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Tech propels Cowboy Chicken growth


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It’s been a slow burn at Cowboy Chicken in the 17 years since Sean Kennedy took over the business, as the Carrollton, Texas-based brand has built its unit count back up and worked to grow awareness of a rotisserie chicken concept that in 2002 had one unit.

Following focused investments in the scalability of the brand over the past couple of years, Cowboy Chicken is poised for expansion in 2020, said Kennedy, the brand’s president, whose enthusiasm was apparent during our interview at the Restaurant Finance & Development Conference. “We’ve really invested in the brain trust of the brand,” said Kennedy as he motioned to Chief Strategy Officer Kip Kolow, who came on board in late 2018 and has since been joined by chief data and financial officers.

“We’ve taken this year to strengthen the scale of our system,” continued Kennedy, to grow sales and “ease the day in the life of our managers.”

Investments in automated reporting, a new web design and functional online ordering put Cowboy Chicken in a position to better support its existing franchisees and attract new operators, said Kennedy. The brand opened seven restaurants in 2018, added its third California store in 2019 and now has 24 total locations in five states.

Kennedy expects technology to continue playing a major role in restaurant brands’ success across the industry, prompting Cowboy Chicken’s website overhaul.

“We tore it all apart and put it back together,” said Kennedy of new web functionality that’s integrated with online ordering platform Olo and its Dispatch delivery service network. “As a 24-store brand, we don’t have all the bells and whistles that the big guys have,” noted Kennedy. “We work hard to stay relevant.”

Cowboy Chicken maintains its own in-house delivery service, even as its use of third-party providers continues to grow. While Kennedy acknowledged using Uber Eats and DoorDash competes with each restaurant’s own delivery “to some degree,” it’s something the brand has no intention of giving up—mainly because of the customer data component.

“The biggest thing is the guest information,” he said. “We own the data, we own the guest, we own the experience.”

Kolow noted the brand hired an analyst to dig into the details of how delivery is impacting store-level profitability and is awaiting that report. “It’s a dangerous space because before you know it all the technology can eat up your profitability,” he noted.

It’s up to Cowboy Chicken to “stay nimble,” Kennedy added. “2019 was a big year of change.”

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