Kimberly Schwartz

By a show of hands, how many of you have eaten a $5 footlong sub from Subway™ in the past year? OK, so I can’t see your hands, but I’d be willing to bet that more than a few popped up. Subway’s $5 Footlong® has been one of the company’s most successful promotions, and I admit that its commercial jingle (Five! Five dollar! Five dollar Footlo-oo-ong!) used to get stuck in my head every time I heard it.

But even more impressive than the catchy jingle is the story of how the $5 Footlong came to be.

The guy who came up with the idea, Stuart Frankel, was a Subway franchise owner in Florida. He owned two Subway restaurants, and he wanted to improve his sales on the weekends, which were typically much slower than weekdays. So he started offering footlong sandwiches for $5 on the weekends, and then sat back and watched his sales soar.

But even though Frankel started his $5 Footlong promotion in 2004, it took years for his idea to make it up the corporate chain. So, unless you live in Florida, you didn’t get a chance to buy a $5 Footlong until 2008.

Today, Subway franchises across the country are still offering $5 Footlongs, and I can tell you that my family has personally contributed to the company’s success. (Subway is one of my husband’s favorite places for a quick lunch, and he can’t resist the $5 Footlong.)

What’s amazing in this Subway success story is that Frankel was one man with a great, simple idea for improving business. And eventually, his idea led to enormous success for the entire corporation.

I’ve read a few articles about Frankel and the $5 Footlong phenomenon in various business magazines, but I first heard this story from Roger Costner, who is the co-owner of an HVAC company in South Carolina.

What intrigued me was how Costner reacted to Frankel’s story. As co-owner of Brothers Air, Heat & Plumbing in Rock Hill, S.C., Costner says his main focus is strategy. He works hard to figure out how to improve his business. And he’s smart enough to realize that he’s not always going to be the one with the best idea.

So, in an effort to motivate employees to share their ideas, Costner asked them all for their best $5 idea. In the same vein as Subway’s $5 Footlong, Costner’s request was for small ideas that could have a big impact on the company as a whole.

And, for additional motivation, Costner offered a $500 reward to the employee with the best $5 idea.

According to Costner, this approach is working out well for his business because it gets everybody in the company thinking.

Costner’s management team evaluates the employee-submitted ideas, and this year, the No. 1 idea came from a service technician. He recommended that the company start using Dropbox, an online file sharing and syncing application that works on mobile devices.

Costner raved about the app, which he says all of his salespeople are using to take photos while on calls. They then download the images so the company already has a picture of the job.

With the $5 idea as your inspiration, see if you can get your employees thinking. In fact, I’d be willing to bet someone already has a great $5 idea, and they just need to be asked to share it. It’s quite likely they’ve come up with an idea to make their job easier, especially during this warm, busy summer season.

Don’t wait around like Subway and let years pass before you find out what great ideas your team is dreaming up. You don’t have that long to waste.

Ask them now for their ideas, and see what impact it could have on your business.

Publication date:08/16/2010