Few brands experienced a 2020 as successful as the one had by Slim Chickens: The better-chicken, fast-casual brand signed 150 multi-unit franchise deals across 16 franchisee groups, and grew year-over-year same-store comp sales by nearly 14 percent. Having recently opened its 125th location, the brand has over 550 units in development and is working towards its initial goal of 600 restaurants worldwide.
Despite one of the toughest years the restaurant industry has ever experienced, Jackie Lobdell, vice president of franchise development, points to the quick pivots that were made in the face of the pandemic as a formula for why Slim Chickens has seen great success over the past 12 months. The franchisor doubled down on marketing efforts when other brands pulled back. It aggressively sought real estate when other restaurants closed. They pivoted to off-premise channels quickly as dining rooms were being ordered to shutter.
“We poured hundreds of thousands of dollars of our own money into informing customers we were still open and ready to serve, and to let them know what steps we were taking to keep them and our staff safe and secure,” Lobdell says. “We made sure they knew we had curbside and delivery available, and that our drive thrus were open for business. We made sure our franchisees had everything they needed to be successful and that’s really paying off.”
But there’s another reason why Slim Chickens has shown staying power, and it’s consistent with what the brand’s identity has been centered around since its foundation in 2003: really great food. “We are built on the foundation of quality food and southern hospitality,” Lobdell says. “We pride ourselves on that.”
In fact, franchisee Will Smith, who owns five locations in Colorado and Utah with plans to open 25 more in the coming years, was drawn to Slim Chickens for its food. During the research phase Smith’s company did prior to partnering with Slim Chickens, he evaluated 30 other quick-service brands before being blown away by Slim Chickens and its offerings, calling it “food you’d get at a high-end restaurant, but for less than $10.”
If Smith fell in love with the brand’s food, he felt like he’d struck gold once he began digging further into the brand’s identity. During the discovery phase he was amazed by how well Slim Chickens did all things, little and big, from marketing, to training, tech support, and accounting, down to the customer service that was present in each “Slims” location.
“Slim Chickens was the first brand we visited where every franchisee was just really excited about everything that was going on,” Smith says. “The key people at Slims, they just get it, and that’s something that spreads from the top down.”
Smith, who is an entrepreneur and has a background in real estate, has been especially impressed with the brand’s ability to nail the site selection process in a way that will all but guarantee a new store’s success. While things are moving fast, he mentions words like “disciplined” when discussing the brand’s approach to real estate, and he says the sales figures speak for themselves.
“I’ve been building businesses since I retired from the military,” Smith says. “This is by far the most exciting business I’ve been a part of—it’s one of those situations where all the stars are aligning and we’re onto something really big here. Our stores are on track for over $3 million in revenue, and I truly believe our stores will eventually do over $4 million in AUVs.”
Another franchisee that sings the praises of Slim Chickens is Mike Sartwell, who has two restaurants, in North Dakota and Montana, respectively, with designs to open many more in both states. Sartwell’s first store, in Minot, North Dakota, set a brand record for an opening week in terms of revenue, and he says that’s owed to the comprehensive marketing campaigns the brand offers new stores, in addition to a training team of over ten people that arrive one week before opening and stay another week after the store is opened.
“Everything I felt like we would be able to accomplish with this brand has happened, and more,” Sartwell says. “There’s just a lot of positive energy about Slim Chickens right now and that’s for good reason. The AUV is off the charts and the food and the people are top notch.”
Originally founded in Fayetteville, Arkansas, the brand has developed a following wherever it has stores—the people who make up that following have been playfully dubbed “Slimthusiasts”—but one of the reasons franchisees like Sartwell and Smith see an opportunity with Slim Chickens is because it still has a considerable amount of white space to develop. Both franchisees signed agreements to take over entire states and began developing stores—more deals like that are still available, Lobdell says, indicating that it’s just a matter of time before more large franchise deals are signed.
“Our AUVs work all day long for our operators,” Lobdell says. “Our franchisees are doing extremely well, with our tier 1 group locations at $3.4* million AUVs. Our priority is to have a successful brand and our mission is to provide second to none service and support to our franchisees so they can be successful as well and can achieve their personal and professional goals. Not many brands have people as excited about it as we do.”
To learn more about franchising with Slim Chickens, check out the brand’s franchising page.
*AUV for group #1 franchised restaurants in the 2021 FDD.
By Charlie Pogacar