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10 Mistakes That Will Haunt Subway Forever

Subway has been around a while and when they first hit the scene they offered a fresh alternative on fast food. However, after years of flubs and self-inflicted wounds this franchise has gone a little stale. The mistakes continue to haunt the company as it tries to fend off increasing competition. Here’s our 10 Mistakes That Will Haunt Subway Forever

10. Such A Thing As Bad Publicity

You might be thinking what’s wrong with beautiful women in bikinis? Usually nothing at all, but if you’re trying to sell sandwiches to women you might want to think it through a little. The marketing executives at Subway were apparently surprised when many women didn’t react well to being told that they should start eating Subway sandwiches right away so they would be able to fit into bathing suits and tiny Halloween costumes. Women are likely a big slice of the fast food chains’ customer base so why did it go out of its way to offend. Clearly the ad men missed the mark with this one, but did they really think the women would appreciate the gentle prodding? Most people already know when they need to lose a few pounds and know they aren’t ready to slip into last summer’s bathing suit. But the last place they want to hear it from is a fast food restaurant that sells meatball and Italian subs. This kind of diet information should come from your doctor or healthy diet planners like Weight Watchers who do that kind of thing for a living. You don’t see Dunkin’ advising its customers to choose airy glazed donuts over heavier fare. Let’s face it – Subway doesn’t care if we lose weight as long as we eat more of their sandwiches. The company apologized for this big, fat error, but the damage was already done. 

9. Missing The Target

Identifying and cultivating the right customers are fundamental parts of a successful marketing strategy for any company. So it must have come as something of a shock to Subway when the marketing executives realized they had been focusing on a customer base that didn’t really exist. To add insult to injury Subway didn’t discover this problem on its own; it was pointed out to them by a business publication. When Subway first started the lack of competition allowed them to have a customer base that were willing to eat Subway sandwiches at the given prices because there were few convenient alternatives for a quick and relatively healthy sandwich at a reasonable price. However, times have changed and it is now easy to get a cheap sandwich anywhere because there is so much more competition in 2019. Think of all the fast food chains with value menus and other promotions. The other problem with selling sandwiches is that customers can decide to spend a lot less to by their own ingredients and make their own sandwiches at home. This has hurt Subway pretty badly because there are no easy answers. The company will still be in a bind even if it drops its prices it will always be cheaper to make your own sandwiches if that’s what people decide they want to do. 

8. Same Old, Same Old

Take away all the fancy logos, glitzy marketing and enticing promotions and what any fast food restaurant is left with is the menu. The menu is a restaurant’s bread and butter and can spell success of doom over the long run. Everybody knows that Subway makes sandwiches and they don’t expect the chain to reinvent the wheel, but customers do expect some creativity. Subway is known for its classics like the Spicy Italian, Black Forest Ham, Meatball and Chicken Teriyaki. These are all good sandwiches, but its enough already. These classics may be popular with loyal customers, but they aren’t necessarily going to draw in new customers with the basic varieties that the chain has featured for years. Tastes have changed quite a bit in the thirty years since Subway arrived on the fast food scene. Even with many of its sandwiches featuring highly processed cold cuts these sandwiches were healthier than much of the competition. However, customers have become much more aware of the healthy choices that are available and demand these choices even from the fast food chains. There is only so much Subway can do, because after all it makes sandwiches and sandwiches are pretty familiar ground for most people. 

7. Expand And Die?

Expansion is an integral part of nearly every business plan and fast food franchises are no exception. Expansion means more locations, more exposure and more customers. All of this should lead to more revenue for the company, but if expansion isn’t handled right it can cause more problems than it solves. In the highly competitive fast food market there is little room for error. The Subway expansion reached its high-water mark in 2015 when it was reported that the sandwich chain had more store locations than even the juggernaut, McDonald’s. The number of Subway stores reached 44,000 around the globe and the company was moving forward with plans to expand this number to a whopping 100,000 stores! So what happened to these ambitious plans? What happened was that reality finally set in for them and the company’s executives realized too late that managing an increasing number of stores is a very difficult thing to do well. If it weren’t so difficult wouldn’t other, more successful and experienced chains have already done it? It turned out that maintaining the quality of its employees and of its food became increasingly difficult as Subway got bigger and bigger in a relatively short time. One of the biggest mistakes the chain made in all this was insisting on opening locations too close to each other so at some point Subways were taking potential business away from other Subways. Obviously this oversight proved to be bad for business. 

6. Send In The Clown

There are little mishaps that are quickly forgotten and then there are the mistakes that can haunt a company for a long time. Then there is the egregious advertisement that was meant to poke fun at McDonald’s, but to many people the image of the McDonald’s Golden Arches morph into a flat line seemed to make lite of people dying. Let’s be real and stipulate that Subway in no way intended to show a lack of empathy or respect for grieving families, but it doesn’t absolve them from practicing spectacularly bad judgement. This is what sometimes happens when people are scrambling to out do each other or break through all the noise and get noticed. This 2018 advertisement was panned by almost everyone including advertising professionals and business outlets like Business Insider. With all the negative press you would think the executives at the fast food chain would have gotten the message, but you’d be wrong. In response to the all the flak the advertisement generated the company’s Chief Advertising Officer stood by the work. Inexplicably, this spokesman pretended that the feedback the company received had not been so negative after all. This seems like a case of willful blindness. When you’re wrong you’re wrong and Subway should have admitted it and quickly moved on, but instead came off sounding inconsiderate and tone deaf to its customers. They should have remembered they were selling sandwiches, not controversy and stuck to something cute or fun instead of inviting a backlash.

5. Namaste

Subway found a way to step in it again in 2014 when a food blogger publicized the fact that the fast food chain’s bread contains a chemical called azodicarbonamide. While this chemical may sound a little scary it is actually a fairly common ingredient in foods and is used as a bleaching agent and a dough conditioner. Unfortunately, this chemical has also become somewhat infamous for also being found in a whole host of products such as yoga mats. This chemical is found in products also sold by chains like McDonald’s and Starbucks so why all the attention on Subway? This is a good question, but regardless Subway’s executives promised to get rid of the offending chemical and kept the public up to date on its efforts to do this. They assured customers that the chemical would be gone from its bread by the middle of April. This sounds like a recipe for a public relations disaster. The other fast food chains somehow escaped the kind of scrutiny Subway endured and was left holding the bag to the extent that it is the only company associated with the offending chemical. There is probably a cautionary tale somewhere here about over reacting to the demands of one person blogging on the Internet. This is an over reaction that allowed a multi-million dollar chain to become known as the one that was selling yoga mat bread to its customers.

4. They F*ck You At The Drive-Thru

Joe Pesci’s character in Lethal Weapon II was not a fan of Subway’s drive-thru because when they invariably gave you the wrong sandwich you were already halfway home before you discovered the error. However, it seems that most customers would prefer the sandwich chain to have a lot more drive-thru stores, but Subway seems unwilling to go along with this. The convenience of the drive-thru window has long been a staple of fast food chains so why has Subway seemingly resisted what has proven to be a very successful part of the industry? Although there was apparently at least one Subway in Los Angeles in the late 1980’s when Lethal Weapon II was filmed but as of 2017 only 10 percent or less than 2,500 Subway’s have a drive-thru window. The official story is that Subway executives have been concerned that ordering a fresh mad sandwich with a variety of toppings would prove problematic, but these issues aside, customers have made it clear they are willing to take the risk of getting too few pickles or too much lettuce on their Spicy Italian subs. Even though Subway customers would welcome the sandwich giant doesn’t appear to be embracing any kind of concerted effort to increase the number of stores that offer drive-thru windows. Why not give customers what they want – especially if it would be good for business?

3. Putting A Footlong In Their Mouth

Subway’s $5 footlong sub promotion was quite popular for a while, but as you can see from the above screen shot it didn’t remain a $5 promotion and this has caused the sandwich chain a bit of indigestion. This promotion has been around since 2007 and has been popular with customers all along, but Subway seemed to go out of its way to make it into a problem. The problems began when the fast food chain changed it from a $5 footlong to a $6 footlong. As expected this price increase did not go over well. The company was forced to explain that it was being forced to pass along increase costs to consumer. This might have been the economic reality, but it didn’t endear anyone to Subway. After a few years of customers grumbling Subway announced in 2018 it was going to bring back the $5 footlong with a twist. The twist was that Subway HQ wasn’t going to require franchise locations to offer this price to its customers. This awkward policy resulted in a hit or miss situation in which some customers could find the classic deal, but others could not and were left frustrated. This was another ham fisted decision from the sandwich giant that could have saved itself a lot of grief. All it had to do was take a little time to think through what it was doing before announcing it to the public. Leave it to Subway to be the victim of its own successful promotion. 

2. A Measured Approach

How long is a footlong? You might be tempted to answer twelve inches, which is a foot of course. However, somehow Subway managed to make a controversy out of the English System of Measurement. Customers just assumed that when they ordered a footlong sandwich it actually measured 12 inches. In 2013 a lawsuit against Subway revealed that Subway had perhaps not been producing a consistent product when it came to its bread. Some people claimed the bread was often 11 inches or even less. Was this just sloppiness, an oversight, or a way to save some money? This lawsuit was settled by Subway and the fast food chain made an earnest promise to make the size of their bread as advertised. But the settlement was thrown out when an advocate group pointed out that the settlement really amounted to nothing so the judge reconsidered and decided to throw the lawsuit out entirely without the issue being resolved to probably zero peoples’ satisfaction. Then, just when everyone was sick of this whole thing Forbes Magazine published a study that indicated that most Subway bread had been about 12 inches all along. There may have been some differences in length because of the shape of the bread so it appears all of this was for nothing. One wonders if Subway knew enough about its own products that it could have defended itself in this way?

1. Jared And A Subway Collide

For quite a while the unassuming Jared Fogle seemed to be the right choice for the face of Subway’s ad campaigns. Between 2000 and 2015 he was used to promote some of Subway’s sandwiches as healthy options for calorie conscious customers. It turned out the seemingly affable “everyman” could not have been more wrong for Subway. In fairness to the giant sandwich chain the people who hired Fogle to help the company sell subs had no idea he would turn out to be a pedophile. However, at some point they knew or should have known something was seriously wrong. The company has been accused of knowing about Fogle’s behavior or of failing to know what they should have known. Subway fired Fogle before he was arrested, but the timeline of what exactly the company knew and when they knew it is still murky. Fogle eventually pled guilty in Federal court to possessing child pornography and traveling to pay to have sex with minors. Subway was criticized for what many perceived as a weak condemnation of the man. Clearly Subway just wanted to be done with Fogle and was reluctant to continue to associate itself with him – even when it condemned him on social media. This was a debacle of epic proportions that hurt a lot of people and four years late this incident still haunts Subway.

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