The CEO explains that franchising will require a two-phase strategy that begins with forming a solidified foundation in terms of training, marketing, technology, and operations. The second step is execution, and the quick-service audience has responded with strong demand. Lewis says that in the first 75 days, Smalls has closed several deals and has roughly 20 restaurants in the pipeline. The restaurant will first focus on Beaumont, Houston, and Houma/Thibodeaux, in Texas; Hattiesburg and Jackson in Mississippi; and New Orleans, Shreveport, Alexandria, Lake Charles, Lafayette, and Monroe in Louisiana.
As those markets saturate, the emerging brand will embark on national expansion. Five restaurants will begin constructions in the next three months, which is enough of a base to satisfy Smalls for right now.
“We want to make sure that we get that first phase up, we build a great foundation, and then once we do that then make sure our systems will scale to multiple units,” Lewis says. “We know they will, but we need to do the work to be able to accomplish that. When we get that accomplished then we'll extend our reach.”
Dugas doesn’t anticipate future stores straying too far from Smalls’ original shipping-container design. There may be some rearranging inside the restaurant to improve efficiency, but the outdoor look will be the model going forward, as municipalities allow. LeBlanc says the unique design is a way for Smalls to “make a brand statement immediately” and “increase the brand recognition in a really fast way” whenever it enters new markets.
The biggest change, LeBlanc says, will be determining how to handle more volume. She adds that Smalls was constructed with a certain level of transactions in mind, but the restaurant has far exceeded that projection. Dugas indicates that one of those improvements may be placing employees in the drive-thru to take orders and greet customers, similar to Chick-fil-A’s proven form of operation.
“There's changes operationally that come that we're going to get better with every day,” Dugas says. “But from a building perspective, we're always keeping in mind, the guests and our squad members, how can we make that experience, that two-to-three-minute experience that they have with us, as amazing as possible.”
As Smalls further ignites its franchising strategy, it will continue to engage Landry, who opened Walk-On’s in 2003. The brand has since grown to more than 50 locations across Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee.
Lewis says Smalls will use Walk-On’s as inspiration, but not for too many aspects since the chain operates in the full-service segment. He views intellectual capital as most important, particularly from Landry, who Lewis describes as being “all about people and all about culture.”
Those are key aspects that Smalls has brought to its brand. Dugas says he wants employees to place the restaurant on their resumes and for it to mean something 10 years from now. He also wants to create a culture and environment in which workers carry their experience with them and apply those lessons to whatever career they go off to next, whether that’s outside the company, or rising within.
“The byproduct of that is going to be growth and people enjoying our products and really doing something special—that’s what we're all in it for,” Dugas says. “And we're already seeing the fruits of our labor already with the acceptance of the concept and the excitement around it and just the everyday traffic that we've gotten already. And we're just excited to see where it goes. There is no ceiling for us. We want to go with as many communities and people that we can impact.”