Bonchon, a Korean fried chicken concept with 94 locations in the U.S., has grown its collection of franchisee-run stores quickly in recent years. Despite this growth, Bonchon does not have a lot of company-wide systems in place that typically help foster expansion, CEO Flynn Dekker says.
“The business has grown to the size it is without … supply chain roll-outs to the majority of the chain, no technology for online ordering, no training department, no QA department,” he says.
He attributes part of Bonchon’s franchising success to the flexibility that corporate leadership allows franchisees with running their stores, and also to open lines of communication.
The brand is looking to build 500 restaurants domestically in the next five to seven years. To do this, Dekker says Bonchon will continue to create more infrastructure to take as much guesswork out of it as possible for franchisees. That’s going to mean putting in a supply chain for consistent products from restaurant to restaurant, building a new technology backbone that makes room for efficient online ordering, overhauling the company’s branding strategy, and providing more training for new franchisees, Dekker says.
It’s nothing new and innovative, considering these are things that most major quick-service brands with large numbers of franchisees do, but Dekker says Bonchon needs to catch up organizationally after years of organic growth.
On the other side of the spectrum, another growing fast casual, Tropical Smoothie Cafe, has solidified many of those systems to prep for new franchised units and provide a uniform experience from store to store. CEO Charles Watson says the focus for the cafe—which has 800 units, with 799 franchised—is ensuring profitability of the brand’s franchisees and communicating clearly about changes coming down the pipeline. To that end, corporate leadership holds a biweekly webinar to discuss new systems or products, and also keeps up a website where franchisees can get information 24/7. The website also includes a “Chat with Charles,” where franchisees can ask questions to Watson directly. “I get multiple emails a week to that email address that I handle personally,” he says.
Similar to Firehouse, there’s a Tropical Smoothie Cafe franchisee council that assembles a mixed group of single-unit franchisees, multiunit franchisees, and area developers. “It allows them to help us guide the direction of how we’re supporting them,” Watson says.
One commonality unites Firehouse, Tropical Smoothie Cafe, and Bonchon: a desire for open lines of communication with franchisees. “If they’re not happy … we need them to raise their hands,” Watson says. “Call us, call your franchise business leaders, email us, send us a carrier pigeon.”