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Rethink the Rebrand: How On The Border Got its Mojo Back

The Classic Chain Tapped Into the Differentiators That Made It Great in the Past.

Photo Courtesy of Business Wire.

Rebrand. It’s a word that can create both fear and excitement, especially for those in the restaurant industry. There are so many things that will run through your head when you think about tackling an initiative this big. Where do we start? How will our fans feel about this? Is this the right move for us? It’s only natural to feel anxious about making the choice to revamp your brand, but if done right, you can create an end result that’s even stronger than before.


Building Your Dream Team

At On The Border, we started our rebrand—or as we like to call it, rethink initiative—about two years ago when Tim Ward was hired on as our new CEO. He offered an objective view of the brand and encouraged us to prioritize the areas that needed the most shake-up and improvement. We started with a revamp of the menu, as well as restructuring the way we operate our restaurants to bring back On The Border’s signature fiesta service and elevate our Tex-Mex food with bold flavors and top quality ingredients. We aligned that we would evolve and grow by embracing the things that made us great in the past.


In addition to Tim’s support, there were several other key members of our team who helped drive this initiative. Our Director of Culinary, Daniel Camp, is one of the best chefs in the country, so I knew I could trust him when it came to revamping and improving our menu. I brought in our current Vice President of Marketing, Suzie Tsai, to the team, who I had known for 15-plus years and also had a deep trust and understanding with. She kept me grounded and focused on our goal. Ed Jarvis, our Vice President of Operations and 20-year veteran of On the Border, was also an incredible help throughout the process. He was a knowledgeable resource who partnered with me throughout the project.


Without a strong support team, it would have been nearly impossible to accomplish such a monstrous task. As with any large initiative or project, its vital to have input from people who have different talents, strengths and perspectives from you to ensure you’re hitting the mark across the board. I highly recommend that before any company launches a rebrand, they recruit a task force or committee with team members from different departments, backgrounds and who have different experience levels. This will not only help divvy up the work, but will ensure that each element of the rebrand goes through several different filters and better guarantees that the end product is one that will resonate with current, former and future guests.


The Payoff

Prior to launching rebrand initiatives, it’s important to set specific, trackable goals to measure the effectiveness of the changes that were made. At On the Border, our overall goal was to better our guest, employee and franchisee experience and increase sales and traffic. I can’t say that our rethink initiative paid off immediately—it certainly takes a bit of time before you see significant improvements from a rebrand. But by now, our metrics have shown that the changes we made have been met with a lot of positive feedback. Guest perception is up, along with an increase in sales—our average check total alone went up about 10 percent. We’ve had significant traffic increases, and we’re outperforming the Casual Dining Category.


In addition to the sales and guest perception, we’re thrilled to be in a place where we can confidently focus on expansion through franchising. Throughout the rebrand, we wanted to ensure that the changes we made would help support the success of existing and future franchisees. We also wanted to offer a franchise opportunity worthy of the fantastic brand and product we know we offer. Since putting a stronger focus on our franchising efforts, we’ve seen a lot of interest from qualified industry professionals and are incredibly happy to be opening even more franchise locations in the U.S. and abroad.


While all of these outcomes have been fantastic, it doesn’t mean that our journey to improve and evolve at On The Border is over. We’re all creatures of habit, so when you have brand veterans that have been with a company for years, it’s not always easy for them to adjust to change or understand why change was needed in the first place. It often takes a lot of repetition to help others see and buy-into the vision. And, we’re constantly learning and making tweaks to the plan based on the outcomes we’re seeing based on consumer feedback. In order to be a successful, relevant brand, you need to be fluid and flexible.


Rebranding—or rethinking—can be one of the most intimidating tasks to take on as a professional. Every question you ask yourself has been asked by countless others who were in the same position you. The most important thing is to stay grounded in your goal, listen to your guests, and stay focused on the finish line. With the proper team and the right amount of confidence, you can come out of the initiative better than ever before—just like we have at On The Border.


Source: 2023 FSR Magazine.

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