CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Denny's Chief Marketing and Innovation Officer Mark Chmiel has resigned as part of a reorganization in the struggling company's C-suite. Also leaving by year's end is Chief Operating Officer Janis Emplit. The family-dining chain has announced a national, executive search to fill both positions. Their duties will be divided between the marketing and operations departments in the interim.
"While we have been making a number of meaningful improvements to our business, including enhancing our profitability, reducing our debt and opening new stores, our comp-store sales have been a challenge," Denny's CEO Nelson Marchioli said in a statement. "As the external operating environment remains difficult and the industry increasingly competitive, it is necessary to ensure we have the leadership that can drive sales and the brand forward as it progresses in its transition to a primarily franchise-focused business model."
Denny's same-store sales have slipped during each of the last three quarters, accelerating to a 7% decline in the most-recent quarter. The company reports full-year results in February, and the trend is unlikely to be reversing, given the high-level departures. By comparison, competitor Ihop's same-store sales have roughly been flat for the year to date.
Mr. Chmiel will certainly be credited with boosting awareness of the Denny's brand. He shifted the company's creative business to Goodby, Silverstein & Partners last December and spearheaded the chain's first Super Bowl appearance, paired with a Grand Slam breakfast giveaway that brought more than 2 million people into restaurants and resulted in an estimated $50 million in free publicity. But same-store sales fell 1% at franchised stores for that quarter, and have continued to slide for the rest of this year.
Mr. Chmiel arrived at Denny's as senior VP-concept innovation in April 2007, charged with developing a fast-casual breakfast concept. The resulting "fresh express" platform, the company has said, was transformative to the business model and the brand.
Mr. Chmiel noted that his departure resulted from a combination of factors.
"While we made major strides in moving the brand, the economy has remained soft," he said. Leaving now is most disappointing, he added, because the "job isn't completely done yet. We've turned the corner with a lot of positive feedback, with consumers thinking the brand is cool and more relevant than it ever has been. But approximately 30% of people who go out to eat are eating out less often, and that's a major share fight."
It's unclear what, if anything, Mr. Chmiel's departure means for the chain's Super Bowl follow-up in February. Denny's has bought an ad, and is planning another in-store event, as well as significant digital and social components.