grumpy’s to be a feel-good, hospitable place because our branding emphasizes that. Everything from the comfort food menu items, to the amazing staff who build relationships with the customers, to the affordable prices shows people that we want them here. An advertisement might show you how good our food looks, but in my opinion, good food means nothing if the person serving it isn’t going above and beyond for you.
Can you explain to our readers why it is important to invest resources and energy into building a brand, in addition to the general marketing and advertising efforts?
When I took over Grumpy’s, the brand was on the brink of closure. Even though the food was delicious and the restaurant’s history made it an important aspect of the community, the lack of branding and innovation caused the restaurant to slowly lose a lot of business. When we revitalized the brand, we brought new fresh energy into the business that people already knew and loved, and it completely changed the way our community viewed Grumpy’s.
Let’s now talk about rebranding. What are a few reasons why a company would consider rebranding?
Rebranding is not something any business should take lightly. It’s a long road to get there and you have to be really confident in your vision for the brand. Companies may consider rebranding if they feel their messaging is falling flat or if there are many pieces do the brand that to not integrate and promote similar messages. Speaking with the restaurant specifically, we noticed that Grumpy’s menu was way too limited. We wanted people to feel welcome at Grumpy’s, but the menu didn’t depict that because there weren’t necessarily options for everyone. Now we have expanded the menu and added creative items that are classic options with a twist, to keep things fresh and inviting.
Are there downsides of rebranding? Are there companies that you would advise against doing a “Brand Makeover”? Why?
While doing a brand makeover, I think people need to be cautious of going too far. If there are things your brand lacks, you can implement them, but to completely change every aspect of your business can often be too much, and you may lose a lot of your current clientele in the process. We knew going into rebranding Grumpy’s that it was an old brand in need of sprucing up, but we never let go of our traditional roots. It’s more about refreshing your brand instead of completely changing it.
Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Can you share 5 strategies that a company can do to upgrade and re-energize their brand and image”? Please tell us a story or an example for each.
- Put yourself in your customers’ shoes — why do they keep coming back? This helped me figure out which aspects of the brand needed revitalizing and which aspects needed to stay. People kept coming back to Grumpy’s because of the community it cultivated. This defined the messaging we wanted to push when rebranding the restaurant.
- Visualize your business after rebranding. What about this change will bring in fresh faces? You have to determine how to keep your current customers happy while also bringing in new people. This is why, as I explained earlier, you have to make sure you’re not going too far, but far enough that people can really see the changes.
- Add menu items or products that have a purpose. I decided that Grumpy’s needed to stay true to its traditional no-nonsense breakfast menu, but we could put a spin on classic items to spruce it up. We get experimental with our waffles specifically and have created flavors like fruity pebbles, red velvet, and strawberry cheesecake to get people excited about the food, without it reaching too far off-brand.
- Create a better environment. Many diners typically have an old-fashioned, greasy spoon feel, but they don’t have to. Our atmosphere is fresh, well-lit, and modern, making customers feel comfortable when they walk inside. A good environment creates positive energy from both the customers and the staff.
- Don’t try to change your brand’s history, embrace it. Grumpy’s has been a staple in the community for many years before I stepped in, and to try to erase that history after building such a loyal following would be unfair. Even though the business needed a lot of help, we had to stay loyal to certain aspects of the original Grumpy’s.
In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job doing a “Brand Makeover”. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?
Istarted my franchise journey in the quick serve space, not with this brand, but I have recently seen Subway rebrand themselves after years of bad press and falling sales. They rebranded their logo and are re-position themselves as a fresh and healthy restaurant. We are yet to see how well this will turn out, but I think they have done a good job thus far.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Tome it would have to be a movement around feeding the less fortunate.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
This quote by Inky Johnson perfectly and quickly hits home to everything in anyone’s life. Its not about doing something in life, its about doing something the best way you possibly can in life.
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Thank you so much for these excellent insights! We wish you continued success in your work.