Checkers Turns Sponsorships into Employee Motivation

Posted on by Chief Marketer Staff

Checkers Drive-In Restaurants is not only using sponsorships as a way to build brand equity and drive sales, but it is also tapping those partners to add cachet to its successful employee incentive program—which awards a brand new car each month to two of its top managers.

QSR manager Devon Longman
wins a car in a Checkers
employee incentive program

Checkers, which also owns the Rally’s chain, began its You Gotta Drive to Win program in 2002 after it signed a deal with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. After looking for a way to leverage that sponsorship internally, it decided to send its outstanding employees to the races, and thought that a car giveaway was a good fit with the sponsorship and the drive-thru nature of the restaurants.

“Our sponsorship of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway helped us get our toe in the water with our employee incentive programs,” said Rich Turer, VP-marketing for the Tampa-based QSR. “Now that we have this asset, it gives the program a tremendous amount of value.”

In 2003, it freshened the program with new rules and scoring and changed the name to Speed to Succeed. Last November, the program refreshed again and is now called Ready, Set, Focus.

The program works by putting the top-50 stores—based on comparable year-over-year sales performance and store performance (secret shopper reports and inspections)—into a lottery. Once every month, two stores are selected as winners. The top two managers get a sports car and the employees in those stores get cash bonuses.

“The crews of the winning stores also get a bonus because you can’t be a good store manager without good assistant managers and a good crew,” Turer said. “If we’re only rewarding one or two cars a year in a chain of about 800 restaurants, it’s hard to get the managers motivated.”

The cars, which have included official pace cars of the NASCAR Nextel Cup Brickyard 400 race, held at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and Ford Mustangs with custom wheels and a Checkers banner on the side, are delivered to the winning manager’s drive-up window as an added surprise. The chain also invites local media to attend the awarding of the vehicles, to show the staff the newsworthiness of the prize.

Tampa, FL-based Checkers’ automobile incentives have helped the QSR build same-store sales-growth momentum in 14 of the past 15 quarters, but Turer said the incentive does not work in isolation. The program also ties into training, operations and marketing at the store level, and helps the chain retain employees and recruit new ones, he said.

The QSR has also had local employee incentive contests that tie in to sponsorships. For example, in the Tampa region, tickets to MLB Tampa Bay Devil Rays games are given away as an incentive. In the Indianapolis area, employees can win tickets to NFL Indianapolis Colts games. Checkers is a sponsor of both teams.

Though the company acknowledges the car giveaways create the most buzz at the restaurant level, it also runs employee incentive contests not tied to sponsorships.

For example, Checkers/Rally’s Top Ten Manager Incentive Trip recognizes the top 10 general managers nationwide with an all-expense-paid cruise to the Caribbean, where, during a black-tie award ceremony, the honorees get special prizes, including diamond rings. That program is in its fifth year.

Checkers has also run employee incentive programs dangling $10,000 Circuit City shopping sprees for store managers. Prizes have included a 53-inch TV, DVD player, digital camera, home computer with Internet access and a collection of DVDs.

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