Mark Whittle, vice president of North American Franchise Development, joined Hooters in June 2013 and is responsible for all aspects of franchise sales, franchise and corporate real estate, strategic growth planning, and strategy for new development in the United States and Canada.
Whittle has an extensive background in franchise development, recently serving as the chief development officer at Huddle House where he was responsible for leading the franchise sales, real estate, and construction departments for the franchisor. During his tenure, he was instrumental in increasing new unit growth by 50 percent over two years and in developing and rolling out a new prototype design for the brand.
Prior to his experience at Huddle House, Whittle was the vice president of real estate for Focus Brands, where he was responsible for all real estate and strategic growth planning for both corporate and franchise development.
Franchise Chatter (FC): Hooters recently introduced a new restaurant prototype. What were some of the reasons for launching this important undertaking at this time?
Mark Whittle (MW): Hooters has celebrated a monumental 30th anniversary year that will certainly set the tone for the future. Hooters unveiled its brand new contemporary restaurant design earlier this year with the remodeled Hooters of Kirby, Texas location and its ground-up prototype at the Hooters of Slidell, La. location, just outside of New Orleans. With Hooters turning 30, it only seemed fitting to refresh and modernize our restaurants during this milestone anniversary.
Not only did its locations receive updates, but the beloved “Hootie” logo received a modern makeover, giving the iconic owl a sleek new look that embodies the brand’s contemporary transformation while keeping in line with its iconic heritage.
FC: Can you tell us about the main features of the new Hooters restaurant prototype?
MW: Hooters recently unveiled the first ground-up construction using the new restaurant prototype at the Slidell, Louisiana location. From the moment they walk through the doors, guests relish a cleaner and brighter feel, with expansive windows, higher ceilings, and more open space to encourage social interaction and beckon people walking by to come in and join in the fun.
In addition, guests will see a much stronger focus on the bar in the restaurant, as well as a greatly improved AV package where guests can watch their favorite sports games in high definition, large screen TV’s from various angles within the restaurant.
The building itself touches on the modern, with a rustic undertone in order to maintain aspects of Hooters beach oasis heritage. The design features clean lines and sleek finishes on the interior and exterior of the building, but there’s still a nod to the past with the use of wood throughout the space.
In addition, comfort was a key consideration in the new design. Guests can now enjoy added comfort through enhanced seating and added padding in booth seats and high-back chairs at all tables.
FC: How has the new restaurant design been received by customers? Have you seen a positive impact on revenues at new and remodeled stores?
MW: Based on initial feedback from our loyal Hooters customers, guests are celebrating the new restaurant design as the ideal environment to kick-back and relax after work, get together to watch their favorite sports team, and enjoy a delicious meal with their family.
We are extremely proud of the positive feedback the new restaurant design has generated thus far and look forward to the forthcoming positive effect it will have on revenues at new and remodeled locations. Early indications from the 16 remodels completed to date in 2013 show a very strong positive impact on revenue and traffic in the remodeled restaurants.
FC: What feedback have you received from your franchisees?
MW: The feedback from Hooters franchisees has been extremely positive and they are completely behind the direction of the new prototype and look and feel of the new restaurant design. In fact, it is anticipated that current franchisees will remodel at least ten restaurants in 2014 in addition to the 30 restaurants that HOA corporate will be remodeling.
FC: What kind of financial support or incentives have you extended to your franchisees to help with the remodels?
MW: HOA has launched a franchise remodel incentive whereby franchisees who remodel their restaurants in 2014 can obtain a small reduction in royalty for a period of time following completion of the remodel.
FC: What are your franchise growth targets for the coming year?
MW: Hooters and its franchisees are moving forward with remodel and building projects, most recently including Hooters on I-Drive in Orlando, Fla., in Chattanooga, Tenn., Savannah, Ga., Corpus Christi and McAllen, Texas, Duluth, Ga., and three locations in the greater Richmond, Va., area.
By the end of the year, Hooters plans to refresh or remodel a total of 18 locations, with additional plans to refresh more than 120 Hooters locations over the next few years. New restaurant growth targets include 18 new corporate restaurants over the next 4 years, and 140 additional franchise restaurants worldwide by 2018.