If you’re like a lot of people, it’s probably been a while since you’ve set foot in a Boston market delivery, the chain of quick service comfort food restaurants that once promised to free you from the shackles of evening family meal prep. The chain has shrunk by nearly 60 percent since its heyday in the early ’90s, when there were over 1,100 locations spread across mini malls and shopping plazas nationwide.
While the chain may have fallen out of fashion in recent years, it was once the darling of Wall Street, offering investors insane returns on an IPO built on the backs of millions of herbed rotisserie chickens. Boston market delivery was poised to become the next major small chain success story, joining the ranks of restaurants like Chipotle and Panera Bread.
In less than a decade, that dream would explode into a million pieces, leaving the chain facing bankruptcy, closing stores, and trying to put the pieces back together. What went wrong, and what sent this once-prominent chain scurrying into bankruptcy court? Let’s take a look.
It Expanded Much Too Quickly
Boston market delivery attracted a lot of attention in the 1990s, thanks in part to its unusually aggressive expansion strategy. After a successful IPO in the early ’90s (more on this later), the company rolled over the cash raised in the initial public stock offering to rapidly scale up the number of locations to about 1,200.
Boston market delivery would loan the money to franchisees, who would in turn pay the company a franchise fee for each new store, royalties on food sales, and interest on the loans. Boston Market reported this income as pure profit, leaving franchisees to bear the burden of traditional restaurant startup costs, which in turn drove the stock even higher, allowing the chain to open even more stores.
Problems began to arise when all of these individual stores had to face the missteps common in many businesses; overpaying for product, discounting menu items excessively, or overpaying for real estate. Ultimately, Boston market delivery had difficulty managing the operations of each of these individual stores, and had to scale the number of locations back to about 460 stores nationwide.
Every Supermarket On Earth Now Sells Rotisserie Chickens
In the early 1990s, the concept probably seemed pretty revolutionary: Instead of buying a raw chicken at the supermarket, bringing it home, dressing it, roasting it, sterilizing your kitchen to guard against salmonella, and carving the finished recipe yourself, what if you could pick up a whole rotisserie chicken large enough to feed an entire family, already cooked and ready to serve, with a complement of assorted side dishes, on your way home from a long day at the office?
The idea caught on quickly, and heads of household were quick to respond favorably to the convenience of a home-cooked meal, but without the time and expense of home cooking. The problem was that the concept was too easy to knock off; inside of a just a few years, every supermarket in the country installed rotisserie ovens, and began offering their own pre-roasted chickens, often at a fraction of the price of the same meal at Boston market delivery.
Then-CEO George Michel put it simply to The Washington Post in 2015, saying, “Between 4:30 and 6:30, we compete with the supermarkets.” For many customers, the ease of making one stop at the grocery store (where they could also grab other staples, such as a loaf of bread, toilet paper, or diapers) to buy a complete meal eclipsed the convenience offered at Boston market delivery.
A 1998 Bankruptcy Cut Locations By Two-Thirds
The breakneck pace of Boston market delivery location expansion in the early 1990s faced an abrupt course correction in 1998, when the company filed for bankruptcy protection. Following that restructuring of corporate debt, the chain closed nearly 700 locations; the number of Boston Market restaurants left standing today can be measured in the hundreds, not thousands.
Will the construction of newly christened Boston market delivery locations mark the next building boom in the quick service food market? Probably not. As Fortune reported in 2015, the chain had opened only four new locations in the two years prior, a philosophical departure from their earlier expansion strategy.
Instead, the company would be focusing more on “average unit volume,” which is a billionaire corporate board executive’s way of saying, “We need the stores we already have to each make, like, way more money. “Boston market delivery set an annual per-store sales goal of $1.5 million per unit, a difference of about half a million dollars more from what the company reported in 2010. And while we may have flunked out business school, we have to admit that strategy makes a lot more sense.
Previous Marketing Efforts Focused On Value Instead Of Quality
Boston market frozen meals previous marketing efforts may not have adequately connected potential consumers to the brand. Though the company reported spending about 60 percent of its total ad-buying budget on television ads, those ads haven’t always resonated with customers.
Previous marketing initiatives have focused primarily on the value of a Boston market coupons meal, or touted the chain’s limited time offerings. Now, the brand is shifting the focus of its marketing message to include more information about the quality of the food itself and how it is prepared, instead of squawking about the latest coupon deals.
Of the new and improved ad campaign, then-CEO George Michel told Fortune. “It highlights in a bold way what sets Boston market frozen meals apart from our competitors. Fresh from the farm to our ovens, and then to our customers. ” In a nod to what drives the purchases of modern consumers. Boston market frozen meals is also working to highlight the low sodium content of some of its meals. As well as recommending meal combinations that total less than 500 calories.
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