Chicken Salad Chick ready to put fresh funding to work
Smaller operators help maintain Chicken Salad Chick’s strong culture, says CEO Scott Deviney.
Photo by Joe Veen
Fresh off a majority acquisition by a new private equity firm, Chicken Salad Chick President and CEO Scott Deviney said he’s eager to get back to the day-to-day as a growth brand leader.
Brentwood Associates, also an investor in Blaze Pizza among other restaurant brands, took a majority stake in the 137-location concept with chicken salad at the core. Deviney said it was a fantastic process, and puts the company on track for long-term expansion.
“We were extremely lucky because we had a great reaction from everyone in the process. It’s flattering that we have some of the best private equity groups that wanted to partner with us,” said Deviney in an interview during the 2019 Restaurant Finance & Development Conference. Chicken Salad Chick was held by Eagle Merchant Partners.
Deviney will continue as CEO and aim to execute on the major whitespace potential that garnered a lot of the PE interest. He expects to open a total of 50 locations in 2020, with around 15 of those being corporate restaurants and all continuing the brand’s concentric growth model. That means expanding outward from the current 16 Southeast and Midwest states, with the Auburn, Alabama, headquarters smack dab in the middle.
With the capital and expertise from Brentwood behind the company, it might be able to speed things up for the hungry and organic franchise prospects across the country.
“We don’t scream it, it just happens organically, we get about 650 inquires a year, and the only advertising we do is publications, websites and social media,” said Deviney. “The best part of our brand is people want more restaurants.”
Right now, almost the entire franchise base is comprised of small operators in the three- to five-location range, financed with SBA loans and local banks. He said the culture keeps the smaller operators engaged and working in the locations, but he’s not averse to larger deals. Deviney added, however, that while he’s open to larger operators, he isn’t interested in monster development deals.
“I personally don’t love the big mega deals. If someone wants to do 100, that’s fine,” said Deviney. “But it will be five to 10 at a time. “
Chicken Salad Chick’s founder story of husband and wife Kevin and Stacey Brown catches a lot of attention from prospective operators. Kevin Brown, who passed away after a battle with cancer in 2015, built the business and the culture around his wife’s passion for making chicken salad. It’s become an inspirational story for the corporate refugees and entrepreneurial families with a deep love for their community. Fifty percent of franchisees are husband-and-wife partners and 25 percent of the system is women owned.
“Kevin and Stacey have done a great job of developing this very servant mantra, so that resonated with us and we put it everywhere,” said Deviney. “When we’re interviewing team members, interviewing potential operators, all we talk about is serving the community and having that servant heart. Everything we do has to fit that, we do a few things to make sure that people are optimistic and positive.”
That feel-good story resonates with customers, too, and the service and quality they find at the restaurants means some incredible consumer scores. Wherever it opens, Chicken Salad Chick has a throng of excited customers lined up, and the brand counts 300,000 loyalty members—that’s more than 2,000 members per store.
For comparison, Starbucks has just over 1,000 loyalty members for each of the company’s U.S. locations.
There will be some evolutions in the coming years for the brand, with a focus on off-premises operations such as catering and bulk chicken salad, known as Quick Chick in the company.
“Because the product is made from scratch with no additives or preservatives, there’s a limited shelf life of about five days. That sets us up really well for Quick Chick,” said Deviney. “That helps our average ticket be higher than our competitors because people come in and get a salad for lunch but get more to take home for dinner.”
Right now, the to-go offering accounts for about 25 percent of the business, but Deviney is eyeing larger refrigerators to expand the offering and put bulk sides out front as well.
Behind the counter, there have been a lot of tech updates, such as a new tablet-based point of sale system that allows for deeper connectivity for digital ordering and other third-party tools. That makes the push toward sophisticated off-premises offerings simpler, especially catering.
“We’ve been in the business but we haven’t focused as much as we have this year. So it’s looking at that holistically to see what we should be offering and what does the sales cycle look like,” said Deviney.
There’s clearly a lot going on at the concept, and now with Brentwood on board Deviney said he’s eager to return from six months of finance work. “Now that that’s done, I can get back to the real job,” he said.