How a Local Franchisee and Santa Clause Helped Turn a Restaurant Around

Bob McDevitt


Dec 28, 2016

In 1988 I lived in Overland Park, Kansas, just outside of Kansas City. Right before Thanksgiving each year the McDonalds franchisee in Overland Park would illuminate his restaurant with a dazzling display of Christmas lights. Aside from the normal colored lights and Christmas trees, he would put a huge lit Santa on the roof which by itself was an attention grabber. From several key roads, including an interstate used heavily by the local population, the restaurant became a beacon, creating local buzz about how the lights helped welcome in the season.

As it turns out, it was way more than that.

At the time I was a Regional Marketing Manager for Pizza Hut and so I had a professional curiosity regarding the reason for such an investment in a limited time seasonal effort. As a customer of McDonalds (I still am) I happened into the restaurant one day and introduced myself to the manager who turned out to be the franchisee himself. I asked him about the lights and never forgot his answer.

He said, “Well, when McDonald’s built this restaurant they knew the local sign ordinances were very restrictive and if you live here you know that we don’t have much in the way of visibility from the street or, most of all, the highway. The sales here are not what we hoped and I tried to find things we could do to just raise the awareness of the fact that we are here. The city was not very helpful and they were constantly reminding me of their restrictive sign ordinances including banners and temporary signs of any kind”.

He went on to say that he was decorating his house for Christmas shortly after he opened the restaurant and it struck him that the one time of the year you can violate even the most draconian of sign ordinances, is Christmas. So he started planning his Christmas lights for the next year right then.

He hired a professional decorating service and they launched his lights the next season and the result was a dramatic increase in awareness of the location, and, as he put it, a nice increase in sales that stuck all year.

The experience stuck with me for a long time, too, and I actually used it six years ago when I was responsible for franchise operations at Golden Corral. There were several stores where visibility and sales were problems so I encouraged the franchisees involved to try the “Overland Park” plan of decorating the restaurant with over-the-top Christmas lights and try to jump off the street. The result was a 5 point difference in sales performance when the lights were up that continued after they came down.

Here’s the point. If you are a bricks-and-mortar retailer increasing your visibility alone can make a difference. Using Christmas lights is not the only way.

Here are some ways franchisees are increasing their visibility.

Put in a flag pole and fly the flag. In most municipalities, flying a large American Flag is fine and that alone can make a difference, car dealers are particularly good at this.

In one case I am familiar with a franchisee increased the wattage of his landscape lights a little bit at a time until the building stood out on the street. Since he “phased it in” no one in town noticed but soon his building stood out. Cars passing by noticed the difference and sales moved up.

Keep your landscaping trimmed. If those skinny trees that you had to plant along the street aren’t so skinny anymore, there is a good chance they are blocking that expensive sign you have. Have a tree company keep them “trimmed” and neat to keep your sign exposed.

The object is that you don’t want to be part of the scenery, you want to be part of the action, the thing that makes the town you live in livable, jobs and a vibrant economy.

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