The M&A restaurant sector has been on fire lately, and it appears a 766-unit chicken leader might be next into the ring. Reuters is reporting that Bojangles’ is “exploring strategic alternatives, including a potential sale,” according to people familiar with the matter. While a deal is far from certain, Bojangles’ is working with Bank of America on the strategy.
Restaurants have been on the move in recent weeks and months, including the mega $2.3 billion agreement between Arby’s parent company Inspire Brands and Sonic Drive-In. Inspire, backed by Roark and led by chief executive Paul Brown, has already scooped up Buffalo Wild Wings ($2.9 billion) and Rusty Taco this calendar year. Retuers also reported last week that 5,000-plus-unit Papa John’s was looking for acquisition offers. Jack in the Box sold Qdoba for $305 million in cash to Apollo Global Management, LLC, last December. Restaurant Brands International bought Popeyes for $1.8 billion that February. Panera, which was sold for $7.5 billion to JAB Holdings in April 2017, announced plans to buy Au Bon Pain Holding Co. about eight months later. And so the carousel turns.
Is Bojangles’ ready for a spin? It surely wouldn’t be surprising given recent moves within the organization. On March 5, a day before the chain was scheduled to report fiscal 2017 and fourth-quarter earnings, it announced that chief executive officer Clifton Rutledge was resigning due to “personal reasons.” 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 moved into the interim role.
Bojangles’ has been a public company since 2015, when private-equity firm Advent International Corp took it to the stock market. It still owns a touch over half the company.
This past quarter, Bojangles’ unveiled a “restaurant portfolio optimization program” designed around two areas in the short-term, closing underperforming stores and refranchising, as it looks to strengthen corporate dynamics. Bojangles’ announced in its second-quarter review that it planned to close about 10 corporate restaurants in Q3 and refranchise another 30 restaurants, primarily in Tennessee, to one of its largest franchisees.
The 12-month revenues, as of Q2, at those closing restaurants were about $5.8 million, and the restaurants were losing in the $2.9 million range in company-operated restaurant contributions.
Bojangles’ reported total Q2 revenues of $140.5 million, up 2.7 percent from $136.8 million in the prior-year period. Same-store sales declined 0.2 percent systemwide, with company-run comps dropping 0.8 percent and franchised units 0.1 percent. The system was comprised, as of July 1, of 325 company-run units and 441 franchised.
Kibler said in August that Bojangles’ believes refranchising would reduce the managerial oversight burden and allow it to refocus on remaining corporate stores in core markets.
Among the changes: Bojangles’ cut very slow moving, operationally complex and non-core menu items,” at all company-operated restaurants. These include: Jambalaya Bowl; Smoked Sausage Biscuit; Barbecue Pork Sandwich; and Cheddar Bo Biscuit. Some franchisees may elect to keep them on the menu. The chain hopes to speed up service, cut waste, and bolster quality with the moves.
A significant slowdown in growth was also part of the plan. From 2016–2017, Bojangles’ added 48 units. It was 54 the year earlier, and 40 the year before that. For fiscal 2018, the company expects to open just 18–22 systemwide restaurants, down from its previous expectation of 30–40 units. And of those, only six to eight will be company-run. Kibler said Bojangles’ would start relocating restaurants to better real estate and start remodeling stores at a fast clip as well.
And the relocations will be a step removed from the future design unveiled in 2017 that featured a biscuit theater. The company didn’t see the ROI it desired on those and said it would aim for $250,000 refreshes moving forward. From 2008–2013, the chain did about 20 remodels a year and expects to kick up the pace moving forward. It remodeled only three in 2017 to the scrapped update.