No store has failed in four years, and McGowan wants that to continue for decades. Even though Crumbl is expanding at a pace incomparable to many in the quick-service segment, the growth is nothing short of meticulous. The brand has sold territory only after pre-plotting the entire U.S. map and selecting the best markets and hotspots. McGowan says occasionally operators have asked Crumbl about certain locations, and the company has refused because the area didn’t fit with “what success looks like for our brand.”
The strategy is so sound that the chain has never advertised its franchising program. Everything has simply been word of mouth.
“We feel like that's been a good thing because people try and taste the product and see the excitement before they apply,” McGowan says. “That's been something else that we feel like there's a huge advantage for us.”
Crumbl began with one perfected chocolate chip cookie and has since exploded to more than 170 flavors, including themed lineups, like breakfast cookies, i.e. waffle, berry crunch, donut. The company rotates its cookie lineup every week as part of a schedule that’s planned six months out based on previous sales, how the cookies look in a box, flavor profiles, cost, and other proprietary measures. All cookies are baked fresh and onsite.
The formulation of new flavors begins with asking key questions such as, can the cookie be produced at mass scale, how difficult is it to make, what will customers think, and what does it taste like. Once the cookie meets those criteria, it’s tested in select stores across the country to uncover nuances and potential obstacles. Crumbl takes knowledge from those test stores and condenses it into training videos and tips for bakers nationwide.
“We have over 12,000 employees across the nation right now,” McGowan says. “How do you train 12,000 people how to make new cookies every single week? You have to build technology for automatically updating your recipes. Our whole business really evolves around this. Not just our marketing. Our whole operations, our whole company, our supply chain revolves around this. Really everything revolves around this weekly drop and we love it.”
The variety and innovation has translated well to social media, where Crumbl has built a highly engaged audience. The chain created its TikTok (the fastest-growing social media network of all time, according to Inc) in February and gained 2 million followers in six weeks. As of mid-September, the account has nearly 26 million likes. The first step, McGowan explains, was recognizing the value of the platform instead of treating it as a third or fourth-tier social media app. Once that was established, it was important to seriously invest in unique and engaging content as opposed to simply using TikTok as a vehicle for advertising.