There’s usually not a whole lot of drama in the burritos and smoothies business — well, unless one decides to order a Cajun burrito, extra spicy.
Or unless you happen to be a certain Boston-based QSR chain, starting from about 2013.
That year, the chain that was founded in 1996 under the name The Wrap saw CEO and Founder John Pepper abruptly resign from the firm after a $15 million funding round fell through. A stand-off with Boloco’s board ensued, and Pepper — by his own description — was made to walk the plank.
“I put my job on the line and issued an ultimatum to our Board and current ownership, with one of the options to accept my resignation ‘for good reason.’ I walked the proverbial plank and sadly never got to get back on our boat. Our current owners accepted my resignation and rejected the deal.”
But, as it turns out, Pepper used the term “never” a bit prematurely. Two years later, Boloco was facing even more financial difficulties and a potential sell-off at a price that its founder and CEO found insufficient.
And so, after a 20-month hiatus away from the firm — and a few rounds of rather complex legal wrangling — Pepper regained control of the firm, only to find that he was facing a lot of “harder decisions.”
Those harder decisions meant the closure of locations. Some of which were underperforming and losing money — obvious choices — others of which were extremely popular and doing just fine but were in suddenly “hot locations” that made their rents too high for reasonable profit margins. So, committed to the goal of getting Boloco back on track, stores closed, and Pepper took his lumps.
“There’s room for more good companies out there; we have to remain one of them,” he said. “Perhaps even become one of the best again.”
Flash forward about a year and a half, and Boloco appears to have turned the corner. They’re ranked as one of Fast Casual’s Top 100 Hundred Movers and Shakers, and were given a Shorty Award for Best in Customer Service.
And a customer service award really works for Boloco — because what Boloco prides itself on is creating the best customer experience out there.
“And also the best burrito. Which we also clearly do. But bad customer service can ruin any burrito — because nothing tastes good when you’re having a bad experience.”
And it was the quest to build a customer experience worthy of their burrito-craft that lead the firm to really push to include order-ahead capability in its 18 New England locations.
“Reality is that some people would prefer not to wait in any size line—ever,” said Pepper. “They don’t want to micro-manage their ingredients every visit. They want to push a few buttons, let our teams do their things, and listen for their name.”
The app-based order ahead that Boloco now utilizes removes the possibility of a sudden brain freeze — when customers forget what they want to order when they get to the front of the line and panic — because all of the customizing they want is done with a few taps on their phones.
And customers are responding — in the first few weeks of the service, the results have been encouraging. “Consumers, once they’ve used the order ahead, almost completely convert to it.”
Which isn’t to say the changeover hasn’t been challenging. Even though the technical side was fairly straightforward, and despite a lack of consumer education, this was far from an unfamiliar concept to their consumer base.
But the physical logistics for buying via mobile — and skipping the line for a direct pick-up — turned out to be somewhat harder than they initially envisioned.
But, ultimately, that has settled down. The switch was obviously the right one, according to one employee.