Halfway through 2021, Slim Chickens is egg-ceeding its franchising goals with no signs of slowing down
Despite the difficulties the restaurant sector has faced in the past year, Slim Chickens, a dominant brand in the fast casual chicken industry, has seen more growth than ever.
The “better chicken” brand saw more than 35 per cent systemwide revenue growth and grew its franchise system by a whopping 30 per cent in 2020, just eight years since it began franchising.
Chicken restaurants and menu items are gaining incredible traction as the chicken wars wage on and consumer demand grows at astonishing rates, but despite the competitive arena, Slim Chickens always seems to edge out the competition with its 17 house-made dipping sauces and its hand-breaded, buttermilk marinated, cooked to order chicken tenders.
THE YEAR BEHIND
Most restaurant brands found themselves struggling through the 2020 pandemic, with many closing their doors indefinitely to combat the drastic drop-off in revenue. Slim Chickens, however, took a different approach, quickly pivoting and adapting to the circumstances.
The consumer environment had changed drastically, practically overnight, but rather than fall to the wayside and “wait out” a lockdown that ended up lasting longer than anyone imagined, the 2021 Franchise Times Zor Award winner shifted its strategy.
After doubling down on marketing campaigns, increasing sanitation efforts, and making a big push toward its online ordering system and encouraging customers to take advantage of drive-thru and curbside pickup options, Slim Chickens ended 2020 with 150 new signed agreements in the works, 15 restaurant openings and just under 14 per cent positive comp store sales in addition to its incredible growth across the country.
“We kicked things off in January stronger than ever and with more momentum behind us than any other brand in the segment,” said Slim Chicken’s vice president of franchise development, Jackie Lobdell. “Of course, things changed in March, but we were able to quickly pivot and support franchisees, and within four weeks our year-over-year sales were up systemwide. This showed prospects that Slim Chickens was the right choice for their portfolio long-term.”
THE YEAR AHEAD
At the end of last year, Lobdell predicted that 2021 would be a landmark year of growth for the brand, and with 171 deals inked since January and more than 55 locations slated to open this year, her prediction appears to have been correct.
Slim Chickens set a goal of opening 600 locations in the next 10 years, and with more than 600 units in development, the brand is well on its way to not just meeting that goal, but soaring right past it.
Slim Chickens has a few standout factors contributing to its explosive growth, and one of the main contributors to that growth is the dedication of the brand’s loyal fanbase, also known as “Slimthusists”.
This group goes wild for the brand’s 17 signature sauces and rejoices whenever a new location opens up in local communities. Slims has earned their loyalty through its high-quality food, broader-than-usual menu – in addition to the coveted chicken tenders and sandwiches, the Slim Chickens menu also includes items such as chicken and waffles, chicken wings, fresh salads, and Instagram-worthy jarred desserts – and the trust cultivated between the two groups in the past year.
“We earned their trust not because we made empty gestures at it, but because they could tell we were earnest,” said Lobdell about the company’s 2020 adaptations. “Our customers are as dedicated as ever, which put us in a position where we don’t need to be playing catch-up with the rest of the industry as we look beyond the era of COVID-19.”
Alongside the enthusiastic fans are Slim Chickens’ dedicated franchisees who are as impassioned in their love of the brand as Slimthusiasts. Franchisees are often attracted to the brand’s craveable food, cool vibe, and the extra dose of Southern hospitality that isn’t always prevalent in quick-service restaurants.
Will Smith, one of Slim Chickens’ franchisees, says that the brand “blew all of the others out of the water” when he was looking to expand his portfolio back in 2018. He evaluated 30 other quick-service franchises before he signed with Slims.
“From the food to the training, to the management team, it truly was a ‘no competition’ scenario,” Smith said. “Slims was obviously the best option for diversifying our portfolio, and three years later I couldn’t be happier with my decision to pony up for multiple territories when we first signed on. The brand’s AUV is up to $3.4m* now – it’s an investment that continues to pay off.”
“Our customers are as dedicated as ever, which put us in a position where we don’t need to be playing catch-up with the rest of the industry as we look beyond the era of COVID-19”
Smith and his company LOVE Restaurant Group have opened five brick-and-mortar locations and one mobile food truck since they originally signed a multi-unit deal with Slims and aim to have 30 locations open across their territories in Utah and Colorado by 2023.
Mike Sartwell is another franchisee who raves about his experience as a Slim Chickens franchisee. With two restaurants in North Dakota and Montana – one of which set a record for revenue during its opening week – Sartwell says his high expectations of franchising with the brand have already been surpassed.
“We had big goals when we signed on with Slim Chickens, and we’ve already accomplished them,” Sartwell says. “It just gives us the opportunity to set more goals that I know we’ll be able to hit with this brand.”
Both Sartwell and Smith commented on the immense amount of support Slims provides its franchisees throughout the process, with Sartwell saying that the franchisor is even ahead of larger, more historic brands.
“We kicked things off in January stronger than ever and with more momentum behind us than any other brand in the segment”
“When we visited the corporate offices we connected with everyone, including the founders, which was incredible. We learned about the whole process with Slims, from purchasing to training, marketing, construction – and now that we’re on the other side of it, everything they said rings true. They sent out a team to support us on our opening week.”
That team ensured everyone was trained and ready to go a week before opening, and when Sartwell officially opened his North Dakota location, which had the biggest opening week the franchisor had ever experienced, Slims committed even more people for extra time to help the team get through it.
This hands-on franchisor philosophy, in addition to smooth-running systems and processes Slims has in place to support franchisees throughout their journey, often sets Slim Chickens apart when experienced multi-unit franchisors are looking to expand their portfolios with an additional restaurant concept.
Above all, Lobdell says franchisees are drawn in by the high-quality food, saying: “If we didn’t have great-tasting, fresh and flavorful food, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”
Slim Chickens is a standout concept among other fast-casual chicken brands, as most brands stick to their “bread and butter” – or, in this case, their chicken and fries. Slim Chickens branches beyond that by offering additional options with Southern flair, like its chicken and waffles, mac and cheese, and a variety of sweet teas freshly brewed and available by the gallon.
More impressive than having a more expansive menu is that everything on the menu is just as flavorful and high quality as Slims’ famous tenders. Fans of the brand know they can head over to Slims, order something different each time, and whether it’s the wings, tenders, sandwiches, or waffles, they won’t be disappointed – especially not if those items are topped with one of the house sauces.
JOIN THE TEAM
Despite the fervent growth of the system’s existing franchisees, Slim Chickens has plenty of room to grow nationally and across the pond. Growth continues to be a priority, especially in markets throughout Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota and Arizona.
The brand is also open to international growth, as its flagship locations in London and Kuwait continue to see impressive sales growth. The franchisor has plans to expand in both the United Kingdom and the Middle East and is open to adding other countries to its roster.
Slim Chickens has a variety of flexible footprint options, including dine-in and drive-thru options, as well as formats that work in non-traditional venues such as restaurants at universities, airports, stadiums and military bases – franchisees in Colorado and Ohio went so far as to open a first-of-its kind Slim Chickens food truck.
Slim Chickens is looking for experienced multi-unit franchisees who can expect extensive support from the moment they sign on – the brand is renowned for the support and the everlasting relationships built with franchisees, and is ready to expand in a territory near you.
*AUV for group #1 franchised restaurants in the 2021 FDD
AT A GLANCE SLIM CHICKENS
Year established: 2003
Number of total units: 125+
Contact: Jackie Lobdell, jackie@ slimchickens.com; (630) 300-4798