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November 27, 2004

Making the Common Uncommon

Remarkable businesses make the common uncommon.

For example, Starbucks has made the common cup of coffee uncommon. Whole Foods Market took the common grocery shopping experience and made it uncommon. Mini has made the common 'compact' car uncommon.

And now,Which Wich is attempting to make the common sandwich uncommon … and uncommonly good at that.

“Which Wich who? Which Wich what?,” you ask.


Which Wich Superior Sandwiches is who. And the following four aspects are making Which Wich remarkable:

Remarkable Aspect #1: Customer Engagement
10_categories_boxes_1Which Wich reduces labor costs and increases customer involvement by having customers be their own order-taker. To order a Which Wich sandwich, customers choose a brown paper bag from one of 10 categories (turkey, ham, beef, chicken, seafood, vegetarian, saladwich, classics, and breakfast).

The customer then chooses their bread, cheese, spread(s), and spices by marking their choices directly on the bag. Customers complete the order by writing their name on the bag.

Remarkable Aspect #2: Low-Tech | High-TouchZip_line
Ain’t nothing fancy about how a customer’s order is communicated to Which Wich sandwich makers. The cashier takes the brown paper bag, attaches it to a zip line, and zooms it along the sandwich assembly line. No computer printouts, no computer monitors … just ink on a brown paper bag. Once the sandwich is prepared, a Which Wich expeditor calls out the order to be picked up, “Turkey on Wheat for Wynter.”

Remarkable Aspect #3: Simplified Pricing
All Which Wich sandwiches cost $4.00. Extras like avocado, bacon, more meat, and jalapenos cost $0.75 cents each.

Remarkable Aspect #4: Personalization
Because your order has your name on it, Which Wich workers can more easily establish a rapport with customers. Not to mention, calling out your name for pick-up helps to solve for any sandwich stealing shenanigans that may occur during busy hours.

Despite the crowded sandwich sector which includes the likes of Subway, Quiznos, Blimpie, Potbelly, and Schlotzsky's, Which Wich is managing not to get ‘sandwhiched’ (sorry, but you knew a pun was coming) in with these competitors and instead, they are finding ways to be remarkable.

Kudos to Which Wich for attempting to make the common sandwich uncommon.

[Blogger’s note … thanks to a tip from Al and Glenna Moore (my parents), I experienced Which Wich while in Dallas for the Thanksgiving holiday. Needless to say, I was very impressed with the concept.]

Further Learning:
  • Youth, Energy, and Fresh Ideas | QSR Magazine (December 2003)
  • Genghis Grill Founder Debuts Which Wich Sandwich Concept | Nations Restaurant News (January 2004)
  • Sandwiches Get Hot | Dallas Business Journal (May 2004)
  • The Low-Tech/No-Tech Approach | QSR Journal (July 2004)
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    I think it's overall a great concept for a new sandwich chain. But I also think the 'paper bag' system will be replaced sooner or later. I mean NOBODY doesn't use computers for ordering. I feel it's too late for that concept. A wire to transmit the bag? Decades too late. That will be replaced also.

    I think the name 'Which Wich?' has some naming problems. First, the name asks a question. Uncertainty in a brand name is not good. A brand name must solidly and confidently imply what it stands for. I say at least remove the question mark and replace it with an exclamation mark: Which Wich!

    Also, the colors of the Which Wich? logo are all wrong. Subway's colors are yellow and black. You can't go against the category leader using the same colors. Ask Laura Ries. The colors must be opposite. That's a basic Positioning principle.

    I also think the words 'superior sandwiches' should be removed. Nobody will believe the sandwiches are superior to Subways. I say change it to 'Delightful Sandwiches' or something else.

    John ... sorry to say this but ... your credibility went bankrupt with your 'Nobody will believe the sandwiches are superior to Subways' remark.

    Come on. And you probably think no one will believe In-N-Out Burger makes a superior burger to McDonald's.

    Companies are certainly getting their heads around the fact that yes, the 'experience' of their offering is one of the few remaining differentiators.

    The thing that spiked my curiosity was your oprening.. how Starbucks and Whole Foods have broken free from the pack.. My point? How long will it take companies to break so far out in front that they ultimately define their category.. No tissue please - pass me a Kleenex.. No vacuming - I'll Hoover the room..

    Well, I guess I no longer look someone up online - I google them.. Starbucks and Whole Foods have a ways to go...

    Kyle … there is much to be written about how Starbucks and Whole Foods Market have transcended commoditization. We’ve spent some time talking about it on Brand Autopsy and in a post about Un-Commoditizing Radio, we outlined four commoditization-busting rules:
    1. Make the Common Uncommon
    2. Stand for Something, Not for Everything
    3. Be Mission-Bound
    4. Everything Matters

    And as guest hosts on the Fast Company blog last December, we also addressed this topic with a post on Slouching to Commoditization.

    I see that you subscribe to the Ries branding law of ‘A brand should strive to own a word in the mind of the consumer.’ At Starbucks, our legal counsel made us always include ‘Blended Beverage’ following the Frappuccino brand name so as to protect our 'Frappuccino' trademark. Putting those descriptors next to Frappuccino name always made for clunky and horsy signage.

    I love the advice Al/Laura Ries give in their book on immutable branding laws, “The ultimate word to own in the mind is the name of the category itself. When this happens, your brand becomes a generic brand. Kleenex is both the name of the brand and the name of the category. Lawyers hate generic brands, but marketing people love them. The truth is, many brands become generic in the mind, but few brands lose their trademark rights in the courtroom.” [source: The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding]

    So how does their sandwiches taste?

    Pretty darn tasty. I had Which Wich put grilled onions on my Turkey on wheat sandwich and that made it tastier. Their house chips were also mighty tasty.

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