Five Change Leadership Lessons from the Five Dollar Foot Long

Posted 11.09.2009

5footlong First, let me apologize for implanting Subway’s Five (five dollar), Five Dollar Foot Long ear worm in your head for the rest of 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 the current issue of Business Week on Miami Subway franchise owner Stuart Frankel. He owns a couple of Subways close to Jackson Memorial Hospital and five years ago was tinkering with ways to boost his sales on Saturdays and Sundays. From that, the original five dollar foot long 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 five dollar foot long was the way to go. In reading between the lines of the Business Week article, I’ve come up with five (what else?) lessons for anyone who is trying to convince senior leadership to take a good idea and run with it. 

Here they are:

  1. Run some small experiments off the radar screen: Remember, the five dollar foot long idea started in two little stores as a way to boost sales on the weekend. Frankel, the store owner, was trying things out with no particular intention of going huge. What problem are you trying to solve that could use a fresh approach?  What small experiments could you try to see what else might work?
  2. Collect compelling data:  As the Business Week story reports, Frankel was surprised that the five dollar 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 five dollar sandwich.  Those numbers were the beginning of a story that he started sharing with others in the company.  What data could you gather to begin to prove your case for change?
  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.  Who are the champions that you need to recruit to try their own experiments with your big idea?
  4. Show them, don’t just tell them:  In spite of the big success Frankel and others were having, the top brass at Subway just couldn’t get their minds around the five dollar foot long idea when they heard about it.  The Subway franchise marketing board initially rejected the idea of investing in a five dollar 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 five dollar foot long 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 five dollar 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.  The first is to get an idea across, you have to be committed to it and stick with it.  Not everyone is going to immediately get it and erupt in cheers and huzzahs.  The second is if you can come up with a sticky, memorable way to describe the idea, it’s much more likely to go viral. (Type “five dollar foot long” into the search box on You Tube to see what I mean.)

So, two questions for you in conclusion.  Question #1:  What else has worked for you in convincing senior leadership to pick up on a good idea?  Question #2:  What are you having for lunch today? (You’re singing that song in your head right now aren’t you?)