Magazine article Marketing

The Marketing Interview: Manaaz Akhtar

Magazine article Marketing

The Marketing Interview: Manaaz Akhtar

Article excerpt

Subway's UK head of marketing cites health and value as the main selling points that will broaden the chain's consumer base.

It was last March that the news broke that Subway had toppled McDonald's to become the biggest restaurant chain in the world by number of outlets.

The story - that Subway had 33,749 stores to McDonald's 32,737 - was lapped up by the media, eager to recount how the sandwich chain had overtaken the burger behemoth. While Subway's sales still lag behind McDonald's, the achievement nevertheless holds enormous significance for the business, which was launched by teenage entrepreneur Fred DeLuca in Connecticut, US, in 1965, as a way for him to fund his studies at medical school. Subway, which is privately owned, still retains a link to its origins; the holding company is called Doctor's Associates.

The figures emerged just a week before Manaaz Akhtar joined Subway from rival Burger King as UK head of marketing.

'It was a really good way to enter a new role,' she says. 'I felt positive and proud to see that I was joining a business that's growing, particularly in these difficult economic times.'

Subway made its UK debut in Brighton in 1996, and now the UK and Ireland area is its biggest European market.

A pre-recession plan to reach '2010 stores by 2010' made for a snappy sound bite but died a death once the financial crisis of 2008 took its toll.

Expansion was continued, however, albeit at a slower pace than first envisaged, and three years ago Subway eclipsed McDonald's in terms of stores in the UK and Ireland. Today, it remains ahead by about 200, with a portfolio of 1526 outlets.

In the past year, Subway has made public its plan to grow through non-traditional development, within sites such as cinemas, hotels, convenience stores and railway stations. Indeed, the flexibility of its store format and the minimal space required to open a branch have already enabled them to spring up in bizarre places, from a Baptist Church in the US to a riverboat in Germany. In the UK, it has 150 such stores, with plans to treble that number.

In the long term, the company claims that the sky is the limit. Akhtar's boss, area development manager Trevor Haynes, who runs the UK business, has predicted the chain could double in size over the next 20 to 30 years. It seems an achievable ambition, entailing the chain opening up to 70 stores a year.

Last year in an interview with a national newspaper, Haynes illustrated his belief in the potential for further growth by pointing out that the UK has one store for every 45,000 people. In Canada, the equivalent figure is one for every 12,000.

Akhtar, though, shies away from describing Subway's strategy as an 'aggressive' growth plan, insisting that it is not purely a numbers game.

'Our ambition is to grow and look for quality stores and locations. It's not all about rapid expansion,' she contends.

Health and value

The size of Subway's ever-growing store network is not, however, reflected in its ranks of marketers; Akhtar oversees a team of only five. While she may not have access to the people resources that go with holding an equivalent role at a brand such as McDonald's, this has in no way blunted her ambition to shake up Subway's marketing this year.

Akhtar's plan is to expand the customer base by shifting the activity to a focus on the platforms of health and value, no mean feat for a brand associated with calorific products such as its Italian BMT (Biggest, Meatiest, Tastiest) and Meatball Marinara.

'In the past, Subway has focused on the young male office worker and student consumer groups. But what we are looking to do with our new marketing programmes is to broaden the target and become more inclusive,' she says.

'We've been very much in the planning stages for the past six months, doing really 'deep dive' analysis of the data. …

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