Firehouse Subs Gives Rewards, Plus Gives Back

When Matt Olsen received an email one September from a clothing brand that was extolling the benefits for its fall jackets, he was not amused.

The Director of Digital Guest Experience at Firehouse Subs based in Jacksonville, Florida, was a tad miffed that the clothing brand he had given some personal information to when he last shopped there didn’t have the sense to see that those in the Sunshine State may not need heavy fall coats.

“We don’t get cool weather until at least after Christmas,” Olsen says. “’ Hey, check out our fall jackets,’ and I’m kind of like, ‘Come on, guys. I know you at least have my zip code.’ Use just a little bit of data to personalize and give me something that’s applicable to me. I think it’s crazy that in 2021 brands aren’t making use of basic data. And so that just makes me really want to unsubscribe and not even give this brand my email address.”

Firehouse Rewards Program Points-Based System

Firehouse Subs is one brand that makes extended use of its data. With over 1,200locations in the U.S., their Firehouse Rewards program was launched in 2014 and is a points-based system that allows customers to bank points to get free food rewards.

“You can order in the app, you can order online, or you can simply just give your phone number in the restaurant,” Olsen says. “We like to keep it simple. We provide plenty of opportunities for our customers to earn more points and rewards by visiting certain days of the week or visiting more often. It’s a great formula. It’s been working well for us, and we plan to continue using that. Customers love it.”

Olsen says Firehouse Subs has not had an issue with getting customers to enroll and stay engaged, and they don’t make the mistake of some clothing brands by not paying attention to the data.

“I think consumers are willing to share some of that data and have fewer privacy concerns as long as we’re doing it respectfully and responsibly and it’s beneficial to them,” he says.

A Brand That is Deeply Philanthropic

Firehouse Subs was founded in Florida in 1994 by brothers and former firefighters Chris Sorensen and Robin Sorensen. The brand is deeply philanthropic, as a portion of each purchase at all U.S. locations this year goes to the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation to be used to provide lifesaving equipment to first responders.
Since the Foundation started, it has granted over $60 million to provide equipment, training, and support to hometown heroes. Olsen says the brand is the “real deal” when it comes to authenticity, with its founders as former firefighters and its millions of dollars in donations.

“I love to talk about the Foundation, and it’s one of my favorite things about the brand,” he says. “Consumers like to support brands that do good things. So we try to make sure that our customers are engaged with the Foundation and the community aspect of our brand, and that tends to breed more loyalty.”

Firehouse Subs is constantly working on some new reward offerings for customers.

“I think our users will really love something that’s at that the lower point threshold, something that’s a little quicker and easier to earn,” Olsen says. “We’re also working on some technology changes and some improvements coming soon to our app as well, and point of sale integration. So that’s going to be a better experience for our customers, a better experience for our cashiers as well.”

Adding Great Features and Capabilities

With so many vendors out there, Olsen says there are so many great features and capabilities for programs, which he says is a really good thing.

“It’s kind of like a candy store, but then integrations become a big challenge,” he says. “You’ve got different data sets that are formatted differently. You got to make sure these vendors you’re working with all have robust APIs. So really trying to make everything work together, and talk together. That’s a big, big challenge.”

Olsen also thinks privacy is becoming a bigger topic to address every day for brand marketers. He says that if a brand is bringing in a lot of vendors and gets a lot of different datasets, then you’re ideally trying to comply with CCPA in that you can’t “bring in all the data and figure it out later.”

“It has to be fully serviceable from the outset, so you can comply with those privacy requests,” Olsen says. “I really think it comes down to the integrations are a challenge and having all that data serviceable and available.”

Making Subtle Personalization Suggestions

Unlike the clothing brand trying to sell winter coats to Floridians, Olsen and his Firehouse Subs team say there are so many neat things a brand can do with personalization. Some things are a little subtle, such as customizing the marketing creative to be tailored to the user’s interests or their past purchases.

“You can do that on your own channels, and you can do that on your page channels,” Olsen says. “I think that’s really cool. We have so much data to work within general in every industry — such as what people like to order the most — so make ad-on suggestions. You know what they order, and you know when they order, so maybe tailor promotions that work with their behaviors and how often they order.”

Olsen says it’s easy to incentivize an extra visit and that as long as the brand is responsible and helpful with the data, customers appreciate the personalization.

“They don’t get too scared of it,” he says.