Not Your Father’s Arby’s

Posted on by in Remarkability

Reinvention is at the heart of all great businesses--and one of the keys to becoming more remarkable. For those of us who do strategy work, it’s at the very heart and core of what we do. In other words, what a company has been in the past does not have to equate to what it will be in the future.

For example, let’s take something you’re probably familiar with, Arby’s. When you think of Arby’s (probably from the 70’s or 80’s), what do you think of? My guess is a typical fast food restaurant with small roast beef sandwiches and that special Arby’s sauce (or Horsey sauce).

If you’re like me, you probably also remember they were an alternative to a hamburger-driven
fast-food market, but otherwise there wasn’t anything impressive about them. In fact, most of the Arby’s I stopped at over the years were dirty and their bathrooms were even worse.

But that image all changed for me because an Arby’s franchisee in Richmond, VA has reinvented his stores. My wife and I, along with our youngest daughter, were on our way to see our eldest daughter at her college in High Point, NC ( this past weekend. We just happened to get off at exit 86B and at the end of the street, there just happened to be this big, beautiful (fast-food) restaurant called Arby’s. Intrigued we went in–and boy, were we in for a surprise.

The first things I noticed were the furnishings. The entire place was gorgeous! Panera Bread and Starbucks were a step down from this. The next thing I noticed was that there were no signs with the menu items listed–so where do you find out what you can order? At this Arby’s, you actually use a real graphically well designed menu with items that I’ve never seen on a fast food restaurant menu (like a chicken salad with real rotisserie chicken, red grapes, granny smith apples and chopped pecans. Note: I later learned that the owner was trained at the CIA, the Culinary Institute of America, which explained a lot of things :-).

When we placed our order, we were given a digital device to let us know when our food was ready (so we didn’t have to wait in line). When my daughter’s chicken sandwich came, it didn’t come with any lettuce so she started to walk up to the counter when a manager saw her and asked, “May I help you?”

My daughter, who’s always polite said, “I don’t mean to be a bother . . .” To which the manager said, “Oh, be a bother.” She then said, “Okay then, I’d like some lettuce on this chicken sandwich.” To which he said, “Shredded or whole leaf?” “Whole leaf.” He then said, “Great. Now, feel free to go back to your table, I’ll take care of this for you.” He personally took care of it and then brought it to our table. As I was watching this I was thinking, “Is this really an Arby’s?” Arbys2

As my wife and I were eating our sandwiches (turkey and swiss on whole grain) we were both impressed and then noticed that our sandwiches weren’t made up of the typical deli sliced turkey meat. So we asked and found out that every day, at this Arby’s, they cook their own turkeys and chickens on a rotisserie. So, the turkey we had in our sandwiches, which tasted incredible, really was like the fresh turkey you have the day after Thanksgiving.

And I haven’t even mentioned the bathrooms, which were immaculate. In fact, I even wrote an article about this on my website. It’s a customer service article entitled, “It’s all about the Restroom (and toilet paper)” You can access it at

Without belaboring the point any longer, there’s no question in my mind that this was not the Arby’s of my past. It wasn’t dirty and dingy. The food wasn’t small and cheap. And the staff weren’t disengaged and oblivious. It was a completely reinvented Arby’s. The facility was beautiful with soaring height and was impeccably clean. The food was incredibly delicious and fresh and unique. And the staff were polite and helpful. It was everything a weary traveler could have wanted.  In fact, we purposely planned to have dinner on the way home at the same restaurant. Why? Because it was remarkable. It was a completely reinvented Arby’s.

So, as you take a look at your business, how can you reinvent what you are? Find a place of differentiation (regardless of your past) and stake out that new ground. Then once you seek to create that place, seek to eliminate all unWOW and then exceed your customer’s expectations. If you do those three things, you’ll be well on your way to creating a new and improved you (plus you’ll end up garnering a lot of raving fans in the process).

P.S. If you’re traveling through the Richmond VA area anytime, don’t forget to stop at exit 86B (or any of the other Arby’s owned by Richard Ripp and The Restaurant Company).

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