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After Tech Investments, Cowboy Chicken Targets Growth


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During an interview at the 2019 Restaurant Finance & Development Conference, Sean Kennedy, president at Cowboy Chicken, details the brand's technology investments

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 had just one location in 2002.

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 is apparent during our interview last month 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. Cowboy Chicken also utilizes the ezCater platform.

“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, and it’s something Kennedy said 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.

Cowboy Chicken’s Pronto Pick-up, which it launched in 2018, is another way guests can easily interact with the brand, said Kennedy of the process that allows customers to order and pay online or via the brand’s app, then pick up their order from a Pronto shelf in the restaurant.

The investment range for a Cowboy Chicken franchise is $491,996 to $829,407.

A March 2018 edition of FT Undercover goes inside one of the brand's Dallas restaurants.

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The latest news, opinions and commentary on what's happening in the franchise arena that could affect your business.

Laura MichaelsLaura Michaels is editor of Franchise Times. She can be reached at 612.767.3210, or send story ideas to lmichaels@franchisetimes.com.
 
Beth EwenBeth Ewen is senior editor of Franchise Times. She can be reached at 612.767.3212, or send story ideas to bewen@franchisetimes.com.
 
Nicholas UptonNicholas Upton is restaurants editor at Franchise Times. He can be reached at 612.767.3226, or send story ideas to nupton@franchisetimes.com.
 
Mary Jo LarsonMary Jo Larson is the publisher of Franchise Times Magazine and the Restaurant Finance Monitor.  You can find her on Twitter at
 twitter.com/mlarson1011.
 

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