Brooks Speirs has been in the franchise sales business for 21 years. What’s helped him most in that time is stopping and listening to understand what multi-unit operators of other brands are looking for—regardless of what he’s trying to sell.
Right now, he’s trying to pitch Bojangles restaurants as the new vice president of franchise sales. He’s been in the role for only a few months, but it’s clear to Speirs that the chain checks key boxes for sophisticated investors. No. 1 is whether the restaurant’s food segment is prepared to grow. Chicken, particularly boneless chicken, is one of the fastest-rising cuisines in the world, Speirs says. No. 2 is the ability to perform in multiple dayparts. Bojangles has three, including an all-day breakfast platform that mixes 37 percent, a feat that’s unheard of by many in its peer set. A third factor is the amount of company-owned locations. In other words, how much skin does the chain have in the game? Bojangles has more than 250 corporate units, giving it an in-depth understanding of what operators go through each day.
The last point, arguably the most important one, is whitespace. It’s a question Bojangles has been working to solve for years now, and progress is ramping up. The chain is primarily clustered in a handful of Southeastern states, but the brand has recently signed significant development deals in Las Vegas and Columbus, Ohio. Between the start of 2020 and 2023, Bojangles opened a net of 42 stores.
“The biggest thing that really attracted me to Bojangles is obviously, we are a brand with a lot of history,” Speirs says. “We’ve been around for a long time, 800-plus locations very much in the right segment of chicken. I mean, chicken is the fastest-growing protein in the world. So I knew we were looking at a segment that was very much what operators of other brands were looking at in regards to chicken.”
Bojangles’ current expansion strategy starts with an adjustment to the menu. The chain understands that it’s a leader in breakfast, handmade biscuits, and teas, but as the company ventured west, it recognized changes in the market. Younger consumers aren’t eating bone-in chicken like they used to. That continues to decline while boneless products keep soaring. In response, Bojangles has started to lean into hand-breaded chicken tenders and a signature chicken sandwich item.
The concept didn’t stop there either. It also added a new Bo-Berry Biscuit, milkshakes, lemonade, and teas.
“Every company in the world wants to figure out a way to attract younger customers,” Speirs says. “So we obviously knew that we needed to do it with some new menu innovation. So I think we hit the menu perfectly with continuing the great breakfast success, the three dayparts, and then ultimately going into a fantastic tasting tender and new chicken sandwich. So we feel very excited that we have the menu that the consumer, especially that younger consumer, wants as we start expanding into newer markets.”
Bojangles “put its money where its mouth is” by opening three corporate units in Dallas featuring these changes. Additionally, the brand received approval from its largest franchisee, which owns around 120 locations. The operator opened a new location in Columbus, and consumers’ reactions to the menu exceeded expectations. He debuted another store to close out the year.
The chain combined its updated menu with a Genesis Prototype that comes with a streamlined kitchen and a biscuit station where customers can see the breakfast items being made right by where they order.
“Staffing is still tough. It’s getting better, but it’s still tough out there,” Speirs says. “So part of that was, again, that streamlined kitchen where we don’t need as many employees. And we can kind of walk the sandwich from brining and then we hand bread it and then we fry it and a lot of it was a streamlined kitchen to make it easier, not only for our guests to get food quicker, but easier for our employees to have a more efficient workspace and workstation to get the food out to the customer in a quick and efficient manner.”
Overall, the upgraded menu and store design have been used in about a dozen restaurants across Texas, Florida, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Ohio. The restaurants came online with some of the highest-grossing grand openings in company history, Speirs says. According to the franchise sales executive, the biggest learning has been the “consumer was right, and we just followed them,” in regard to the menu and prototype switches. One unit in Sanford, Florida, is a 3,800-square-foot box that seats about 40 people. It also has a dual-lane drive-thru outside with digital menu boards, a viewable biscuit station next to the counter, and a modern, ergonomic kitchen that improves workflow and incorporates fresh equipment like induction cooktops, daypart-specific holding zones called “The Power Line,” and an Electrolux Thawing Cabinet.
More of these restaurants are on the way. Another franchisee inked a multi-unit development agreement to bring 20 new restaurants to Las Vegas. Bojangles also signed on for stores within 10 TravelCenters of America across Western markets. It completed an agreement to break into the Chicago market as well.
“Everyone always says, ‘Well, have you guys thought about doing soft grand openings so you don’t have so many people?’” Speirs says. “Well, we do soft grand openings. But when you have a building that’s sitting there with a sign, there’s really nothing you can do about it. So that’s the other exciting thing is we haven’t done a lot of marketing on these stores. The building itself has done it. The reviews from consumers have done it. So I think that’s really been a win for everybody involved in the project.”
Speirs is part of a changing Bojangles C-suite. He reports to chief development officer Jim Cannon, who joined the company in June after previous stops at Inspire Brands, Popeyes, and Jack in the Box. The chicken concept also added Tom Boland as CMO and onboarded Julia Stewart, previous CEO of Applebee’s and IHOP, to its board of directors.
“We have a very, very dynamic leadership team with a lot of experience at some of the biggest brands in the world,” Speirs says. So it’s a combination of a brand that has been around, has a cult following, is on point in regards to the chicken segment, and then a very, very strong leadership team that is being very innovative, especially as we start growing into new markets.