Skip to main content
All Posts By

cwillis@allpointspr.com

These Will be The Fastest -Growing Restaurant Chains In 2023

By In the News

On the rise to fame? Possibly.

01/05/2023

2. Slim Chickens

Co-founded in Fayetteville, Arkansas in 2003 by Tom Gordon and Greg Smart, Slim
Chickens didn’t start franchising until 2013. A whole lot has changed since then, with the chicken chain bringing in $265 million in system sales between 2019-2021. Today, there are over 140 Slim Chickens locations. “There are a lot of things that are the same. I still feel so responsible for all 8,000 people that work for the brand,” Gordon adds. “It’s nice to be in a position of financial strength versus scrambling for the first decade. That’s allowed us to do a lot of great things for our company, our franchisees.” Gordon was also asked about his approach to sustainable expansion: “Because we’re not as big as some of our competitors, we have to go fast. We have to go as fast as we possibly can without taking big risks. And how do you balance speed and giant risk? It’s with using data, utilizing franchisee intel, utilizing local professionals.”

Click here to read the full story: https://bit.ly/3HGXZ6D

The Future of Fast Casual in 2023 and Beyond

By In the News
January 2023

The pandemic inspired fast casuals to adopt drive-thrus and delivery, marking the beginning of a new innovation era that has led to new restaurant designs and technological solutions to supply chain and labor shortage challenges.

When COVID-19 hit, fast-casual restaurants transformed their parking lots into dining rooms in the form of curbside service, and concepts that once prided themselves on not offering big chain-associated drive-thrus promptly began adopting the format to serve customers. Then, the industry saw restaurant groups start partnering with third-party delivery providers, despite many claiming they would never do so because of the steep fees.

“I thought that honestly once COVID was dwindling down, that part of the business would subside a little bit and people would go back to their normal routines. Well what we’ve seen is, delivery is now a part of the normal routine, and that part of the business has not dropped off,” says Sam Rothschild, chief operating officer of 200-unit Slim Chickens.

Indeed, consumers are now conditioned to expect food delivered to their front doors at the tap of a touchscreen, and study after study keeps proving the steep fees are no match for the value of convenience. Delivery orders now account for about 10 percent of Slim Chickens’ business, while curbside, takeout, and catering make up about 20 percent. Drive-thru business is 50 percent, and the other 20 percent is dine-in— whereas pre-pandemic, dine-in accounted for about 35 percent of sales.

“We had to come up with new standard operating procedures, because you grew entirely overnight a whole new day part or segment of your business that really wasn’t there before, because delivery in our segment was very small, and takeout was OK,” Rothschild says.

That meant reevaluating packaging, staffing, design layouts, and more. If “pivot,” “unprecedented,” and “new normal” were the buzzwords of 2021, “optimization,” “efficiency,” and “new prototype” are gaining cause to be called the popular clichés of 2022—for good reason.

Now that dining rooms are filling up again, yet off-premises channels remain far elevated to prior levels, restaurateurs are grappling with how to balance their various business formats in a way that satisfies consumers and their labor force—groups with higher expectations and standards than ever, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Pandemic-related pressures continue to force the restaurant industry to make progress with new, creative solutions to improve customer and employee experiences, which in turn make for better systems overall.

Slim Chickens, for example, reconfigured its restaurants’ kitchens and designated parking spaces for delivery drivers to help optimize the flow for employees and guests. After recently bringing on a new vice president of technology, the brand is also looking at implementing new technologies in the drive-thru and adding staff members armed with order entry pads in parking lots to increase throughput.

“We spent a lot of time over the last year retooling our prototype, then going back and starting to do some work in the kitchens we already have, looking at new equipment and new processes,” Rothschild says, which also included reengineering cook lines, and moving around existing equipment to increase food quality, accuracy, and speed. “We’re just trying to get more efficient and keep costs under control with lots of out of the box thinking.”

Flexibility in Design has become a staple of fast- casual coming out of COVID-19

Finding solutions to supply chain challenges

Despite progress being made in so many areas, the restaurant industry still faces strong headwinds, from supply chain and labor to inflationary pressures. The National Restaurant Association published a survey in November 2021 that found 95 percent of restaurants experienced significant supply delays or shortages of key food items, and 75 percent of restaurants have made menu changes because of those issues.

At Slim Chickens, having a menu centered around one protein helped, Rothschild says, plus boasting an experienced supply chain team who developed great relationships with vendors.

“We were chasing some supply stuff around, but we never had a real issue where we couldn’t serve our menu,” Rothschild says. “Where we ran into issues like my peers was the cups, the lids, the straws, and plastic ancillary items in supply chain, which was one of the most challenging we saw.

”Issues with plastic ancillary items had more to do with manufacturers being understaffed and not being able to keep up with orders, he notes. While restaurants experienced issues with stocking enough of their inventory earlier on in the pandemic, it’s now transitioned to feeling the effects from staffing challenges hitting broadliner and supplier partners.

“There’s a greater incident potential for new people at a broadliner pulling product or mispicking, so we could get romaine instead of spring mix,” Robison says. “We’re going to have to continue to work on this industry side by side with our broadliners to understand what they’re facing, yet also hold them accountable for what we need from them to take care of our guests.”

Bolstering employee benefits is no longer a trend, but a thoughtful necessity

According to the National Restaurant Association, no other industry has faced a longer road to reaching a full employment recovery. As of April 2022, eating and drinking places were still down 794,000 jobs, or 6.4 percent below pre-pandemic employment levels.

Rothschild thinks the restaurant industry has a retention issue, not necessarily a hiring issue. For him, the key to increasing retention rates in restaurants is hiring exceptional general managers as leaders, who inspire employees in a fun environment.

“They want to work in a really nice place where they’re appreciated for the work they do and have great team members to work with. When I see great GMs who know how to take care of their team and run a restaurant, they don’t have problems hiring or retaining people, because good people want to work for good people,” Rothschild says.

“Make sure you have great leaders and people running your restaurants, and staffing should help itself,” Rothschild adds, though he admits there are areas of the country within smaller population pockets where companies need to be creative about recruiting and sometimes offer unusual incentives. “One prong is attracting people to get them to apply, and the other is taking really good care of them when they do decide to work for you.

To read the full story from QSR click here: https://bit.ly/3x1Nhmo

Slim Chickens Inks Largest Franchise Deal in Brand History

By Uncategorized

December 7, 2021

Slim Chickens has inked a deal for the state of Indiana and the Southeast region of Florida for a total of 60 locations, the largest deal in the brand’s history.

“Slim Chickens’ leadership team is top- notch,” Al Cabrera, the franchise partner spearheading the 60-unit deal, said in a company press release.

“After three decades in the restaurant industry, it is easy to spot an amazing opportunity, and Slims’ was a clear choice for the next addition to my portfolio.”

Cuban refugee Cabrera is a multi-concept franchisee with over 35 years of experience.

“This is a huge moment for Slim Chickens,” Jackie Lobdell, vice president of franchise development at Slim Chickens, said in the release. “We are entering a new state and dramatically growing our presence in Florida, and doing it all with a strong operator who believes in our leadership team, has passion for the brand and has the skillset to run successful restaurants. We’re beyond excited to welcome Al to Slim Chickens, and look forward to watching him grow.”

Slim Chickens first opened in 2003 in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and has 150 locations.

Link to the full story in Fast Casual: https://bit.ly/3EDnjI8

Franchise Times Names 40 Smartest-Growing Franchises

By In the News

Dec. 28, 2022

#5 Slim Chickens

Fast-casual chicken restaurants

A lot has changed since Tom Gordon and Greg Smart co-founded their chicken chain in Fayetteville, Arkansas, in 2003, and then began franchising in 2013. System sales grew 118.7 percent from 2019 through 2021, to $265 million, and units grew 46.7 percent, to 132. But “there are a lot of things that are the same. I still feel so responsible for all 8,000 people that work for the brand,” said Gordon, CEO. “It’s nice to be in a position of financial strength versus scrambling for the first decade. That’s allowed us to do a lot of great things for our company, our franchisees.” Asked about his philosophy toward driving sustainable growth, he said, “It’s a big question. It’s hard to put that into a short motto. I’ll tell you a couple things I talk about all the time, with my team. Because we’re not as big as some of our competitors we have to go fast. We have to go as fast as we possibly can without taking big risks. And how do you balance speed and giant risk? It’s with using data, utilizing franchisee intel, utilizing local professionals” to put “great restaurants in great places as fast as we possibly can, and get market share.” A mobile loyalty app developed in 2019, coincidentally before COVID, paid off big time for the brand. A minority investment from 10 Point Capital in July 2019 helped shore up the balance sheet. But Slim Chickens’ biggest achievements go beyond single tactics. “Personally, we always think about how we want to be the franchisors the franchisees love, and not have an adversarial relationship, as so many end up having when the company’s been around a long time. Honesty and integrity are the only currencies we have,” Gordon said. “We’re proud of it. We’re proud of the perseverance we’ve shown. We’re proud that we have a great group of franchisees that I think are happy with the brand.”  

To see the full ranking on Franchise Times click here: https://bit.ly/3lkARmU

Slim Chickens’ Mega Growth and What to Expect in the New Year

By In the News

Jan 18, 2023

Slim Chickens recently celebrated a record-breaking year and is showing promising continued growth into 2023. The breakthrough better-chicken brand, best known for its hand-breaded, cook-to-order chicken tenders and southern hospitality atmosphere, is

making its presence known in attractive markets across the U.S. and internationally. In 2022 alone, the brand celebrated noteworthy achievements including its 200th store opening and spreading its footprint to 15 new franchise territories with multi-unit development deals.

2022 Record-Breaking Multi-Unit Growth

Last year, Slim Chickens rolled out 50 openings, including new locations in Utah, Florida, Ohio, New Mexico and South Carolina, and added to its U.K. expansion with many new locations including one in Northern Ireland. Coast-to-coast, Slim Chickens is renowned for its dominating presence and accelerating momentum. This is evi

dent in the 300 signed agreements

 it solidified in 2022, tallying the brand at 1,100+ total units in development and 200 projected to be added in 2023.In larger markets like Texas, the brand already has 27 existing locations with plans to open many more in Houston, San Antonio and Dallas. Adding to the development push, Slim Chickens is driving growth across the nation with an emphasis in the Northeast. 2023 isexpected to be another strong year of international growth as well, as the brand is spearheading an international expansion initiative to grow in France, Spain, Germany, Poland, Turkey, and the GCC.

While Slim Chickens is celebrating its 20th anniversary, the company is currently boasting a $3.

8 million AUV*, representing its staying power and ascending trajectory in the franchising industry. The breakthrough brand also drove an impressive 44% comp store sales growth over the last four years.

Notable Awards and Achievements

Restaurant and franchise trade publications took note of the striking success Slim Chickens achieved in 2022, further driving the beloved chicken brand’s widespread recognition. QSR Magazine named Slim Chickens a ‘Breakout Brand of the Year’ and a ‘Top Recession Proof Business,’ alongside USA TODAY, who named the brand one of the ‘Best Fast Casual Restaurants.’  In addition, the brand was named in the top percentile as one of the Fastest-Growing Franchises by Entrepreneur and a Mover& Shaker by Fast Casual. Most recently, Franchise Times Magazine ranked the better-chicken brand in its ‘Fast & Serious List at #5 smartest-growing brands and was also acknowledged as the ’10 Hottest Franchises’ by Aspioneer Magazine. More recently moving into the new year, Entrepreneur named Slim Chickens one of the Top 500 Franchises and Franchise Business Review awarded them a Top Franchise Satisfaction Award.

The leading chicken contender is also thriving in its strategic approach to flexible formats, particularly on college campuses like Liberty University by honing in on a target market with easy accessibility for chicken lovers.

2023 is expected to be another year for Slim Chickens to showcase its high-quality chicken tenders and 17 house-made dipping sauces alongside its franchise opportunity that differentiates itself with prime markets available for multi-unit development, a passionate leadership team and a world-class franchisee support system. As the brand extends its Southern Hospitality in the global chicken segment, Slim Chickens is gearing up to drive further expansion with seasoned multi-unit operators and established restauranteurs in 2023.

*AUV of Group #1 in the 2022 FDD Item 19

For more information about franchising with Slim Chickens, visit www.slimchickensfranchise.com/get-started/.

To read the full story in Franchise Times click here: https://bit.ly/3I2KDTE

Slim Chickens Grows International Presence

By In the News

March 21,2022

Slim Chickens, a leading fast casual franchise, which features dine-in and drive-thru service in the better-chicken segment, announced today its new restaurant opening at 22 Friary St. in Guildford. This opening marks Boparan Restaurant Groups 18th Slim Chickens.

The better-chicken brand has opened more than 160 locations across the United States and the United Kingdom, and is known for its passionate group of followers in the markets in which it operates. With more than 800 locations in development, the
brand’s momentum shows no signs of slowing down.

“As we continue to expand across the globe, we are grateful for having great franchise partners like Boparan Restaurant Group guiding our growth,” says Jackie Lobdell, vice president of franchise development at Slim Chickens. “Their passion for the
Slim Chickens brand and dedication to bringing our amazing flavors and southern comfort environment to communities across the UK is admirable.”

The brand prides itself on its cooked-to-order fresh food and strong devoted fanbase, also known as “Slimthusiasts.” Slim Chickens has distinguished itself in the “better chicken” segment by offering high-quality food and 17 house-made dipping sauces, allowing customers to enjoy a different flavor profile with each visit. Its menu is broader than many in the segment, offering chicken tenders, fresh salads, sandwiches, chicken and waffles, chicken wings and unique side items. Fans also resonate with the southern contemporary look and feel and open and inviting layout of Slim Chickens restaurants, which speak to the hospitality mindset that anchors the brand.

Slim Chickens’ franchise opportunity differentiates itself with prime markets available for multi-unit development, a passionate leadership team and world-class franchisee support system. As Slim Chickens expands, it is awarding franchise opportunities
to qualified, experienced and passionate multi-unit groups looking to add a dynamic segment to their portfolio.

Link: https://bit.ly/3ujMco5

Franchise with the leading contender in the growing chickens segment

By Uncategorized

Which brands have the strongest unit-economics with the potential for global growth? Signs point to Slim Chickens as the leading contender

October 6, 2022

So what makes Slim Chickens an attractive investment?

International expansion efforts

Slim Chickens, a leading fast casual franchise, is best known for its craveable food and southern hospitality vibes. The brand is growing its presence across the globe, particularly throughout the U.K. and Europe. In recent years, Slim Chickens has opened 27 international locations as part of a 200-unit development deal with the Boparan Restaurant Group — seasoned operators that are continuing to lead the brand’s international developments in the U.K.

“The growth we have seen across the U.S. and U.K. has been phenomenal. People are obsessing over our chicken, and that’s evident through our increasing same-store sales growth year over year,” says Sam Rothschild, chief operations officer at Slim Chickens. “Given the emphasis we put on our extensive support and lucrative business model, we know that multi-unit operators are well equipped to grow Slim Chickens in whichever community they choose.”

In July 2022 alone, Slim Chickens opened four locations across the U.K. including Liverpool, Bishopsgate, Milton Keynes and Leicester High Cross – all of which were spearheaded by the Boparan Restaurant Group.

“We are extremely thankful for our partnership with Boparan Restaurant group, and all of their sub-franchisees— they have helped our growth immensely. As we continue to prioritize both national and international growth, we are actively seeking dedicated operators with a passion for the brand like Boparan Restaurant Group,” says Jackie Lobdell, vice president of franchise development at Slim Chickens.

Domestic development efforts

Slim Chickens’ expansion in the U.S. dates back to 2003. Since then, the brand has gone from operating out of an Arkansas garage to one of the fastest-growing brands in the chicken segment. With an outstanding AUV of $3,864,513* and a robust franchise development pipeline, contending concepts across the U.S. are racing to keep up with Slim Chickens’ development.

Slim Chickens has entered more than 30 states since its inception and is generating impressive sales across the board. Specifically, Slim Chickens saw a 25 per cent comp store sales growth last year, with a 43.5% increase in comp sales growth over the last four years. Likewise, the brand’s impressive 3.8 million* AUV indicates a 13.6 per cent increase year over year.

In 2022 thus far, Slim Chickens signed more than 120 new franchise agreements, bringing the total units in development to over 1,100 restaurants. This year, the brand also opened more than 30 locations in 11 new territories, all of which are driving strong unit economics.

Seasoned multi-unit operators

As part of its rapid development efforts, Slim Chickens has a strategic multi-unit franchise growth initiative to reach 600 open units in the next five to seven years, targeting qualified and experienced multiunit operators to develop in dynamic markets worldwide.

From international operators like the Boparan Restaurant Group to experienced multi-brand franchisees across the U.S., Slim Chickens is recognized for appealing to the most sophisticated and experienced restauranteurs with the means to diversify.

“As a multi-unit owner of several restaurant franchise concepts, including Arby’s, I wanted to expand my portfolio with a brand that had significant opportunity for development in attractive markets. Slim Chickens is a uniquely cool brand with so much growth potential, and it provides me with the opportunity to diversify and tap into the growing chicken tender market,” says David Giesen, a multi-unit restaurant owner in Ohio.

Extensive franchisee support

From world-class training and national marketing initiatives to all-encompassing operations support, franchisee assistance starts from the moment a contract is signed. The brand’s accomplished executive team is perfectly aligned with the franchise system to ensure the success and satisfaction of each franchise partner.

Take it from Mike Sartwell, a multi-unit franchisee who owns locations in Montana and North Dakota.

“Our opening was massive, bigger than anything I’ve experienced before — and I’ve been in the industry for a while,” Sartwell says. “But it wasn’t the incredible preparation from the Slim Chickens corporate team that surprised me. It was when they committed more of their time and more of their people to our location beyond opening week to help us get through the surge. Not every brand is that dedicated to helping their franchisees weather a storm — especially when the storm is technically a good one!”

Unmatched menu and atmosphere

One of the key differentiators people consider when choosing the right chicken brand is the food. Slim Chickens prides itself on serving the highest-quality, hand-breaded chicken tenders, craft sandwiches and perfectly fried wings. The standout menu — also offering 17 house-made dipping sauces and delectable jar desserts — appeals to a diverse range of guests who become loyal brand enthusiasts.

A Southern flair and commitment to impeccable hospitality further elevate the dining experience between guests and restaurant staff. Moreover, Slim Chickens promotes a welcoming environment and community culture, adding to the brand’s friendly vibe.

Incredible brand recognition

This year, Slim Chickens has been recognized by numerous restaurant and franchise trade publications including QSR Magazine for being a ‘Breakout Brand of the Year’ and a ‘Top Recession-Proof Business’ by Franchise Business Review.

Slim Chickens’ momentum confirms that the brand’s road to success isn’t ending any time soon. From its strong brand reputation in the chicken segment to its global presence, Slim Chickens is expected to continue driving exponential growth in the coming years.

For more information about franchising with Slim Chickens, visit www. slimchickensfranchise.com/get-started.

*AUV of Group #1 in the 2022 FDD Item 19

For the full story on Global Franchise click here: https://bit.ly/3XdX43w

Slim Chickens Has Egg-splosive Growth in Q1 & Q2 of 2021

By In the News

The Better-Chicken Fast Casual Concept Signs More Than 250 Units in First Half of the Year 

July 19, 2021 // Franchising.com // FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Slim Chickens kicked off 2021 with egg-splosive growth. The brand has inked 254 multi-unit franchise agreements since January and has celebrated 17 openings.

Slim Chickens has proven itself to be a brand with incredible staying power and a top pick for the nation’s most experienced franchise groups. Despite the difficulties that the restaurant industry faced throughout the past year the brand has thrived. Slim Chickens inked 382 franchise units since the pandemic’s start in March 2020 on top of having a 14% positive comp store sales growth and systemwide revenue growth of over 35%.

“We knew we’d have a good year, but this year is on track to be one of the best yet,” said Vice President of Franchise Development, Jackie Lobdell. “The chicken segment is exploding, and our leadership team, training, resources and franchisee validation continue to grab attention of highly qualified restaurant operators who want to be a part of our story.”

With hundreds of thousands of happy customers, the brand has developed a strong devoted fanbase, also known as “Slimthusiasts,” helping to fuel demand for the hand-breaded, cooked-to-order tenders. Slim Chickens has distinguished itself in the “better chicken” segment by offering high-quality food and 17 house-made dipping sauces, allowing customers to enjoy a different flavor profile with each visit. Its menu is broader than many in the category, offering chicken tenders, fresh salads, sandwiches, chicken and waffles, chicken wings and unique side items. Fans also resonate with the southern contemporary look and feel and the open and inviting layout of Slim Chickens restaurants, which speak to the hospitality mindset that anchors the brand.

This article is online at https://bit.ly/3zk0wy5.

Slim Chickens Wins Franchise Times Zor Award

By In the News

Winner: Slim Chickens

Finalists: Wings Over, Wingstop, Bojangles Famous Chicken ‘n Biscuits

Franchisees in Slim Chickens are some of the most fervent owners out there. They are planting flags in the largest territories they can, growing as fast as they can and telling anyone who will listen which of the 17 sauces is their favorite.

For being part of a 90-location brand, Colorado-based franchisees Will Smith and his partners are exceptionally feisty.

“We are going to whoop Chipotle’s ass. And we’re going to whoop Chick-fil-A’s ass as well. You can print that,” said Smith.

He and his LOVE Restaurant Group were looking for a way to diversify the business. One of the partners, Byron Wheeler, said the three key partners undertook a rigorous selection process and the ideal brand had to have a long list of qualities. It had to be a “vibrant brand,” it had to cater to everyone from the president to their grandmothers, and it had to be something they were proud to operate.

“We seriously looked at five companies, but I’d say about 20 different opportunities. When we flew to Arkansas for discovery day, we had a list of reasons why we weren’t going to do this and the key words that if we heard we’d get up and walk out,” said Wheeler. “At 11 pm., we went through the drive-thru of a Slim Chickens and ordered way too much for three humans. And we ate the chicken for the first time and our lives were changed forever. Then we stayed up until 1:30 a.m., threw out all the ‘nos’ and thought of how we could secure the largest area possible.”

Suffice to say, the chicken was pretty darn good and so was the hospitality. The group said the only thing better than the never-frozen chicken fingers, wings and the signature sauces they feasted on was the management team. Several members of the executive team, including COO Sam Rothschild, have deep backgrounds in legacy franchising.

“We really like the management team, we felt like
they were really sincere people and really knew what they were doing with other brands,” said Smith. “We predicted accurately that they were going to come off the runway and we reached into our pockets pretty deeply to get a couple territories.”

They’re up to six locations since signing a multi-unit deal in 2018 and aim to have 30 locations open by 2023 across Colorado and Utah.

A desire to diversify beyond his 14 Taco John’s locations and into the explosive chicken segment also brought franchisee Mike Sartwell to the brand. He narrowed his search to Slim Chickens and a couple others, but he said Slim Chickens execs even came out to see him and his operation in North Dakota—a unique move for a franchisor. When he returned the favor, he said the team at the Fayetteville, Arkansas, headquarters made a strong impression.

“They’re committed to being very selective of franchisees and they wanted to see our operation and make sure we had the organization to help this brand,” said Sartwell. “We went out and visited Slims and we talked to everybody at the corporate offices, all the way from training, purchasing, marketing, development, construction, and visited with the founders to hear their story. When we were all done, we were completely sold on Slims. It was pretty amazing to see this smaller chain and all the systems they have in place for a chain their size. We felt like they were ahead of some larger brands.”

One part of that system is a robust and highly involved opening process. There’s a large checklist that operators and the brand work through, and Sartwell said it’s nothing like what he’s seen in a handful of other brands. The support didn’t stop at opening day, either. He said the structure was palpable when the opening of his first location in Minot, North Dakota, turned into a door buster.

“One of the things they do is send a minimum 10 people to open. They’re there a week before to make sure everyone is trained and a week after they’re open. And in Minot, we were the busiest opening in history. We were all scrambling to keep up. They committed additional people for additional time to make sure we got through that,” said Sartwell.

Demand hasn’t slowed, and he said the biggest problem he sees is just keeping up.

“We were looking at doing better than average, so we’re looking at wanting to have a restaurant do a minimum of $1.8 million or $2 million, and what I ended up with was a $3 million restaurant—not a bad problem,” said Sartwell.

Getting enough fresh chicken has been the biggest difficulty for him. He said because chicken is so hot right now and he’s not in a major city, he’s seeing some high prices. The brand also heavily favors that A-plus real estate everyone is fighting for.

The average unit volume at Slim Chickens was just under $1.5 million in 2019, with an investment range of $841,000 to $1,739,000. While the costs are higher, the volumes seen at Sartwell’s and Smith’s operations make those investments easier to digest.

Slim Chickens

POSITIVES

  • High-quality chicken and southern hospitality fit right in with the wants of today’s consumer.
  • The stores seem to be making a cluck-load of money.

USE CAUTION

• It’s getting hard for small franchisees to find open territory, and those that do are paying for more.

Slim Chickens looks good on paper in our Zor Awards research. It has a low investment range, a good royalty rate and a strong ROI in our calculations. There’s also a sentiment that the brand’s true horsepower is just coming into view. Some of the numbers shared candidly by franchisees and others point to an exciting brand among some very successful competition.

Read the full story on Franchise Times: https://bit.ly/2MqdNST

QSR’s Breakout Brand of 2021: Slim Chickens Hits Another Gear

By In the News

January 1, 2022

In what’s become perhaps the most-bursting world of quick service, Slim Chickens has had no trouble standing out.

For Slim Chickens, the bar was set when franchising began nearly a decade ago—reach 600 locations by 2025.

The proclamation was injected with more life after an equity investment in 2019 from 10 Point Capital, a firm that also backs fast-growing Walk-On’s, which saw its unit count expand by nearly 40 percent in 2020, and Tropical Smoothie Cafe, a chain that recently exceeded 1,000 stores.

“We really were able to speed up franchising and speed up franchise development,” says Tom Gordon, who co-founded the chain in 2003 with Greg Smart. “It allowed us to recruit more, hire more people, not be as constrained budget-wise when it came to payroll and executives and hiring and travel, and allowed us to really start moving around the country and doing the things we needed to do as a franchisor to really grow the business.”

But as Gordon explains, 150-unit Slim Chickens—QSR’s Breakout Brand of the Year for 2021—already “had a good fire going” before 10 Point Capital entered the business. The investment was really just a matter of pouring gasoline on the flames.

The Fayetteville, Arkansas-based fast casual grew from a little more than a dozen units in 2014 to north of 80 when the investment occurred. In 2015, the brand had 46 franchise commitments, and that expanded to 112, 180, 235, 334, and 477 over the next five years. Slim Chickens finished 2021 with more than 750 commitments and over 50 franchise groups.

For Slim Chickens, the bar was set when franchising began nearly a decade ago—reach 600 locations by 2025.

The proclamation was injected with more life after an equity investment in 2019 from 10 Point Capital, a firm that also backs fast-growing Walk-On’s, which saw its unit count expand by nearly 40 percent in 2020, and Tropical Smoothie Cafe, a chain that recently exceeded 1,000 stores.

“We really were able to speed up franchising and speed up franchise development,” says Tom Gordon, who co-founded the chain in 2003 with Greg Smart. “It allowed us to recruit more, hire more people, not be as constrained budget-wise when it came to payroll and executives and hiring and travel, and allowed us to really start moving around the country and doing the things we needed to do as a franchisor to really grow the business.”

But as Gordon explains, 150-unit Slim Chickens—QSR’s Breakout Brand of the Year for 2021—already “had a good fire going” before 10 Point Capital entered the business. The investment was really just a matter of pouring gasoline on the flames.

The Fayetteville, Arkansas-based fast casual grew from a little more than a dozen units in 2014 to north of 80 when the investment occurred. In 2015, the brand had 46 franchise commitments, and that expanded to 112, 180, 235, 334, and 477 over the next five years. Slim Chickens finished 2021 with more than 750 commitments and over 50 franchise groups.

Rothschild and Gordon essentially handled all of the franchising business from 2013–2018, which resulted in about 200 deals being signed, including a couple internationally. Then Jackie Lobdell entered the fray as executive director of franchise development, with more than 25 years of sales professional experience, including Focus Brands, where she helped McAlister’s Deli expand to more than 400 stores across 28 states. From 2013 to present, workforce at the support center grew from a handful to over 40 individuals.

Now when Slim Chickens hosts Discovery Days, potential franchisees take a look at the systems and are taken aback at what Rothschild calls a “full-service franchisor.” That means training, operations, construction, facility design, marketing, purchasing, financial planning, and analysis.

These operators are well-funded and typically mid-to-large franchisees of other brands looking to complement their portfolio with another chicken brand. A good example is Barnett Management Company, an Arizona-based franchisee that operates more than 50 Burger King stores. The operators signed an agreement to open 32 Slim Chickens restaurants over the next decade.

“They see the success that the brand is having and what we have to offer not only to consumers, but the way that we support the franchisees with all the systems and processes and tools that we provide,” Rothschild says. “I think we’re able to attract some really high-caliber franchise talent that has come into this organization and not only joined us, but helped make us better.”

“We really admire entrepreneurs,” he adds. “We listen to what they have to say for the betterment of the brand and the system. I think if you put all that together that’s why we’re seeing the ramp up and growth and the addition of all these new franchisees coming into the brand.”

Similar to many up-and-coming chains, Gordon says, Slim Chickens restaurants require “good-looking, sexy retail” supported by housing stock and other traffic attractors like hospitals and malls. Typically, stores are between 2,400–2,800 square feet and adaptable to patios and unenclosed or enclosed kitchens.

He estimates 90 percent of the footprint is standalone drive-thru units, but there are some anomalies—endcaps, inline locations on college campuses, and military bases. The brand is no stranger to conversions, either, an important skill set given how many restaurants across the industry closed permanently during the pandemic.

The markets with the most opportunity for development include the Upper Midwest and Northeast, like Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New England, and West Virginia.

As Slim Chickens’ unit count continues to rise, onlookers shouldn’t expect the footprint to account for ghost kitchens or virtual brands. Gordon says ghost kitchens skyrocketed during COVID to leverage inventory and labor that weren’t being used effectively. However, the chicken fast casual remained busy throughout the pandemic, and hasn’t had a need for either innovation.

A minimal number of stores closed, and drive-thru, curbside, and delivery continue to be fruitful.

“So rather than try to create a new brand out of kitchens that were already busy, we tried to focus and make sure that the drive-thru experiences was good, curbside experience was good,” Gordon says. “We worked on the timing, speed and efficiency, and packaging around our delivery business with the delivery partners that everyone is aware of. We just try to focus on those channels and then as the dining rooms have come back, we’ve layered those back in.”

Heading into 2020, the game plan was to open about 25 stores, but the chain still finished with 19 debuts. And the ones that didn’t open simply slid into the next year. Gordon says after the “scary moments” of Q1 2020, Slim Chickens got back on track. When COVID first hit, leadership quickly gathered everyone virtually and emphasized there would be no furloughs.

In fact, considering what occurred in 2020 and 2021, the brand is at—or even ahead—of its preferred timeline. To Rothschild, experiences during the pandemic demonstrated the confidence operators had in Slim Chickens.

“I think the franchisees, along with us, did a great job of figuring out where we could get momentum,” Rothschild says. “We can make progress where we can get restaurants open, and the support team really worked diligently to make sure that we could get the best results we could with the situation that we were dealing with.”

As the brand faced macroeconomic headwinds like supply chain stoppages, Slim Chickens urged franchisees to be proactive and double timelines for equipment and construction materials. Leadership helped operators schedule restaurant opening dates, and then worked backward to deliver appropriate guidance in terms of ordering items. Gordon says some things “slip around a little bit,” but he adds most franchisees are exactly where they want to be.

The other notable headache, labor, hasn’t been too much of an issue, Rothschild says. Restaurants usually hire 90–100 people, and there are challenges occasionally, but for the most part, managers are able to staff appropriately and retain workers.

A significant reason for that is partnering with the right franchisees. For instance, Preferred Restaurant Group, which has more than a dozen Taco John’s restaurants and owns development rights to Slim Chickens franchise stores in North Dakota and Montana, placed general managers in a position to earn six figures, increased starting wages, and instituted a $5 per hour bump for those working past 10 p.m.

“I go around and talk to all the employees at the restaurant openings and ask them why they work here or if they’ve had other jobs, and there’s this aura around Slim Chickens that allows us the opportunity to hire and retain a staff,” Rothschild says. “Now, not saying we’re Pollyanna here and we’re not having staffing challenges, but if you want to connect new restaurant openings to staffing, we’re able to get these things staffed and get them open.”

Gordon says much of Slim Chicken’s success is listening to what operators hate about franchising—i.e. non-communicative, lack of proper investment in profitability, unrealistic outlooks—and simply doing the opposite.

That mission is upheld by a C-suite that’s stayed together for a number of years, including eight years from Rothschild, 10 years from CFO Seth Jensen, and five from CMO Chris Allison.

It’s more than enough fuel for Gordon and his team to continue believing in the 600-unit goal that was proposed all those years ago.

“We all own the business together, so it’s not like we’re leaving to go do something else,” Gordon says. “ … [Franchisees] can believe in us. We’re transparent, honest, and really have the interest of our franchisees at heart. As you see the growth happening, we’ll get to that 600 number on or about the place that we anticipated.”

Read the full story here on QSR Magazine:https://bit.ly/3zrSGU6