Firehouse Subs CEO Talks Marketing and Eco-Packaging

With a $127 million sales increase in 2019, sandwich franchises appear to be slightly on the rise again with sales up 0.6 percent overall. Firehouse Subs, a fast-casual sub chain founded by former firefighters and specializing in hot subs, added 35 units and grew by $48 million, holding its Franchise Times Top 200+ rank from last year of No. 111. 

“Our marketing efforts during the year very much focused on pillars of the brand, really hinging on our excellent food quality and what we do in the community. We reached an all-time high in support of the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation,” said Don Fox, CEO of Firehouse Subs. “That’s what sets up apart, focusing on things in our mission statement—heartfelt service and public safety. We work relentlessly to be best in class, and within the sandwich segment, we always are.”

Fox added that shifts in the consumer marketplace over the last several years had them investing “quite a bit of resources” into improving their off-premises operations, including online ordering processes and partnerships with third-party delivery platforms. Perhaps most important of all, Fox reckons, is perfecting their packaging.

“We used to have a problem with sandwiches getting soggy, so switching in packing solved that for us and became extraordinarily critical for us,” Fox said.

The brand switched their packaging to bagasse, a sugarcane derivative known for being biodegradable in addition to retaining heat. Sugarcane requires no trees to be cut down, and it’s a fast renewable resource. Bagasse paper production also wastes less energy than wood paper production, plus it has a great visual appearance—another reason Fox and Firehouse Subs chose the product. 

Despite a 0.6 percent decline in sales, the mega sandwich brand Subway is still the frontrunner in the sandwich category with $16.1 billion sales in 2019, while its nearest competitor Jimmy John’s sits at $2.1 billion. Jersey Mike’s Subs continued its growth from $1.1 billion in sales to $1.3 billion in 2019, while Jimmy John’s and Potbelly Sandwich Shop both trended down in sales and units.