Subway recently announced that, after an initial four-month period, it is having better-than-expected success with its new breakfast offerings. As a result, the chain plans to expand its breakfast menu and offer more coffee and espresso beverages. (See article – click here.)

Because I am a marketing guy, when I heard about this, my first thought wasn’t that I wanted to run out and try breakfast at Subway, but rather I started wondering what kind of long-term success Subway could have against chains like McDonalds and Dunkin’ Donuts, who are already established and well-branded as quick-service breakfast/morning coffee destinations.  And because I am first-and-foremost a market research guy, I immediately wondered, “Have they done any market research on the importance of drive-thrus?”

Subway, breakfast, research, market research, marketing

It is my understanding that some Subway stores have drive-thru windows, but I’ve never seen one that does. In fact, most of the Subway locations I’ve visited are in spots where it would be impossible to incorporate a drive-thru window: in the middle of a strip mall, inside a convenience store, or otherwise nestled in a cozy little retail nook.

It seems to me (and this opinion is based solely on instinct and my own experience as a consumer rather than any hard data) that much, if not most of the market for quick-service breakfast, is composed of people on their way to work and in a hurry to get there. If that assumption about the target customer being a working person on the go is true, then it would also seem that the absence of drive-thru windows at most of their stores would place a fairly low ceiling on the market share Subway can take away from a competitor like McDonalds, where drive-thru service is the rule rather than the exception.

I may be incorrect in making those assumptions, but if I was a decision maker at Subway, I would definitely want to learn as much as I could about how the quick-service breakfast customer differs from their traditional lunch and dinner customers in terms of lifestyle, expectations, preferred ways of receiving and experiencing the product, etc., before committing substantial resources to permanently expand into breakfast. Those are all questions that could be answered fairly easily and inexpensively (relative to other expansion and development costs) through market research.

Subway may very well have already researched the question of how necessary drive-thru windows would be to their success in the breakfast segment. And, it may very well be that they just want to carve out a small niche for themselves and not challenge the current leaders in the category. In any case, this story caught my eye because it is a prime example of how market research can and should be used to address key questions about long-term market potential before a company jumps into a new undertaking with both feet. Now, if I could only use market research to find out how to get that “Five Dollar Footlong” jingle out of my head…