“It's not so much stay close to home, but we want to be near our roots and where we have brand awareness and efficiencies through management, through marketing, and their supply chain,” Binnings says. “For right now, in terms of number of units that we want to open, that's a double-edged sword. I've been part of brands where I've said we're gonna have ‘X’ number of units open ‘X’ number of years. And I fell flat on my face more than once. So we're not going to give you a number of how many units we're going to have in ‘X’ number years, but we'll have as many units as we find great franchise partners and excellent real estate.”
Binnings says the brand derives its strength from a straightforward operational model. Southern Classic’s menu centers around one product—bone-in fried chicken, along with chicken tenders and a selection of sides.
He adds that it’s simple, easy to execute, and plays well in a chicken category that’s seeing continued growth.
“I think the runway’s out there for this brand,” Binnings says. “On the flip side, this isn't a franchise model that we're going to throw out there to every single person who thinks they want to be in the chicken business. We're looking for a very particular type of franchisee or a very particular type of partner. We want somebody who is committed to the same fundamental business practices of the family, and who has experience and who has the capital ability to expand multiple units in key markets.”
Working in Southern Classic’s favor is the fact that O’Keefe and Binnings have rolled out expansion strategies enough times to know the common pitfalls.
From his experience, Binnings says a lack of focus and quality can sink growth. He notes that in today’s industry, brands must be exceptional at one or two items instead of a broader menu. Regarding quality, he says a chain can’t go after the cheapest product just because it’s a numbers game. The key is delivering the best price point to consumers without sacrificing quality.
For O’Keefe, it’s franchises straying too far from where they’re based. More often than not, a franchise system fails because it didn’t have enough brand recognition or equity in a pioneer market, the managing director explains. Then a franchisee fails and that market could be taken off the map for up to a decade because of the damage to the brand.
To counteract these obstacles, O’Keefe and Binnings plan to stick to a disciplined development strategy.
Using an analogy, O’Keefe says Southern Classic is a kingdom and there are certain keys to it. His and Binnings' job right now is to ensure they’re selective about who receives those keys. But overall, the working partners are optimistic about the brand and believe it will be terrifically received in the market.
“They've got great brand equity in the Shreveport area. So now we're going to take that,” O’Keefe says. “We'll start trickling down south because there's no presence yet in Baton Rouge. But there is name recognition because people that travel the state for business or otherwise, they've heard about it. They’ve been to it. …. We are gonna be very contained, very specific, very targeted, both in terms of the prospective franchisees and the markets. And then, of course, the individual sites. Because to me, more than anything that's the biggest factor—you must develop and stay true and disciplined.”