A day before Bojangles’ was scheduled to report its fiscal 2017 and fourth-quarter earnings on March 6, the chain announced chief executive officer Clifton Rutledge resignation due to personal reasons. Rutledge served as president and CEO of the chicken brand since January 2014.
“After 40 years in the restaurant industry including four plus years as president and CEO of Bojangles’, I have decided it’s time to step down and take some time to enjoy my family," Rutledge said in a statement. "I have enjoyed being a part of growing the brand’s footprint throughout the Southeast, and also the development of the talented teams both at the support center and in the field. I am confident the team at Bojangles’ will carry forward this great brand into the future, and I look forward to watching its growth, just from a different seat.”
Rutledge joined Bojangles’ from Texas-based Whataburger in January 2014. He succeeded CEO James “Randy” Kibler, who led Bojangles’ Restaurants Inc., the company’s subsidiary, from September 2007 to January 2014. Kibler remained on Bojangles’ board of directors and was the company’s director and non-executive chairman from February 2014 to June 2016. The company announced Kibler would step in as interim president and CEO in Rutledge’s absence, and would initiate a search for a permanent president and CEO, although there’s no timetable.
“We appreciate Randy stepping into these roles on a temporary basis. The board is fully confident in his ability to lead the Bojangles’ team until we can complete the process of identifying a suitable replacement,” William Kussell, director and non-executive chairman of the board, said in a statement. “Randy possesses extensive management experience in the casual dining and quick-service restaurant sectors, franchisee expertise, and a deep understanding of operations. Additionally, his familiarity and leadership as our previous president and CEO is ideal for ensuring a smooth and orderly transition during this interim period.”
Kibler said in a conference call Tuesday that he “will be working closely with the leadership team to help shape our direction while managing the day to day business.”
“We will continue doing the hard work, doing those things that make the Bojangles' brand one of the most recognized and popular brands in our industry,” he added. “Being in the restaurants every day, preparing high-quality products, and providing great customer service takes perseverance and experience, and those traits we have in abundance."
As of December 31, Bojangles’ had 764 systemwide restaurants, 325 of which were company operated, mainly located in the Southeastern U.S.
On Tuesday, the company reported a total revenue increase of 6.2 percent to $148.1 million from $139.4 million in the fourth quarter. Same-store sales declined 3.1 percent, including a 4.4 percent drop at company-operated units and 2.2 percent at franchised stores. Bojangles’ had net income of $48.8 million, or $1.27 per share, compared with $9.8 million, or 26 cents, in the year-ago period.
In the fourth quarter, Bojangles’ opened 15 restaurants—nine company outlets and six franchised.
For the fiscal 2017 year, the chain saw revenues increase of 2.9 percent to $547.4 million. Same-store sales decreased 2.1 percent systemwide. The brand opened 52 restaurants—26 company owned. Four stores closed in the year, including three relocations, and six were franchised.
Bojangles’ has said in recent months that it’s targeting expansion in the Midwest, South, and Florida. The company also announced in November that it was launching a limited delivery service test and ramping up its value focus. Bojangles’ experienced a 2.2 percent same-store sales drop and a 0.2 percent decline in revenue during the third quarter.
John Jordan, Bojangles’ chief financial officer, said in Tuesday’s conference call that the company would target long-term growth through strategic franchise development and reorganizing underperforming markets through refranchising, closings, and relocations.
“Bojangles' will continue to maintain a company-operated and franchise mixed model with franchising leading expansion efforts going forward. The Bojangles' franchise proposition remains very attractive to qualified owner-operators and we are consistently approached by potential franchisees. Currently we are actively seeking qualified owner-operators in North Florida, Memphis, Tennessee, and South Georgia,” he said.
In late 2017, the company launched a new loyalty and payment app called BoRewards in all company units. The chain is working on expanding the platform to franchisees and expects to launch phase 2 of its test in 2018, which includes large menu ordering such as Big Bo Boxes, and ultimately, the addition of full-menu ordering.
Jordan added that Bojangles’ is “close to a final decision regarding a delivery test that will meet the unique requirements of a Bojangles' restaurant.”
“We know that it's important for us to keep pace with the changing needs of today's sophisticated consumers. However, we also know our food is the star of our brand and we will never sacrifice quality. Our store operations teams are striving day in and day out to retain loyal consumers and attract new ones with an exceptional dining experience in an environment that complements the quality and uniqueness of our food,” he said.