Mideast operator details Slim Chickens debut
Part of Al Kout, the largest mixed-use waterfront destination in Kuwait, Al Kout Mall will soon be home to several well-known U.S. brands such as Starbucks, P.F.. Chang’s and TGI Fridays.
There are many ways to say that selecting the right partner is crucial for international franchise expansion. Phil Broad, of multi-national conglomerate Alghanim Industries, shared three.
“It’s the single most important step you can take,” says the vice president of food and beverage for Kuwait-based Alghanim, which is preparing to open the first international location of U.S. restaurant concept Slim Chickens in Salmiya, just outside Kuwait City.
“One of the biggest things is the working relationship,” Broad continues. “You’re signing a big deal, so you want to make sure you’re like-minded in your approach.”
Then later, “The franchisor-franchisee relationship is probably the most important thing you want to get right at the beginning.” He’s not overstating, either.
Broad, who before joining Alghanim in October 2015 was running InterContinental Hotel Group’s restaurants across 39 countries, talked extensively with Slim Chickens COO Sam Rothschild before flying to the company’s Fayetteville, Arkansas, headquarters, where he also met co-founder and CEO Tom Gordon.
CEOs sign. Slim Chickens’ Tom Gordon (left) and Alghanim Industries’ Omar Alghanim.
“It actually lived up to what they were saying,” says Broad of the Southern fast-casual concept focused on grilled chicken tenders, wings and an array of handmade dipping sauces. “We’re not trying to build lots of different brands, we’re trying to build the right brands for the market. Chicken in our region is really strong and fast casual, we could see straight away, was a space we wanted to play in.”
For Broad and Alghanim Industries, the master franchisee agreement with Slim Chickens continues the company’s active expansion of its food and beverage portfolio that began in 2013 with its franchise agreement with UK-based Costa Coffee, the second largest coffeehouse chain in the world. And in 2015, Alghanim acquired the rights to develop Wendy’s restaurants across the MENA region—Middle East and North Africa—and it intends to do the same with Slim Chickens.
One of the smaller chains in the U.S.—restaurant No. 50 opened in February—Slim Chickens was focused on domestic growth until Alghanim came along.
“It wasn’t really on our radar screen to expand internationally,” says Rothschild. “But after meeting Phil and learning about the team ... these guys are quality, very intellectual and fundamental people. You know you’re dealing with very smart, very capable business people.
“They already have significant infrastructure in every part of their business. And we only have to deal with one group to expand across the whole region, so that is huge for us looking ahead.”
One of the largest private companies in the Gulf region, Alghanim Industries owns and operates more than 30 businesses in 40 countries across MENA, Turkey, India and Southeast Asia, including with U.S. partners such as General Motors, Ford, Whirlpool and American Express.
“They wanted a rapid rollout and they have the financial and operational capabilities to do so,” says Gordon, who with co-founder Greg Smart started franchising Slim Chickens in 2012. “These larger deals, that’s what we look for.” Almost all of its U.S. franchisees are multi-unit, and abroad, “we want a base of franchisees that’s fewer but larger.”
When Slim Chickens opens on Gulf Road in Salmiya, Kuwait, it will be the first international location for the Arkansas-based brand and the third food and beverage concept for Alghanim.
The amount of money Kuwaiti consumers spend on food outside the home is growing, says Broad, and Slim Chickens’ “quite clever” use of different sauces allows for numerous flavor profiles without the need for an expansive menu.
“It’s a new brand, it’s fresh” and consumers “love U.S. brands across these regions,” says Broad. “Kuwaitis particularly love sauces—they’ll even mix their own sauces in the restaurant.”
Concept adaptations have been minimal, notes Broad, and thus far limited to some exterior building materials as Slim Chickens’ standard use of natural wood doesn’t work in Kuwait with its drastic temperature shifts. Any menu adjustments will come after the restaurant on Gulf Road is open for a few weeks and Broad and his management team can gauge customer reaction.
That team was carefully selected, Broad notes, and the store manager spent a month in the United States training at Slim Chickens restaurants and with the corporate team. Slim Chickens’ director of franchise operations has been involved in on-site training in Kuwait, and with each restaurant opening there a group of eight trainers—including Slim Chickens corporate leaders and franchisees—will assist and provide support.
“We want to make this first opening the gold standard,” says Broad. “The first ones that come in need to be brand defining.”
Hiring is a crucial component, and Broad says Alghanim is able to draw from its network of employees and is even recruiting from countries such as India and Nepal. The company recently introduced policies to promote gender diversity and Broad says they’re aiming for a 50-50 male-to-female employee ratio to reflect the diverse customer base.
Will Kuwaitis like Slim Chickens’ chicken and waffle combo? Alghanim Industries, the master franchisee for the region, is betting yes.
Executives from both Alghanim and Slim Chickens emphasize the importance of having defined systems and processes in place before tackling international expansion, taking into account everything from differing legal systems to subtleties of the English language in the agreement.
“Signing that agreement isn’t the end, it’s the beginning,” points out Rothschild. “For example, we worked for quite awhile to make sure we had a strong supply chain for chicken.”
And even with the most detailed plans in place, Broad says patience and flexibility are vital because “there’s always something that will trip you up.”
“We just had a rain storm like you’ve never seen—rain was pouring through the ceiling that we just put up,” says Broad of the restaurant set to open in just a few weeks. “Those things you never think of happening, they always happen.”