Restaurant Development & Design

NOV-DEC 2018

restaurant development + design is a user-driven resource for restaurant professionals charged with building new locations and remodeling existing units.

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There's still a lot of opportunity in the U.S. to have Slim Chickens in those markets. We're not ghting the pizza wars, and we're not ghting the burger wars. We are in the Midwest — Texas up through the middle of the country. And we're starting to open in Mississippi and Kentucky and toward Ohio and Penn- sylvania. It's just a natural progression across the states. We're also opportunistic, like any franchisor. If someone comes to us and says, "I like your brand and want to put it into a market," you do all you can to make it work. What kind of locations do you expect to add — U.S., foreign, non-commercial? SR: I think it will be a mixture. What we're seeing is Slim Chickens works in most venues. But the traditional 2,400-square-foot box with a drive-thru is our best asset from a topline sales per- spective. But some of the nontraditional locations offer a great ROI because they're not as expensive as building a ground-up box. Franchisees want a great brand, but they want to make money. Do you prefer to expand via franchising groups? SR: Yes. We have 17 company-owned stores and open 2 or 3 more a year, but the growth is in franchising, and we have 25 franchise groups and open 20-plus franchised locations every year. We like to work with franchise groups and like them to open a mini- mum of three stores in a small market and preferably ve or more in a larger market. When you're launching a new brand and going into a new market, you need several stores to get brand recogni- tion and market recognition. And we don't make it cost-prohibi- tive. We have low up-front fees because the long-term money is made in opening restaurants and collecting royalties. What kind of different challenges and hurdles come with opening in nontradi- tional locations? SR: First, you have to gure out the space they are giving you and what you can do in that space. The space will dictate the menu you're able to serve. Obviously, we are going to serve chicken tenders and then we evolve from there, depending on the amount of equipment we can put in there. They tend to be smaller — 800 to 900 square feet and up (the traditional store is 2,400 to 2,700 square feet), though they don't have seating, just common seating for many brands. In stadiums, the challenge is navi- gating the logistics of getting product in and out because it's just one day for a football game. But part of the advan- tage at a stadium is there are 80,000 to 90,000 people who go in. You can expose your brand to tens of thousands of people, so we look at it from a brand- ing and marketing perspective. With colleges, there aren't too many people in the U.S. who haven't grown up eating chicken tenders. These kids on the university campuses love it. Our campus location is run by contractor Compass Group, which makes it easy be- cause they're seasoned operators. It's not easy to break into campuses, but as our brand gets better known, I hope some of the foodservice directors will recognize us more. I think they look at the larger brands with thousands of locations more, but I think they're starting to take a look at us. What challenges come from opening abroad? SR: When I came on board, we had nine restaurants, and there wasn't an inkling in anyone's head that we were going to go international. It just happened from relationships and calls we had. I had the international playbook, and we just had to turn it into the international Slim Chickens playbook. It's very difcult, and a lot of work has to be done to understand the culture of the country you're moving into — the business culture environment and how people do business together, and the cultural nuances and the culture of your brand. So you have to make tweaks, but you have to work very hard to keep the integrity of your brand. One of the tweaks we made in the U.K. is they don't really eat chicken ten- ders, so we had to do a bit of education around that and start calling our chicken sandwiches chicken burgers. That's a very subtle tweak. We also made some tweaks to some ›avor proles of our 17 different dip- ping sauces. Not all translated, so we changed some ingredients and created a new sauce. And we couldn't import ev- erything because they have some pretty strict GMO restrictions, so we turned to a group of culinary chefs to develop some ›avor proles close to what we're doing. In Kuwait, we had to make some slight menu modications. We had to let them add a few things that are popular in that part of the world, such as ice cream and some chicken and rice dishes, but it didn't take away from the integrity of the brand, so we were OK with it. + N O V E M B E R / D E C E M B E R 2 0 1 8 • r e s t a u r a n t d e v e l o p m e n t + d e s i g n • 2 7 Slim Chickens' locations are in the midwest, but the chain is looking to break into more eastern markets with it's 2,400-square-foot prototype that includes a drive-thru.

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