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5 lessons from $5 Footlongs

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Employee Benefits Program,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers

First, let me apologize for implanting Subway’s “Five, five-dollar, five-dollar footlong” earworm in your head for the day. I hope that you’ll agree with me that it was worth it to learn five lessons about winning support for change from the top leaders in your organization.

The lessons were inspired by a story in BusinessWeek on Miami Subway franchise owner Stuart Frankel. He owns a couple of Subways near Jackson Memorial Hospital and five years ago was tinkering with ways to boost his sales on Saturdays and Sundays. From that, the original $5 Footlong was born. Since then, the sandwich has generated $3.8 billion in sales for Subway and put the company on pace to surpass McDonald’s in worldwide store locations.

So, you’d think it would have been easy for Frankel to win everyone over to such a great idea, right? Not so fast, my friends. Even though he was raking in the dough (bad pun intended), Frankel had to work hard to convince the top brass at Subway that the $5 Footlong was the way to go. Here are five lessons for anyone who is trying to convince senior leadership to take a good idea and run with it. 

1. Run some small experiments off the radar screen. Remember, the $5 Footlong idea started in two little stores as a way to boost sales.

2. Collect compelling data. Frankel was surprised that the $5 promotion turned out to be more than a simple loss leader to get customers in the stores. Even though his food costs rose as a percentage of sales, his overall volume increased and employee productivity rose because the stores were busier. He made money on every $5 sandwich. 

3. Recruit some early champions.  When you’ve got a good idea, it’s important to share it with some well-placed allies who can champion the idea and spread it. In Frankel’s case, he brought in a development agent who oversees 225 stores in South Florida and another franchisee who owns 50 stores in the area to take a look at what he was doing. Both of those guys ran their own small experiments. When they almost ran out of bread in their stores, they knew they were on to something.

4. Show them, don’t just tell them. In spite of this big success, the top brass at Subway just couldn’t get their minds around the $5 Footlong idea. The Subway franchise marketing board initially rejected the idea of investing in a $5 marketing campaign. So Frankel and his allies kept bringing store owners and marketing officers to Florida to see the lines of customers stretching out the door and down the sidewalk. Word spread among other store owners and the $5 Footlong promotion started showing up in markets around the country. When it comes to your own idea, what can you do to visually demonstrate its effectiveness to more and more influencers?

5. Stick(y) with it. Four years after Frankel first ran his $5 deal, Subway put marketing dollars into the promotion and that jingle that you can’t get out of your head. There are two lessons about stickiness here: (1) To get an idea across, you have to be committed to it and stick with it. (2) If you can come up with a sticky, memorable way to describe the idea, it’s much more likely to go viral. 

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