Listen Fresh

Listen Fresh
  • TORRENCE, CA-Creating a comfortable atmosphere in a restaurant is one of the main components for customer retention, and familiarity is a big part of the design. For chain restaurants, an air of familiarity when someone is in a new place will lead them to its doors. The world's largest submarine sandwich chain, Subway, already had a delicious, familiar menu in place, and a store design which is easily recognized, but one important element was missing-a Subway sound.

Several Subway restaurants have installed an Antex Media Director 2, which manages PLR's customized programming. Pictured are Emily Kilpatrick (left), client services project coordinator for Subway Radio, and Laura Aguilar, a Subway Radio installer.
To produce a consistent sound brand, Subway restaurants brought in Private Label Radio (PLR), a Pasadena, CA-based provider of brand-specific, customized audio and video content. Rob Walker, general manager at PLR, explained that the PLR brand-development process is unique. "Our competitors talk about programs where they choose from a menu of a hundred-some programs," he said. "We look at it a little differently. We start from scratch, and work with the brands to understand what they're trying to accomplish with their brand message. We look at their demographics, we look at the desires of the executives and where they want it to go. From that we create an audio profile, and that audio profile is the background of what drives our programmers to create customized music just for that chain." The design, created by a team of engineers in PLR's vast studio facilities housed in an old firehouse, means Subway's programming will not be heard anywhere else.

In the same way that the music content is designed to be the same across the board, Subway required that the equipment be the same from store to store. Pro-Motion of Wixom, MI managed and designed the installation, and with the approval of Subway, picked JBL speakers to carry the PLR design. "JBL is a strong brand, sounds great, is easy to install, and across the board that's what we'll be installing," said Lynn Matson, president of Pro-Motion.

To distribute the content, rather than rely on PCs, which use fan-based cooling and tend to be bulky in a space-conscious retail environment, PLR brought in the Media Director 2 (MD2), an internet hardrive-based solution from Antex Electronics. Antex has a history as an OEM manufacturer of audio devices from sound cards to satellite receivers, and the MD2, an audio server and software management system that will manage the delivery, storage, and processing of PLR's customized programming, can be beneficial for restaurant and retail applications looking for setup similar to Subway's.

"It's a smaller form factor, and it's fanless, so it doesn't have the overheating element that a PC would have," said Dave Antrim, president of Antex Electronics, about the low-power, low-heat MD2. Also, because it does not have rear-panel access for keyboard and mouse, it's all done through a front-panel interface or it's done over the wire. "It doesn't have that hackability. It's a more robust and dedicated platform."

In the process of testing the MD2 to see what it could do and handle, PLR found that it was a good on-premise device. It is combined with the Antex management console software, a program that controls the boxes out in the field, and is the main conversant software with the Media Directors.

The original content for music and messaging, which can include ads and promotional opportunities for each store, is done at PLR by its engineers, who then put it up on the server where the MD2 units connect via a modem or broadband connection. At designated times during the day, the MD2s pull down the new content, the new playlists, and any new commands (there are certain parameter commands to control the boxes). The systems disconnect, and then they run that new playlist and program until the next scheduled dial-up time.

"Antex is the state-of-the-art storing forward technology," said Walker. "We're able to schedule everything to the minute. It updates nightly, and the schedules are fresh daily."

The new system has had several advantages for Subway. With radio control taken out of employees' hands, there are no longer disagreements over station choice; inappropriate music has been eliminated; and there will no longer be competitors' ads inadvertently broadcast in the stores. "I have heard from a couple of store managers that the uptick on sales is noticeable," commented Antrim. "It's been so successful because it's so targeted to their store and their promotions. The custom service PLR offers is unique in that it really tailors the brand for the end user."

To date, 31 Subway installations have been completed in North America, with more on the horizon. Because the MD2 uses the internet, corporate LAN, or broadband, it is not domestic-only and can be used anywhere in the world. With more than 3,000 international locations that each serves relatively the same fresh ingredients as its original U.S. counterpart, the growth opportunities are just on a roll.