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Why Invest: Charley’s Refreshes Its Brand to Emphasize Hot, Steak Sandwiches Made to Order and Grilled in Front of the Customer

by Brian Bixler on January 29, 2013

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The name has always been Charley’s; but what comes after that name has changed once and is about to change again. Charley’s Grilled Subs is in the midst of “refreshing” its brand by emphasizing its most popular item and calling attention to one of the things that differentiates the chain from competitors: 100 percent USDA choice steak.

The company began freshening its brand with a transition from Charley’s Grilled Subs to Charleys Philly Steaks early in 2012 and will continue phasing in the new name over the next three years, as various outlets across the country adopt the new signage and look of the stores.

Meanwhile, the Charley’s Grilled Subs and the Charleys Philly Steaks logos will co-exist side-by-side on the company’s website and paper products until the transition is complete, according to Mike Cassar, vice president of marketing for Charley’s.

“It’s a tremendous undertaking and it’s really important,” Cassar said. “The core menu remains the same, but we put new offerings such as signature lemonades and gourmet fries.”

Pre-Marketing Campaign Protects Franchisees

Cassar said the company has taken very careful steps to ensure that any customer disconnect or franchisee concerns were allayed before embarking on the change. That’s the reason for dual branding in the interim with both logos visible.

Charleys Philly Steaks VP of Marketing Mike Cassar

Mike Cassar, VP of Marketing for Charleys Philly Steaks

“It protects the value of the brand and it protects our franchisees, too,” he said. “A pre-marketing program is put in place so customers realize it’s not a new restaurant, it’s a freshening of a restaurant that they’ve always found great.”

This is not the first name change for the chain, which started out in 1986 as Charley’s Steakery.

Cassar said proprietary research and market testing indicated that by emphasizing steak sandwiches and other favorites on the menu, the company could focus on what consumers found most important in the brand.

With an undergrad degree and MBA from University of Michigan, Cassar came on board with Charley’s in August 2011, after having spent his career in big brand marketing for companies such as IBM, Ford Motor Company, Michelin, Craftsmen, and Valvoline. His challenge with Charley’s is to build brand awareness.

“Fortunately, it’s a great brand starting point,” he said. “I’m taking the brand and molding it into what it ought to be.”

The restaurant features sandwiches such as the Philly Cheesesteak, Chicken Teriyaki, Buffalo Chicken, and an assortment of deli sandwiches, but the signature item has always been front and center at Charley’s.

Grilled to Order Differentiates

“There are a number of different ways that we are different, but the biggest way is the fact that we take a different twist on fresh,” Cassar said. “Unlike almost anyone in our industry, we don’t struggle with giving high quality protein — 100 percent top choice steak with no fillers, and all-white chicken breast.”

Founder Charley Shin also differentiated his brand by turning the grill around to face the customers, which became a trademark of the chain.

“We actually cook or grill that food right in front of our guests when they walk in,” Cassar said. “That’s a huge differentiation point. People love seeing that. It’s kind of a show.”

And when customers order at a drive-thru, they will hear the server say: “Your food is on the grill, please pull around.”

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