Groves owes the successes of Slim Chickens, Walk-On’s, and Tropical Smoothie to three main aspects—a distinctive brand with strong positioning, a great product, and valuable team. Dugas considers all those boxes checked. Smalls keeps a “simple on purpose” mindset with its brief menu and 800-square-foot bright orange shipping container design. Each location features a drive-thru, walk-up window, and outdoor patio for guests.
As for the team, Smalls is led by CEO Joe Lewis, chief marketing officer Katherine LeBlanc, and chief development officer Richard Leveille. Each comes from Twist Brands, a leader in the arts and crafts entertainment segment, with brands like Painting with a Twist, Color Me Mine, and Chesapeake Ceramics. All three have also spent time at Smoothie King. Lewis was CEO of the chain for three years; LeBlanc was director of brand marketing for four years; and Leveille was executive vice president of franchise development for 25 years.
“That's part of why we've invested this early on because we see that foundation to grow,” Groves says. “So if you put the right team and the right processes and support in place early on, then you can position yourself to really grow. That's why the equity investment at this point in time allows us to build the team in a way that you wouldn't normally be able to with a small brand.”
Since Smalls opened its first restaurant three years ago, the chain hasn’t altered its menu or store design, but the fast casual has found efficiency opportunities in the back of house. For example, the first unit only had one grill; subsequent stores now include multiple stations to better meet demand. The brand has also considered the positioning of its drive-thru menuboards and how it communicates to employees inside. The brand adopted a model in which workers stand outside and take orders face to face as opposed to the speaker, similar to Chick-fil-A.
A big learning came in May, when the first franchised location opened in Thibodaux, Louisiana. The restaurant had a 60-75 car stack for almost two weeks. At the time, there were traffic issues and product shortages, and Smalls didn’t have answers, Dugas says. However, he says the company made it through because of its people, and now, the team doesn’t blink.
“We have processes for that now and how to answer and how to handle these things just so that guests can experience Smalls the right way because there's so much excitement when we open these new locations,” Dugas says. “They are franchised, so there's a lot more people involved. It's different than our corporate stores, right? So we're trying to get these things up to be as operationally efficient as possible, and we're learning so much from store to store. And our franchise partners are amazing. We want experienced operators to come in who are truly invested in Smalls’ people side of what we do, and they are.”
Dugas can’t really put a quantitative metric on 10 Point’s involvement so far, but qualitatively speaking, the partnership has been “amazing” up to this point. He believes Smalls is now going places that “honestly we couldn’t have ever imagined.”
“It's just great people, and that's the exciting part,” Dugas says. “That's been the vision from the beginning is to create this concept that puts out really quality food with even better people, and I think we've done that, especially with 10 Point, our senior leadership, and everyone that comes on our team.”