BJ's Sizzling Run Isn't Close to Over
After another quarter of gains, BJ’s Restaurants continued its streak of success in the casual-dining sector. Compared to last year, the 201-unit chain has executed one of the industry’s more impressive turnarounds.
“Our menu innovation, off-premises revenue channels, productivity, and restaurant efficiency enhancements, as well as a growing effectiveness of our marketing have allowed BJ's to consistently gain market share and outperform the industry in terms of traffic and sales trends,” said Greg Levin, president and chief financial officer, during an October 30 conference call.
BJ’s started the year strong, and it looks as though that trend will continue into 2019. Across the brand, comparable restaurant sales increased 6.9 percent and guest traffic lifted 2.6 percent. This was the highest comparable sales increase in 29 quarters for the brand, added Gregory Trojan, BJ’s chief executive officer. BJ’s reported a total revenue increase of 9.4 percent, or $270.3 million, compared to this time last year.
“Our broad-based third quarter operating and financial strength again reflects our ability to offer everyday great value throughout our menu, which is as diverse in price points as it is in flavor profiles,” Trojan said.
The company is focusing on the growth of value offerings while exploring new marketing opportunities that it hopes will contribute to the growth of guest traffic and check amounts.
Moderation is key when it comes to discounting and value offerings within the brand. An introduction of weekday Brewhouse specials and Happy Hour offerings are one of the ways it’s mixing in more value for customers.
Earlier in the year, BJ’s introduced a lighter and healthier entrée section that has become a fixture on the menu. Trojan noted it was a “tremendously successful” category. Menu innovation is continually in the works at BJ’s, and the slow-roast menu is where it sees the most possibilities for growth and expansion.
“We have already started to invest in the expansion of our Slow Roast oven capacity to both accommodate higher sales volumes with today's product lineup and to allow the development and rollout of other delicious protein-centric menu offerings,” Trojan said.
Looking to the future, BJ’s wants to capitalize on new sales channels within the takeout and delivery realm. Already seeing opportunities within these channels throughout 2018, the brand will continue to expand on how to grow and use these channels over the next year.
During Q3, BJ’s set a new record for off-premises sales. Orders consumed outside of the restaurant accounted for about 8.7 percent of revenue, compared to 5 percent of sales this time last year.
“Importantly, we've only begun to leverage our menu variety through large party take-out and delivery channels, and as such, we're confident in our prospects for driving continued sales growth in these areas,” Trojan added. “Our initiatives to strike a balance between higher check indulging options and value-oriented offerings, while capitalizing on new delivery and take-out sales channels, have driven our growth in 2018 and we expect continued progress on these fronts in the remainder of 2018 and into 2019.”
Over the past year, BJ’s opened five restaurants, which have contributed to the increase in sales momentum across the brand. Unit development within the brand slowed down as BJ’s refined its model, and the company stated in the past it sees national capacity around 435 restaurants. Looking toward 2019, the company is expected to open between seven and nine new restaurants.
“We currently anticipate opening one new restaurant toward the end of the first quarter and up to three restaurants in the second quarter, with the remainder in the back half of next year,” Levin said.
BJ’s is considering labor availability and rising construction costs when thinking about opening new units. Trojan said the brand’s focus is on the quality of growth rather than absolute quantity when considering the opening of new units.
“The success of our new restaurant openings in 2018, our overall broad-based sales momentum, and the strength of the consumer economy provide a strong backdrop to our 2019 development thoughts,” he added.
To help bring further awareness to the brand, its marketing strategy has also changed and transformed. A mix of traditional media, mainly TV, and new digital channels have brought brand awareness to new levels, which translates into sales gains for the company.
“We've been doing quite a bit of work this year on testing different media forms and ways to go about driving awareness, and some of these newer less dense developed markets for us that where we can efficiently look to mass media to drive that awareness,” Trojan said. “So, we are focused on the next generation of local marketing and ways to do that realizing that it's going to be a while before those markets are seeing some of the—some of the broader—the broader marketing capabilities around mass media.”