The market has spoken: it thinks new Dine Brands Global (DIN) CEO Steve Joyce will save Applebee's and Ihop.
Shares of the company, formerly known as DineEquity before the reveal of a re-brand last week, have surged more than 75% since Joyce joined as CEO in Aug. 2017 from a successful nine-year stint atop Choice Hotels (CHH) . Joyce wasn't totally flying blind into a turnaround at the owner of Applebee's and Ihop, he has been a director at the company since 2012.
Now he is full steam ahead at trying to overhaul a sit-down restaurant chain with a 3,500 store presence in the United States and a good number of sites overseas. Not making the task any easier are several external factors.
First, finicky millennials continue to eschew traditional restaurants for quick-service, better ingredient experiences at names like Shake Shack (SHAK) . Moreover, there is a price war right now between McDonald's (MCD) , Burger King (owned by Restaurant Brands (QSR) ), Wendy's (WEN) and Pizza Hut (owned by Yum! Brands (YUM) ) that is helping to lure in traffic to old school fast-food eateries.
Joyce is up to the challenge.
"We are a very young company, half of our consumers are under the age of 34 - all generations love our restaurants," Joyce explained in an interview with TheStreet. To get traffic back into the restaurants after a challenging 2017, Joyce has offered a host of clever promotions such as $1 alcoholic drinks at Applebee's and all you can eat pancakes at Ihop for $3.99. Early progress has appeared: Applebee's same-store sales rose 1.3% in the fourth quarter after several tepid quarters.
At an investor day on Wednesday, Joyce outlined bullish long-term sales and profit projections for the company. The company sees annual low-single digit percentage sales growth and high-teens earnings gains looking out to 2022.
To be sure, aggressive targets. But, Joyce is confident that improved traffic plus shuttering more than 150 lagging Applebee's locations will boost the bottom line.
"We are a cash machine, our cash will go toward share repurchases and dividends -- our number one priority is returning value to shareholders," Joyce said.