Q&A with Warren Erhart – Financial Post

A rebranding of B.C.’s most popular restaurant chain gives more than a passing reminder of its 83-year history: A Q&A with Warren Erhart, CEO and President, White Spot Ltd.

FP: White Spot is a bit of an iconic brand in B.C. How much can you change it?

Erhart: I grew up with brands like Eaton’s and Woodward’s and thought they’d be around forever. Yet they’re casualties and not in business today, so keeping relevant is really important. Nat Bailey, White Spot’s founder, was incredibly innovative and innovation kept the brand alive for many years. The real question is how far do you push envelopes as you try to evolve the brand? There is a fine line and balance. I get calls all the time from people saying ‘What are you doing with my White Spot?’ They feel a sense of ownership of the brand. But I often say if Nat Bailey was around he’d give us a tough time for not moving fast enough.

FP: Tell me about the new campaign.

Erhart: Our current campaign, Home to great taste… since 1928, if anything reinforces some of the true values of our organization as far as treating people like guests in your home, the element of unique taste and quality, and the passion we have in our restaurants. And as for 1928, nobody else can say that about their brand in this province. You tinker with the brand, which is quite successful, so it’s more of an evolution than something radical. The celebrity chef campaign it replaced, I won’t say shocked people, but it was quite innovative. Saying that, it was a little one-dimensional in that it only addressed the kitchen. Food quality is very important to us and we didn’t want to lose that, but we wanted the message to be more experiential, to address the front of the restaurant and show people using White Spot in the so many ways they use White Spot. Our strategy was to have our guests think of White Spot more often for more reasons and more occasions.

FP: How long did the campaign take to develop?

Erhart: It was the better part of nine months. It was a multi-phase development process starting with some early brainstorming sessions to writing a creative brief, then we developed some concepts and media strategies, focus groups, some online creative testing, and then production. We use a group from Toronto called BrandSpark to do a lot of our creative testing and focus groups, me&lewis and Taylor Made Media are local groups that we work with and we use our team as well.

FP: What are you hoping to achieve?

Erhart: We needed to find a place for both our heavy and our lapsed users. For people who use White Spot a lot, we could use the word love. But if you’re not a user, you’re not in love with us. Our campaign does say ‘warm,’ and we want to become the first choice for families thinking of going out for casual dinner occasions. We think the current program has some legs because there are so many extensions of what people like about White Spot. What draws people into our brand could be anything from a menu item they crave, whether that’s a Triple O burger or clam chowder, to the reasons to use us. We’re a great place for families, but we also have a bit more of a social element with some of our restaurants. The versatility of the brand for all day parts, breakfast, lunch and dinner, is really quite unique.

FP: What are your expansion plans?

Erhart: We have 125 locations with our White Spot and our Triple O quick-service concept — seven in Asia and four in Alberta — and within the next 24 months we plan on being in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. In the next two years we plan to build 20 more restaurants in Western Canada: 14 Triple O's and six full-service restaurants. We’ve had some early conversations with people in Ontario, but we haven’t consummated anything at this point. We don’t want to have one or two orphans out there. We want to develop a strategy and a program for serious growth.