A Quality-Focused Culture
RMH Franchise, the second largest Applebee’s franchisee in the United States, pulls through bankruptcy stronger than ever, thanks to its deeply rooted culture.
As RMH Franchise has grown to become the second largest Applebee’s Grill + Bar franchisee in the United States, it has not let the importance of having a quality-focused culture slip by. “That culture has been very core to what we do and how we continue to operate the business today,” President and CFO Mitch Blocher declares.
The Atlanta-based company’s values are represented through “PRIDE,” an acronym which stands for Performance, Respect, Integrity, Development and Engagement. “Those are at the core of what we do,” he says. “It is really what drives the leadership and results of our company.”
RMH was formed through the merger of four Applebee’s franchisees in late 2012 with the long-term vision of being a multi-brand management company. “They took those four companies and built the infrastructures and systems to more efficiently operate the locations,” Blocher explains.
Today, it has 131 Applebee’s locations in 14 states and still carries the goal of adding more brands. “We’ve established the leadership and the platform to do that,” Blocher declares.
A Clean Slate
A longtime veteran of the restaurant industry, Blocher joined RHM in January 2018. Previously, he gained experience at Apple South, a firm that was the largest Applebee’s franchisee in the late 1990s and held the position of CFO at Auntie Anne’s Pretzels.
During his time at RMH, Blocher has helped the company recover from bankruptcy. Last year, “There was a series of events that led us to the decision that bankruptcy was best for the company, our employees, our stakeholders and the brand overall,” he recalls.
Although RMH had several challenges to overcome in 2018, it still realized very strong business results. “We not only continued to perform very well, but we outperformed most of the Applebee’s system,” he says, adding that he credits this to RMH’s strong system and core values.
“It further reinforced who we are as a company,” he recalls, noting that the firm closes all its meetings with a rallying cry. “The leader of the meetings says, ‘We are,’ and the crowd says, ‘RHM!’, and ‘We,’ ‘Belong!’”
This attitude helped the company’s associates work shoulder to shoulder as a team. “We want to make sure we’re living our values and walking the talk even through tough times,” Blocher says.
As a result, to the strength of RMH’s culture, the company avoided high turnover during the recovery stage. “We really performed outstandingly well,” he says, noting that the company also received strong support from its franchisor.
“We continue to have a fantastic relationship with the Applebee’s Operations Team,” he says, explaining that the restaurant company gave advice and shared its best practices. “They’ve helped us be better as a franchisee.”
One reason that Applebee’s can be so close to its franchisees, he notes, is because it operates with a very small community of franchisees. “Everybody’s voice can be heard,” Blocher says.
Strong Performance Recognized
Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill + Bar® honored its franchisees at the 2019 Applebee’s Fall Business Meeting in Beaver Creek, Colo., on September 20, 2019. This year’s recipients were awarded based on their commitment to brand success, guest service, operational excellence and community involvement. Amongst the winners, Michelle Bloom of RMH Franchise, who was honored as the inaugural General Manager of the Year. “We could not be prouder of Michelle Bloom for living and exemplifying RMH’s mission and core values every single day. Michelle’s future is bright,” Mitch Blocher says.
Applebee’s also named RMH COO Howard Hohman as the “Above and Beyond Operator of the Year.” “This is really a recognition for the entire RMH Team of dedicated and hard-working individuals,” Hohman says.
These recognitions from Applebee’s, Blocher notes, have been gratifying for RMH and its team of experienced leaders. “We have an 11-member senior leadership team and our average tenure in the restaurant business is over 20 years,” he says.
Our people, from restaurant managers to senior leaders, he continues, want to further excel as the company moves forward. “The slate is clean, and the runway is clear for us,” Blocher says.
A Broad Reach
Today, Applebee’s stands as the biggest brand in the casual dining segment. “It is a staple with customers,” Blocher says, noting that it has a broad appeal. “But we must remain relevant and focused on the right value for our guests if we want to regain momentum,” Blocher says.
This has been important for RMH, which has watched the casual dining industry endure a challenging year. “Applebee’s performed fairly well in the first quarter and softer in the second quarter,” he explains. “Our competitors have gotten more aggressive from a marketing standpoint.
“Our guests have shifted to off-premise dining with Carside To Go and delivery and Applebee’s has responded by negotiating with the large national delivery partners. That’s been very effective in responding to the market changes,” Blocher says.
Today, RMH’s partners include DoorDash, Uber Eats and Grubhub, all of which provide a much more sustainable model to Applebee’s Franchisees. “Another avenue for guests to lean on the convenience our brand offers is by ordering via Applebees.com/delivery, an additional channel that allows us to capture consumer insights in the process,” Blocher explains.
“At RMH our high standards are guided by our mission, vision and core values all of which extend to the relationships we have developed over the years with our vendors and partners,” Blocher says. “In the past few years, we have been especially grateful for the tremendous support our beverage partners have provided, enabling us to drive growth for this segment of our business.
“Meanwhile, the national neighborhood drinks of the month bring in incremental traffic, our vendor’s collaboration has allowed us to drive beer, wine and liquor sales with trade up programs such as our Big Beer program and the beloved Perfect Margaritas enhanced with delicious flavors,” Blocher says.
Commitment to Team Members and Communities
Blocher and the RMH Leadership Team firmly believes in not only giving back to the communities they operate in, but also being actively involved in them. They take great pride in their commitment to helping those around them because they consider each of their communities as part of their team. By actively engaging Guests and Team Members, they ensure that every resource they have to offer is being utilized in the most appropriate and maximized way. “When our community calls for us, we are always there to answer,” Blocher explains.
Through their current initiatives, RMH supports local schools, teams and charities through Flapjack Fundraisers, as well as a diverse array of local programs. They support first responders during disasters and provide a beacon of hope for Team Members that need assistance. “Doin’ Good in the Neighborhood doesn’t stop once you leave through our doors, that is where it truly begins,” Blocher exclaims.
A program RMH Franchise is particularly proud of is its efforts towards becoming an employer of choice for the men and women of the Military. In the last four years, RMH hired over 80 military veterans and soldiers for management positions. As the program has grown so has their individual development, which has led to 10 percent of RMHs active general managers being former or active military and 13 percent of directors of operations.
“No one understands leadership, teamwork or dedication like the men and women who have served our great country,” says Jen Hansen, director of People Resources at RMH Franchise. “We are proudly committed to be an employer of choice for military personnel and their families. We recruit, hire and focus on upward mobility for our heroes who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces,” continues Hansen.
The Applebee’s Advantage
Blocher sees a strong future ahead for RMH and Applebee’s, which will both be centered around value messaging to their core customers, as well as new ones. “[We’ll do that] through innovation, whether it’s the drink of the month or new menu items, which are driven by the franchisor,” he says.
“The ultimate strategy in this environment is to stay true to our core, which is what really gives Applebee’s an advantage,” he says, noting that the chain has approximately 1,700 domestic locations. “We’ve got a large footprint, which makes it a well-known brand and convenient.”
Blocher also predicts growth for RMH beyond Applebee’s. “Ultimately, I do want us to be a multi-brand company,” he says. “There are opportunities to grow in the Applebee’s brand and there’s opportunities to potentially acquire other brands.”