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(Photo: Geralyn Shukwit)
Photo: Geralyn Shukwit
Copyright, 2005. HoJoLand.com
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HIT COUNTER TURNED
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IT ONLY GOES UP
A Vision for Rejuvenated HoJo's
(New York, NY) With the exciting news about a relaunch of the HoJo's food and beverage brand, HoJoLand.com has some ideas on what could make the new HoJo's shine. First, as we all are aware, the Howard Johnson name is dear in the heart of many Americans, so dear in fact, that despite all of the bad times the HJ food service brand suffered over the years, there is obviously a huge contingent that has held out hope over the years that the brand might encounter a rebirth. Just in the past ten years, when there was a major HJ restaurant closure, a large amount of media picked up the story. From the Associated Press to CBS to the New York Times, HoJo's always made news. It made the news because the media knew that HoJo's meant something to a lot of people. HoJoLand.com had always felt that, even though the news was usually bad, that it was still news. Afterall, bad press is still press. HoJoLand.com hoped that there would be a "white knight" that would come to the rescue like Warren Buffet came to Dairy Queen's rescue. Buffet, owner of the giant Berkshire Hathaway Corporation, always liked DQ, and when he learned DQ was about to R.I.P., he came to the rescue. Enter La Mancha Group, the apparent "white knight" of HoJo's food and beverage brands. Though details are still being worked out, La Mancha intends to relaunch the brand, bringing warm memories of HoJo's back to life for many Americans, and introducing the brand to a whole new generation of Americans, many of whom were born well after the brand's glory days, and many who have never associated the Howard Johnson name to anything other than lodging. Though a brand reintroduction can be tough, and, in fact did not work when a Pennsylvania company tried to reintroduce the Horn & Hardart (Automat) concept, the bottom line, in HoJoLand.com's opinion, is that the HoJo food & beverage brand relaunch can work. Some people may question whether there is any life left in the orange roof. HoJoLand feels there is. In these uncertain times of terrorism, war and bird flu, uncertainty that breeds nervousness also makes people yearn for "the good old days," a bit of security and comfort that only good memories can evoke. A rejuvenated HoJo's can evoke warm memories of yesteryear for many. Many parents today fondly remember when their parents would take them to HoJo's for a delicious meal and tasty ice cream, or their childhood birthday parties held at their local HoJo's. Those young parents would love to have their children experience the same great times they did at HoJo's. New concepts like International Dairy Queen's (IDQ) "DQ Grill 'n' Chill" or the new Friendly's remodeled "ice cream parlor" and restaurant concept, both of which have been very successful for both companies, is proof that a well-known, long-respected name can be freshened up and result in success. DQ's new Grill 'n' Chill format, a fast-casual restaurant and ice cream shop, is already the busiest and most-profitable part of IDQ's concepts. Friendly's has borrowed some ideas from the old HoJo Restaurants, emphasizing the ice cream parlor at the main entrance of the restaurant, with sit-down counter service and even mirrors in the ice cream parlors that list all of the ice cream flavors offered (an idea apparently borrowed from the old etched-mirrors of HoJo's past). La Mancha can learn from mistakes Friendly's made over the years, including the Friendly Corporation's dropping of the "s" from the Friendly's name in the early 1980's, something HoJo's also did at one time. Friendly tried to force customers to call it "Friendly" instead of "Friendly's," something that did not sit well with customers. People always called them "Friendly's" with an "s." If people knew them as Friendly's, why change? Would McDonald's drop their "s" and force people to say "McDonald"? Doubt it. Though people know the Howard Johnson's name, many people simply refer to it as "HoJo's." By virtue of the contract between Cendant and former Howard Johnson's food and beverage licensee Franchise Associates, Inc., (FAI), they could not use the phrase "HoJo" or "HoJo's." That may no longer be the case with new owner La Mancha. Perhaps La Mancha should simply bill the restaurants as "HoJo's," and while still using the Howard Johnson's name, minimize it in the new chain's logo. It's easier to refer to Howard Johnson's as HoJo's, and HoJo's sounds "cooler." The new HoJo restaurants that would feature a modern design, should still use the familiar HoJo trademark orange color in some way. Afterall, would McDonald's completely give up the golden arches? When former HoJo food and beverage licensee FAI introduced their new "Howard Johnson's Restaurant" concept unit, they had repainted half of the orange roof a light grey. Bad move. Can you imagine McDonald's painting half of their golden arches grey? Doubt it. While the menu must include staples such as Tendersweet Fried Clams, New England Clam Chowder, Macaroni and Cheese, etc., the menu should also borrow successful ideas from chains such as TGI Friday's, Chili's and Applebees. Comfort food like roast turkey or meatloaf dinners is imperative, but items such as fajitas, wraps and wide choices of salads and other healthy items, including low-carb choices, are also a must. In terms of ice cream, that's a major part of what made HoJo's famous. It needs to be at the forefront of the new HoJo's. Friendly's is smart in offering specials that include it's signature ice cream with a dinner. That would be a great way for HoJo's to reintroduce their brand. Co-promoting meals with ice cream would be very effective. A new HoJo image is critical to its success. Obviously, advertising campaigns should focus on a campaign along the lines of "...great memories are back and even better at the all-new HoJo's Restaurants and Ice Cream Shops," or "....Howard Johnson's, that great place your parents used to take you to as a kid is back, and now it's time to take your family to the all-new HoJo's Restaurant and Ice Cream Shop." The decor of the restaurants should be warm, yet "cool," and nostalgia should have a place in the design as well. Even the new Friendly's units feature old black and white photo's of early Friendly's buildings and ice cream trucks. Carry-out is important as well, and should be a prominant feature of new HoJo's units. Chili's had effectively utilized their "Chili's - To - Go" formula. Locating a door that makes it easy for a carry-out order to be picked up. "HoJo's To Go" seems like a natural! Additional HoJo F&B concepts such as food court units, ice cream shops, or coffee shops could be successful as well. HoJoLand.com feels that if anyone can successfully relaunch HoJo's, the La Mancha Group is the one that can do it. There are many more marketing and branding ideas that can help insure the success of the new HoJo's, including a working relationship with HJ lodging units. In the end, the new HoJo's can be successful, afterall, good memories are of good times, and a little bit of Americana like HoJo's cannot be allowed to die.