Staying True to Your Mission as You Grow
How to maintain brand heritage, choose partners and investors wisely, and why sometimes you must walk away from a check.
By Scott Deviney
While franchise growth across all industry segments tends to ebb and flow, new players are cropping up all of the time. This often makes brands feel pressure to develop new units at an accelerated pace, which can put them at risk of cannibalization. The development competition is also forcing companies to expand prematurely and into markets that may not be a fit for them.
The challenge is to keep the core principles of your business recipe intact while you grow. There are certainly many aspects to consider, but following are three pointers for staying true to the values and attributes that made you successful in the first place.
“The challenge is to keep the core principles of your business recipe intact while you grow.”
Pointer 1: Choose Partners Wisely
Unlike the family we are born into, we get to choose our franchise family. The single biggest challenge a franchisor can face in growing their brand is finding the right franchise partners. They carry the torch for you and are the face representing the business in the local community. It is imperative to not only be able to identify the right partner but also to identify the wrong ones. Particularly in those early stages of franchising, it can be very hard to walk away from someone who wants to write you a check. However, a gut-check may tell you that this individual is not the right long-term partner. If you don’t want to be doing business with them in 10 years, don’t take that check today.
“It can be very hard to walk away from someone who wants to write you a check.”
This is an area where it really pays to have a strong identity and culture. Chicken Salad Chick’s founders instilled a strong culture of hospitality inherent in the brand promise. Other strong company identities come to mind as well – Nordstrom and Zappos are known for empowering their employees to deliver exceptional customer service; Nike is known for inspiring the athlete in all of us; Whole Foods Market has carved out an identity as a supporter of local farmers and healthy foods.
Talk about that culture during the interview process and make it an integral part of the training. Franchisees must not only talk the talk but also walk the walk. You show them what that walk looks like from the very first interactions you have with them.
Pointer 2: Don’t Grow for the Sake of Growth
Grow because it makes sense. A strategic approach to growth can enable a brand to saturate a market without a negative sales impact. With Chicken Salad Chick, we have doubled our unit count during the past two years while consistently increasing AUV and system-wide sales by double digits.
How is this done? First of all, stay true to your heritage. Again, it’s about establishing a strong identity and culture, then making sure that is the constant that runs through all new and evolving areas of your brand. Our product and heritage is Southern-style chicken salad, and our growth thus far has been concentrated in the Southern states. By growing within concentric circles, it allows the natural momentum of brand recognition to propel you into neighboring states via consumer demand.
That growth also must be with the right boundaries for your company and the infrastructure available to support it. Be prudent about scalability when just starting out. It is a mixture of trial and error, seeking advice from mentors and trusting your instincts, but don’t lose sight of the fact that delivering great experiences to guests means executing a simple concept very well. It may be tempting to add on and diversify in the name of growth, but don’t try to be something you’re not.
“Grow because it makes sense.”
Pointer 3: Embrace Investor Opportunity
The right investing partner can provide the capital you need to fuel growth by allowing you to build out your management team, systems and infrastructure while also supporting new units. They can provide invaluable advice, helping to also temper growth if it seems too early or too aggressive. It is that balancing of growth choices and supporting of the management team throughout the process that can make such a difference. Don’t be afraid to give up some equity in exchange for this opportunity.
In 2015, Chicken Salad Chick received an investment from Eagle Merchant Partners, a private equity firm based in Atlanta. The Eagle team shares our company vision and has helped our brand scale much faster than we could have on our own.
“Growth means the chance to spread your mission and deliver your service or product to more people.”
Not every investment match is made in heaven, however, so it’s important to take a good look at the moral compass of the investor base. A potential investor must also be aligned with your values to truly reap all of the benefits of a partnership.
As franchisors, we have an entrepreneurial spirit and a wonderful opportunity to share our business success with investors, franchise partners, employees and customers alike. Growth means change, which can sometimes be unsettling or fearsome. Yet growth also means the chance to spread your mission and deliver your service or product to more people. Stay true to that mission, and your company’s founding principles will ultimately guide you through the next evolution and beyond.
Scott Deviney is President and CEO of Chicken Salad Chick. Learn more about franchise opportunities at franchise.org/chicken-salad-chick-franchise.