Midwestern Sub Chain Tries To Break Into Valley Market By CARLOS MARTINEZ Staff Reporter With plans for a major expansion in the area, a sub sandwich chain with a Midwestern flavor is the latest to battle the crowded and competitive Valley fast-food market. A second franchised location for Cousins Subs, a Milwaukee, Wis.-based company opened in Encino last week. There are plans for three more in the area by the end of the year and 10 more next year, according to Marshall Wexler, president of MDW Enterprises, who is heading up efforts to eventually bring 25 new Cousins restaurants to the Valley and greater Los Angeles area. “I have no doubt that we’ll be successful in the Valley,” said Wexler from his franchise headquarters in a small back office of a Van Nuys restaurant, which was the first Cousins in the state. Selling larger sandwiches (7 & #733; inches and 15 inches) than its main competitors such as Subway and Quizno’s, the company has grown into 170 restaurants across 10 states in the Midwest. Wexler’s Van Nuys location, which has been operating for two years, has been Cousins’ sole location outside the Midwest until now. Without giving numbers, Wexler said the restaurant is profitable. Although a marketing campaign has yet to start for the new restaurants, Wexler hopes to target local Valley neighborhoods at first. “I really believe that Cousins subs are better than the competition’s,” he said. “Once we get people inside to try them, they’ll know for themselves and that’s going to be the key for us.” But Robert Bond, a private consultant and publisher of Bond’s Franchise Guide, said Wexler’s task may be difficult. “It’s very competitive out there and not everyone is going to succeed so if you have a franchise you have to really stand out or it’s not going to work,” Bond said. With an already crowded fast food market, dominated by McDonald’s, Jack in the Box, Subway and others, Bond predicted Cousins would have a difficult time getting customers initially because of the proliferation of fast food shops in the Valley. But the fact that the company has been successful in the Midwest, however, bodes well for its chances, Bond added. “California taste is much the same as it is in the Midwest so that should help, but it’s really about having a good product and Quizno’s is pretty good and that’s going to be a challenge,” he said. Going up against well-known brands in the Valley will be a daunting task, Bond said, but added that a good location near office buildings, for instance, could improve a franchisee’s chances of success. But Wexler understands this well, having owned a doughnut shop franchise previously. “We’re looking at some good locations right now,” he said. As it is, he’s scouting locations in Chatsworth, Santa Clarita, Northridge and Sherman Oaks, with 10 more shops added next year and another 10 shops by 2005. Wexler’s main concern, however, is marketing the company’s signature submarine sandwiches for his first five restaurants opening this year. Already, a number of potential franchisees have expressed interest in running a franchise in the Valley and elsewhere in the surrounding area, Wexler said. “They’ve seen our success here and in other parts of the country and people want to come on board,” he added. With franchise fees of between $159,000 and $291,000, Cousins’ fees are low compared to larger brand names like McDonald’s which commands fees between $468,000 and $788,000. Although the average shop is generally about 1,600-square-feet, locations can be as small as 400-square-feet. With information seminars about franchising taking place from time to time, Wexler says he’s optimistic about signing a number of new potential franchisees. Bond says interest in new or lesser known franchise opportunities has been growing in recent months. “The fact McDonald’s hasn’t been doing that well along with some of the others has made some people look at new opportunities with fresh ideas,” Bond said.