Success from Sandwiches

SUBWAY Restaurants has seen a meteoric rise in Canada since opening its first restaurant in 1986, with more than 2,800 independently owned SUBWAY locations operating in Canada today. As director of national marketing for SUBWAY Restaurants in Canada, Kathleen Bell uses innovative campaigns and partnerships to keep the restaurant top-of-mind among Canadians.

Kathleen Bell’s marketing whiz and innovative campaigns help drive SUBWAY Canada’s national marketing initiatives.

Where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in Drumheller, Alberta, a small town famous for its dinosaurs. When I was a baby, a construction crew digging the basement for my parents’ first house had to stop when they found a bed of dinosaur bones. My parents were great and allowed me to explore and be who I was. When applying to university, I decided I wanted to experience something different—see what my beautiful country was about. I decided to go to the East Coast and took the opportunity to attend St. Francis Xavier University, in Nova Scotia. After university, I found myself in Toronto. My journey has given me a wider perspective.

And that perspective really helps as you market SUBWAY?
Definitely. It’s important to understand the audience you’re speaking to. Having lived in small towns and big cities across Canada, I’ve developed a deep sense of the country, our trends, and how the wants and needs in one area differ from another. That’s helped me market SUBWAY Restaurants right across the country. I have been with SUBWAY for seven years, and it’s offered me a huge opportunity to work on so many different projects and areas of business. I understand SUBWAY and the sandwich market from every aspect. Sandwiches have become the hottest growth item in the quick-service-restaurant industry, in part because they can be healthy, but also because they are fast, convenient, and tasty. That’s what SUBWAY provides to Canadians.

What’s the identity of SUBWAY’s advertising campaign in Canada?
We’re focused on engaging with Canadians and being a part of a healthy lifestyle. We’re speaking to everyone—families, kids, and adults. It’s the spirit of SUBWAY to be fresh, new, and exciting. We continue to be innovative in what we do and how we go to market. SUBWAY’s Commit to Fit program is a great example. We conducted a search and found our healthy-lifestyle ambassadors, Courtney Belanger and Carl Savard—Canada’s “Jareds”—who embody our commitment to Canadians and providing healthier food options to everyone.

Why has SUBWAY been able to flourish in Canada?
SUBWAY has been phenomenally successful in Canada because we listen to our customers. Our customization is a huge part of that. We offer everyone who comes into one of our restaurants the SUBWAY sandwich they want, how they want it. Canadians have unique flavour profiles, and it’s vital that we understand and accommodate that. SUBWAY’s menu reflects this, and we have so many healthier options—eight sandwiches under six grams of fat, many vegetable toppings, soups, and customizable breakfast options. SUBWAY has always been able to be a leader in providing healthy, quick options for Canadians.

We also have an easily adaptable franchisee model, and all SUBWAY stores are owned by franchisees, which is unusual in an industry where many chains have a mix of company-owned outlets and franchised stores. This creates an entrepreneurial and creative environment where ideas are shared, especially from the customer up to the top.

Kathleen Bell’s tips for running a successful marketing campaign

• Have a strong, supportive, creative team that fosters ideas.
• Be innovative. Push the business forward and be comfortable with change.
• Understand the customer and the market.
• If you don’t listen, everything else is moot.
• Have fun. Sometimes all you can do is laugh—then get down to business.
• Be thankful to your team and for the opportunities and challenges that will always come.

Do you play a role in new product development?
It’s all about listening to our customers, working with our vendors and suppliers, and Canadians-at-large. The franchisees and community of SUBWAY employees offer suggestions, which we take and then put through a vigorous testing process with focus groups and tastings, before we take a product to market. There is a core group of individuals who fine-tune most of the SUBWAY offerings, but we ensure the Canadian voice is heard and recognized.

What about SUBWAY’s partnerships? Working with Disney must offer the chance to innovate.
Working with Disney is great and new to SUBWAY Canada this year. We have so many great partnerships with excellent brands like Microsoft and organizations such as the Canadian Hockey League and ParticipACTION, and especially with our vendors, suppliers, and agencies. It’s energizing to work with so many bright and creative people every day. Those kinds of projects must help create an energized corporate culture.

Our team has a great culture. The last two years, my goal has been on growing the team, and this year my focus is on fostering and growing our culture. I really want the team to grow and develop into an idea incubator. I was given a unique opportunity to flourish, and I want the same for my team. We’re so happy with what we’ve done so far and are excited about the future and watching the brand grow. SUBWAY is a fantastic company, and it has been amazing to contribute and be part of its growth within Canada.

What do you do when you are not working?
I’m a happy and busy mother with two wonderful children and a supportive husband. To be honest, as a marketer, I’m always working—but not always at my desk. SUBWAY is a part of Canada’s everyday life, so I look out for trends and what’s coming up. I’m also very active in the community and have been involved over the years with Special Olympics Canada as a fund-raiser and sponsorship recruiter. I also help organize Sunnylea neighbourhood events in Toronto and work with Northern Canadian Communities. And, when time permits, I go curling and golfing with my husband.