How Kat Cole Is Growing Focus Brands Through Creative Partnerships And Marketing Innovation

Even if you aren't in the restaurant space you are going to want to hear Kat's story on how she became COO and President of Focus Brands through a combination of tenacity & innovation as well as how she thinks apps like Uber Eats are going to impact our lives.

How Kat Cole Is Growing Focus Brands Through Creative Partnerships And Marketing Innovation

[00:00:01] Narrator: Welcome to the Ignite Podcast where we help marketers and CEOs learn the latest tips and tricks to help ignite growth in their business. This isn’t your typical marketing podcast. We push beyond platitudes to deliver you real-world stories from the trenches. Are you ready to learn? Are you ready to grow? Are you ready to have fun? Well, then, buckle up because you are about to enter the Ignite Podcast.

[00:00:32] Alex: All right everybody we are in for a treat today. We have never had a bigger celebrity on the line with us. Today, we have one of the most phenomenal people I have ever met. I’ve seen her speak, you seen her on Undercover Boss and she’s had roles that you wouldn’t believe. Starting at Hooters, she became the vice president of all of Hooters of America having started from server. I helped her attend Run The Line when [inaudible 00:00:58] and she was vice president of all of Hooters of America at 26 years old.

Not only did she rise to the ranks there but she’s also done phenomenon things for the world including, being on the Global Entrepreneurs Council for the UN. She is the COO and president of all of FOCUS Brands, which includes phenomenon brands that we’ve all heard of like Cinnabon, which you all love and our own homegrown favorite, Moe’s.

Kat Cole, thank you so much for joining us on Ignite. Are you ready to get started?

[00:01:23] Kat Cole: Yes, my pleasure.

[00:01:24] Alex: Kat, we’re going to cut right to the meat of it. At 26, VP of Hooters, you grow up from $300 million in revenue to a billion dollars in revenue in a short amount of time. What would you say to all the 26-year-olds out there that want to become just like you? How did you do it?

[00:01:39] Kat: Probably the first thing is, of course, I didn’t do it, right. I was there when that growth happened and I was a key member of the executive team. I would tell 26-year-olds that want to– whether it’s, be like me or be their by selves or do the most they can do at that age. To one, don’t ever be delusioned to think that the things you read in the media about one person who pretty often it’s a small group of people that get a lot of attention are in any way solely responsible and could ever claim responsibility for great successes of big growing companies.

That’s the first piece of advice I would give. The second would be, to take every job even if it’s a shitty job. Learn the business inside and out. I did that and it helped to expose me to new functionalities and helped me build relationships with people in the company that I wouldn’t have dealt if I were just doing my coat job. It really helped me understand the business while keeping me incredibly grounded and humble as the company grew and as I grew.

[00:02:39] Alex: I love a point you made in there. You weren’t afraid to get your hands dirty and roll up your sleeves. That you learned every role that was within that company. Too often, I’m seeing people who come out of college including our wonderful Alma mater Georgia State University and we’re kind of afraid to get our hands dirty and certain things. You did whatever it took to learn every part of the business.

I guess when you get to the top you really know you can empathize with everybody from the frontline people all the way to leadership. You were at Hooters and helped to grow that with the team and then went to Cinnabon. Where did the idea for cinnamon-flavored air fresheners, flavored vodka, partnerships with Burger King? Is that a team? Do you have an innovation team? Where are these wonderful things coming from?

[00:03:16] Kat: They come from all kinds of places. Cinnabon has been a franchise business since its inception. About 10 years into its growth started launching some small, what we call multichannel or licensed partnerships. Where you’re going outside of your core business into other occasions and other retail channels. Whether it’s future consumption with consumer packaged goods or immediate consumption creating branded products for other restaurants. The brand had been doing that for a quite some time. Long before I came on board. The ideas for some of the things you mentioned came from many places.

Came from sometimes the partners themselves. If it was the Cinnabon air freshener with Reckitt Benkiserwhich is Air Wick, that came from them actually. They were doing research. They researched America’s favorite and most nostalgic aromas. Their research said it was Baby Magic Baby Lotion, Snuggle or one of the dryer sheets in Cinnabon. Their research let them to us. Other cases like putting Cinnabon at Burger King, we already had a franchisee who was a Burger King franchisee who became a Cinnabon franchisee.

He started to notice how well the brands played together and so we spent years building that relationship and finally figured out a way to put a single product on the entire Burger King system’s menu. That was born out of an existing partnership, then we realized the only way to scale it was to do something smaller and simpler. That became a food service licensing deal. Sometimes it comes from our innovation team, our chefs. Sometimes it comes from the brand teams when they look at what the brand stands for, where it has equity and where it has the right to play. What categories make sense economically and from our frequency indication standpoint. The best of the ideas come from all the places.

[00:05:10] Alex: You’re open to listening to all of them. Air Wick brought it to you. There is a point there, that never be closed off to anything. The one franchise that owned both franchises brought the idea and rolled it out. One of the big points in the turnaround of Cinnabon was that– Tell me if this is true but you took the Cinnabon and then developed a mini Cinnabon that sold really well. Correct?

[00:05:30] Kat: Well, I didn’t. Cinnabon had a mini bon that had been around had been around for 20 years. What I did was go and work with the system.

[00:05:41] Alex: Right. You took the mini bon and then made that more concise. Your franchisees, what means of advertising do they have currently? Are they all in co-oped to cross board on your six brands or some of them are outside of that?

[00:05:53] Kat: No, it’s all a different set up. Some of them have collapsed and some don’t. Some have big enough ad funds to do national and some do mostly digital and some do local. It’s a mix.

[00:06:02] Alex: Great. For all my franchise or some franchises out there, what would you say works best? Has digital proofed fruitful for your brands?

[00:06:09] Kat: Yes, digital is incredibly fruitful. I don’t think there’s one thing that works best. Every brand is in a different place. They market and communicate to very different consumer segments at totally different occasions. The media that’s used and that’s most effective, varies based occasion, certainly on budget and capability and the type of content and message that’s available and needed to be sent and how contextualized or targeted it needs to be. Digital has the ability to be far more targeted for a more efficient spend than traditional media. We use a layered approach and excuse one way or the other depending on all of those variables.

[00:06:49] Alex: Wonderful. I love it. One more question. What is the future of Fast Casual on the QSR fast-paced look like? Are we going to be able to continue expanding despite Uberrito? Are we in a good place?

[00:06:58] Kat: I wouldn’t say that it’s about expanding despite third-party delivery companies. It’s clearly something that we as consumers are using and saying works in our lives. It’s a part of the new normal. Like any other technological, evolution that’s occurred that creates convenience for the consumer, whether that’s something as old school and simple as drive-through. At one point that was a serious innovation and people thought, “Oh my God, it’s going to kill restaurants.”

It didn’t and it doesn’t. This is really a time where it’s about figuring out the economic models of all of these different types of technologies and partnerships and understanding the occasions and then getting serious and accurate about what’s incremental and what not. If it’s incremental from a sales perspective through a third-party, how long will it be incremental? Everyone, of course, wants to own access to the customer and so there is a bit of a war for data. I d

on’t think the future of the industry and its growth has anything to do necessarily with Uberrites. Uberrites is just the way that our marketplace is being creative. People have access to options and it is solving for the last-mile logistics of delivery which many restaurants don’t have the capability to do themselves. It’s wonderful in so many ways. It’s just new and fast-moving and so everything’s not super clear of where it’s headed. People still want to eat. They want customization and they want it fast. That is certainly Fast Casual.

[00:08:27] Alex: Absolutely good. We actually see these third-party logistics coming and helping our brands grow. I love it. Kat, thank you so much for spending time with us on Ignite. We cannot thank you enough.

[00:08:36] Kat: You got it. Thanks so much.

[00:08:39] Narrator: Thanks for listening to this episode of Ignite. If you like what you heard please leave us a rating and review. Before you go, please remember to subscribe to this podcast so you don’t miss the next episode. For more digital marketing tips make sure you visit Have a great rest of the day and don’t forget that the most important part of your job is to ignite growth.

[00:09:06] [END OF AUDIO]

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