In this exclusive Q&A, we get to learn more about Chicken Salad Chick from Carrie Evans, the company’s director of franchise development.
Franchise Chatter (FC): What is Chicken Salad Chick? Can you share more about the concept, as well as your founder, Stacy Brown?
Carrie Evans (CE): The story of how Chicken Salad Chick originated is almost as unique as the specialty menu we serve. It began in 2007 when Chicken Salad Chick’s founder, Stacy Brown, was a single, stay-at-home mom trying to make ends meet. Determined to provide for her three young children, she started making her homemade chicken salad in bulk to sell to friends and family in the neighborhood.
Her self-run delivery service took off but, soon after, the county health department intervened, forcing Stacy to adjust her business model. This was a blessing in disguise as it served as the catalyst to launch Chicken Salad Chick. With the help of business expert and future husband Kevin Brown, they opened the first Chicken Salad Chick restaurant in 2008, which completely sold out of product in just two hours after opening.
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Fast forward to today, we now operate more than 125 restaurants across 15 states and remain a standout brand within the fast casual segment, serving more than a dozen original chicken salad flavors named after key figures in Stacy’s life, known as “The Chicks.” Some of our top selling flavors are Classic Carol (the original), Fancy Nancy (with apples, grapes and pecans) and Sassy Scotty (with bacon, cheddar cheese and zesty ranch).
All of Chicken Salad Chick’s delicious scoops, sandwiches and side salads are prepared daily and served in a way that makes customers feel special, which is the Chicken Salad Chick difference. Customers can also stop by our restaurants during normal business hours and grab chicken salad pre-prepared for people on the go, which we affectionately named Quick Chicks. In addition, for larger events, we offer catering services with chicken salad by the pound, specialty platters and box lunches.
FC: Chicken Salad Chick has more than tripled in size since 2015. Can you tell us more about this rapid growth and the strategy behind it?
CE: At Chicken Salad Chick, we’ve found our product and experience is so unique it tends to take new markets by storm. For that very reason, we’re able to attribute much of our rapid growth to our concept itself, coupled with our strategic expansion strategy.
From the start, we’ve wanted to ensure our reputation for serving quality food and southern-charm was developed in each market before expanding. Once ready to expand, we followed the concentric circle growth model in which we’d tackle neighboring cities that had interest in Chicken Salad Chick coming to their communities. After we found a community was interested in getting their very own Chick, it was all a matter of finding the right franchise owner to partner with.
In a few short years, we accomplished our goals in the Southeastern region and were able to ramp up our expansion efforts throughout neighboring regions, such as the Midwest and Texas. Now, Chicken Salad Chick has grown from 32 restaurants in 2015 to more than 125 across 15 states this year, including our debut in Ohio and Illinois.
In 2019, we’ve experienced record-breaking development with 20 locations opening in just the first half of the year alone. To top it off, we reported more than $110 million in systemwide revenue in 2018, making our brand one of the fastest-growing brands in the U.S. with system sales increasing by 44% and unit count by 32%. Not only has our system grown tremendously, but our same store sales have been on a consistent pattern of growth as well, with Q2 2019 marking our 14th consecutive quarter of positive same store sales growth.
FC: What sets Chicken Salad Chick apart from other concepts in the fast casual restaurant segment?
CE: Chicken Salad Chick is the nation’s only Southern-inspired, fast casual chicken salad restaurant concept. We occupy a unique niche in the fast casual space with virtually no competition. Often times, people are quite shocked that there is a restaurant centered entirely around chicken salad but, when you think of it, chicken salad is a product many people know of, but don’t necessarily make all the time – and everyone likes theirs in their own special way.
Beginning with Stacy’s research in the early stages, we’ve perfected our chicken salad recipes to where there’s something for everyone at Chicken Salad Chick. We offer a wide variety of flavors, from sweet and salty to nutty and fruity, suiting any and every palate. Chicken salad is also a great medium, just like pizza, to layer distinct flavor changers all while using fresh all white meat shredded chicken as our base.
Guests leave feeling satisfied from a wholesome meal featuring their main dish, a pickle and a cookie yet, reassured they also made a healthier choice consuming food high in protein that wasn’t fried or grilled.
Not only is our menu unique in the fast casual segment but our customers also feel right at home each time they dine with us. That is because we’re built on a culture of freshly prepared food and an environment of Southern hospitality. Our restaurants are even designed to make a guest feel like they’re right in someone’s living room, with our warm and inviting atmosphere featuring table cloths and carpet.
It is our goal to have each restaurant become an integral part of its community, spreading the Chick way to our guests. This is of course made possible by our incredible franchise owners that are passionately dedicated to our mission for spreading joy, enriching lives and serving others.
FC: What qualities make Chicken Salad Chick a strong business opportunity for franchise owners?
CE: We often find our franchise partners first joined our brand looking for a chance to operate their own business and live a more flexible lifestyle. Many of our owners are mothers, fathers, grandparents and families, so having that work-life balance is incredibly important to them. Owning a Chick provides them with flexible hours (Monday-Saturday, closed on Sunday) and unlimited opportunity for success with our distinct menu in the competitive fast casual space.
Each chicken salad flavor features a unique flavor profile that each guest can resonate with. The business also offers many avenues of revenue including online ordering and purchases through our integrated mobile app and loyalty program. Currently, we have over 500,000 members signed up through our CravingCredits loyalty app, which opens up doors to a whole new world of business for many franchise owners.
Guests also have the option to come in to any of our locations and grab a Quick Chick on-the-go, which includes ½ a pound to a whole pound of any of our chicken salad flavors. In fact, about 25% of our business is accounted for through Quick Chick sales.
For these reasons, Chicken Salad Chick has been recognized among some of the industry’s most prestigious accolades, being named one of QSR magazine’s 9 Best Franchise Deals for 2019 and Entrepreneur magazine’s Top Food Franchises of 2019.
FC: What kind of support does Chicken Salad Chick offer its franchise owners?
CE: We’ve been fortunate enough to have built up such a loyal fanbase over the past 11 years that when we’re opening up new restaurants, typically there’s already been a demand for it. Our grand opening days are some of the most successful in the industry, on average generating several thousands of dollars serving hundreds of guests.
Because of this, we provide our new franchise owners with an extensive local grand opening marketing support plan that’s built in to each franchise owner’s franchise agreement. A designated $10,000 is set aside for media relations, digital marketing, social media development, influencer partnerships, direct mailers, etc. The funds also allow us to have promotions all throughout grand opening week, which consists of free chicken salad for a year for select guests and special promo items. As a result of our marketing support, we’ve found a 13% increase in daily average sales throughout grand opening week.
In addition to grand opening support, we’ve made innovation our top priority in order to drive residual traffic and sales for our franchise owners. We do this through consistently offering a fresh menu and a variety of limited-time offers throughout the year, in addition to fun promotions to further engage our guests.
With about 70% of our locations being franchised, we always want to ensure our franchise owners are satisfied in their partnership. We know we’re providing the right support when 18 of the 40+ restaurants projected to open this year are owned by existing franchise owners.
FC: What do you look for in the ideal franchise candidate?
CE: At Chicken Salad Chick, we are very intentional when it comes to our franchise partnerships. We’re interested in partners that are passionate about the brand and its mission, and that fit in with us culturally.
Interested candidates should have a minimum net worth of $600,000 and liquid assets of at least $150,000. When onboarding, franchise owners can expect the initial investment to be approximately $515,000 to $683,000 with a $50,000 initial franchise fee.
Franchise owners tend to own a range of one to five franchise locations and are excited to grow with us. In particular, Chicken Salad Chick attracts family-oriented franchise owners with about 50% of our franchise owners being couples. Additionally, 25% are female owned and 25% are male owned.
FC: Do you require your franchise owners to have a background in the restaurant industry?
CE: Although we do not require a restaurant industry background, it does greatly help a franchise owner’s chances at partnership. At the end of the day, we are actively seeking individuals with an entrepreneurial spirit who possess high energy and enthusiasm about the brand, marketing skills and the ability to manage a strong team.
FC: Where is Chicken Salad Chick looking to expand in the near future?
CE: Chicken Salad Chick will continue its expansion in the second half of the year, with about 20 additional locations slated to open before the end of 2019. As part of our growth strategy, we’re targeting franchise development throughout the South and Midwest, specifically states like Virginia, Texas, Nebraska and Iowa.
FC: What can we expect from Chicken Salad Chick in the future?
CE: In the first half of this year, we signed 12 franchise agreements to develop 34 new locations throughout Illinois, Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Kentucky and Arkansas. At this rate, we’re projected to open 45 new restaurants by the end of 2019, bringing our total location count to 149 restaurants.
With this development in mind, we’ll continue to focus on growth in existing markets, familiarizing ourselves with individuals who haven’t dined with us yet, and building our relationships with customers in new markets. Each year, our goal is to develop 50 new locations at minimum, bringing us to over 400 locations across 25 states in five years. Following our concentric circle growth model, we’ll move out west and up north towards Michigan and Wisconsin.
FC: How can our readers learn more about franchising opportunities with Chicken Salad Chick?
CE: To learn more about ownership opportunities with Chicken Salad Chick, head to
http://www.chickensaladchick.com or contact me at Carrie.Evans@chickensaladchick.com. You
can also keep up with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.