In this exclusive Q&A, we will be learning more about Church’s Chicken from one of its multi-unit franchisees, Larry Lavigne. Larry is the CEO of Volunteer Chicken, LLC, which currently has two operating Church’s Chicken locations in Tennessee.
Franchise Chatter (FC): How long have you been with Church’s Chicken? Why did you decide to join the brand?
Larry Lavigne (LL): I officially signed my 10-unit development deal with Church’s Chicken in October of 2016. We have thus far been able to deliver our hand-battered, double-breaded chicken to communities in Smyrna, Tenn. which opened in September this year, and Columbia, Tenn. which opened late October. Each city is a growing market which has had steady population increases over the past decade.
I chose to add Church’s Chicken to my portfolio of restaurant concepts because I wanted to add a legacy brand, and I really believe in the product itself. They have a rich, 65-year history and it is something I wanted chicken passionates in Tennessee to experience. Volunteer Chicken, LLC has a mixed portfolio of great restaurant concepts, and we found Church’s Chicken to be the perfect addition to our franchise roster.
FC: What was your career prior to joining Church’s Chicken? How did you get into this business/industry?
LL: I have life-long experience working in the restaurant industry. I began my career with Jet’s Pizza, as a delivery driver, working my way through college at Wayne State University. When I graduated, I came upon an opportunity to own one of their restaurants myself. That was over 25 years ago; today I own 16 Jet’s Pizzas in addition to Tropical Smoothie Cafe, Taco John’s, and Checkers locations.
FC: Why did you choose to start your franchise business in this market? How many locations do you plan to open?
LL: Church’s quality, original and spicy chicken, and homestyle sides are an excellent fit for the Middle Tennessee market. We’ve done the research and we are being strategic with every area we decide to develop, making sure to analyze a number of factors for each location as we go.
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For Smyrna, we loved the fact that we were building this restaurant across the street from a busy auto plant – the likes of which provides thousands of jobs to the community. For Columbia, we like that we are breaking ground in the epicenter of Murry County which has plenty of populated areas nearby, including the regional medical center.
Future locations are still in the works but our team is going to ensure that we are planting flags where guests are most excited, and ready for something new and delicious.
FC: What do you find most appealing about Church’s Chicken as a brand? Does any of this transfer over into your personal life?
LL: I strongly believe in Church’s values, mission, and vision. Most of all, I believe in their love and passion towards each of their existing communities, and bringing people together. With my own family, these are the kinds of qualities I try to instill every day. I also coach youth athletics in my own community. My son also takes part in the business by working at one of my Tropical Smoothie Café locations.
FC: How would you describe your style and approach as a franchisee? What strategies do you have in place to ensure the success of your restaurants?
LL: I am a hands-on operator. Not only am I personally involved as we prepare to open each of our locations, but I am also there on site when each restaurant opens. I truly enjoy working closely with the staff, greeting our customers, and helping with food preparation.
My team also includes a branch coordinator who helps with pre- and post-construction, and ensuring the construction schedule stays on track. As well, we have a concept director who handles the hiring of general manager and assistant manager positions at the new openings. Our marketing director also works in concert with Church’s Marketing Manager to ensure our soft and grand openings launch without a hitch.
FC: What advice would you give to other aspiring multi-unit franchisees?
LL: First and foremost, you need to believe in your product and the brand you are representing. You can have the greatest marketing strategies in place, but when you’re dealing with food – my industry – you can’t fake taste or quality.
Next, you need to have a world-class team behind you that’s going to work together on a unified vision. That includes your own franchising group and the people you’ll be working with on the corporate side. Church’s in particular has been great in providing me and my team with all of the support we’ve needed to execute every opening flawlessly, and continue to operate profitably.
FC: How important is it to execute a successful grand opening? What can guests expect from future openings and celebrations?
LL: As a new restaurant in town, first impressions are important. However, our team continuously strives to make lasting impressions with all guests that choose to dine with us.
Our grand opening in Columbia and Smyrna were much alike. As mentioned, Church’s loves its communities and we wanted to make this celebration feel like a community gathering with support from the city. Community leaders are invited to join us in a commemorative ribbon-cutting ceremony to welcome the new concept into the markets.
A large giveaway is also hosted to the public. Typically, the first 50 customers in line win a coupon that will be good for free Church’s Chicken meals for an entire year (a free two-piece chicken leg and thigh accompanied with a biscuit, once per week, for 52 weeks).
As we stay open for the years to come, we will guarantee to stand by our values, not only on grand opening day, but every day.
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