A burger and a shake-up

Plamondon (www.plamondon-cos.com) negotiated with Imasco for about three years before a purchase agreement was reached. Its principals won't disclose the price or details of the deal. "When we first approached them, we said, 'We want to buy the trademark,' and they said, 'It's not for sale,'" recalls Jim Plamondon. "We wanted to control our own restaurants; we didn't want someone else to buy it."

Washington Business Journal
November 17, 2003

A burger and a shake-up
A family affair of D.C.-area players buys trademark, plans comeback for dwindling Roy Rogers chain
Eleni Kretikos

Once-mighty restaurant chain Roy Rogers Restaurants, born decades ago out of Bethesda-based Marriott International and since on the decline, has grand plans to ride again.

A total relaunch of the fast-food chain is planned by Plamondon Enterprises, which owns 15 restaurants and — after years of maneuvering — has purchased the trademark and franchise system for Roy Rogers Restaurants.

Through its newly formed company, Roy Rogers Franchise Co., Frederick, Md.-based Plamondon hopes a relaunch of the brand will rope the country's existing 63 franchises in nine states and add 77 new franchised units in the mid-Atlantic region in the next five years.

The push to enliven the brand, which at one point had nearly 650 restaurants in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast, comes from a belief in the product passed from a father to his sons: Plamondon Enterprises is run by Jim Plamondon and Peter Plamondon Jr., the two sons of Peter Plamondon Sr., head of the restaurant division at Marriott when the Roy Rogers brand was created.

"We hope to get all the existing franchisees," says Jim Plamondon. "There hasn't been a parent company for so many years. … We want to grow the brand, and we think there is a future in the brand."

Many believe that Roy Rogers — best known for its roast beef sandwiches, fried chicken and quality that was a cut above traditional fast food — is what kept Arby's at bay in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast. Brand loyalty for Roy Rogers, named for the once hugely popular and wholesome cowboy movie and TV star, once was exceptionally strong.

"An older brand that's seen hard times — and still has a lot of equity out there and is handled properly — can be brought back," says Don Debolt, president of the International Franchise Association (www.franchise.org).

The Plamondons took the lead among franchisees in developing products, hosting training sessions and shooting new food photography for their stores. And there were others who never stopped believing.

With 22 Roy Rogers franchises in motorways and travel plazas along the East Coast, HMS Host, a multibillion-dollar company that was formerly Host Marriott Services, already has signed a new long-term franchise agreement with Plamondon that specifies 5 percent royalties and up to 2 percent in marketing fees.

"The brand clearly has brand recognition and equity in the Northeast corridor," says Pat Carroll, vice president of quick-casual and quick-service restaurant concepts at HMS Host. "Even though there hasn't been support over the last five to seven years, in terms of an influx of marketing, promotions and new menus, it stayed alive."

Roy Rogers opened its first restaurant in Falls Church in January 1968.

When Peter Plamondon Sr., now 72 years old, left Marriott in 1980, he opened a Roy Rogers franchise on Route 40 in Frederick. He built a two-story office building behind it where he put his headquarters; it's still there. He slowly added franchises and his sons joined up with him in the 1990s. (The company also owns three Marriott hotel franchises in Frederick).

In 1990, Marriott chose to focus on its hotel operations and sold the Roy Rogers chain to Hardee's, a subsidiary of Imasco, for $365 million. At its peak, Roy Rogers had nearly 180 restaurants in the Washington/Baltimore region.

Hardee's wanted the chain for its prime real estate. Shortly after the purchase, it began converting Roy Rogers to Hardee's, and encouraged franchisees to do the same.

"They offered incentives to do so," Plamondon Sr. says. "However, my words to the leadership were, 'You must demonstrate to us that this is going to work and, until you do, we're not going to budge.'"

Plamondon Sr. trusted his gut and stayed put. "It's kind of like falling in love," he says. "If you're in love, you're in love. And you're not looking the other way."

Hardee's soon realized the conversion was a misstep. Sales plummeted, and the chain began converting some Hardee's back to Roy Rogers.

"At the time, there was a failure to recognize the brand loyalty," says Barbara Pacifico, Plamondon's newly hired director of operations who formerly worked in training, operations and franchising for Hardee's.

"There was a strong belief that the real estate was so strong, no matter what you put on the sign, people would come. It didn't work."

The mistake proved too costly to overcome. In the mid-1990s, Roy Rogers units were sold to McDonald's, Boston Chicken and Wendy's.

In 1997, CKE Restaurants acquired Hardee's from Imasco, but Imasco held on to Roy Rogers — and the trademark — until now.

Plamondon (www.plamondon-cos.com) negotiated with Imasco for about three years before a purchase agreement was reached. Its principals won't disclose the price or details of the deal.

"When we first approached them, we said, 'We want to buy the trademark,' and they said, 'It's not for sale,'" recalls Jim Plamondon. "We wanted to control our own restaurants; we didn't want someone else to buy it."

For its part in the relaunch, the Plamondon company will add seven to 14 units in Northern Virginia and Montgomery County. Its prototype is about 3,700 square feet with 80 to 90 seats, a drive-thru and 40 to 50 parking spaces. Half its business comes at lunchtime.

Roy Rogers' 15th corporate unit, expected to open in January, is at 9607 Lost Knife Road in Gaithersburg, near Lakeforest Mall.

The Plamondons face their share of challenges.

How much has the brand faded? What will it take to bring back the luster? Can uniformity be created after so many years of neglect? Will all 12 existing franchisees who own the 63 units buy in so that there can be regional marketing campaigns and ad buys?

Not to mention that the restaurant chain is named for a dead celebrity.

"You're looking at a trademark where not a lot of folks under 40 know who Roy Rogers was," says Michael Seid, a franchise consultant and co-author of Franchising for Dummies. "It would be like starting a brand today with Engelbert Humperdinck.

"There are brands that have been ruled dead and have come back to life," he says. "A lot of it has to do with sheer management talent."

Along with Pacifico's firepower, Dee Dee Barsy has been hired from Marriott as franchise administrator, and Al Jones was promoted from district manager to franchise consultant. Plamondon also has been working with the iFranchise Group franchise consultants in Homewood, Ill.

"From certain points of view," says franchise law attorney Philip Zeidman of Piper Rudnick, "if the product is good and the service is good and the price is right, the fact that it had a history before is irrelevant."


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