As Growth Explodes, Chicken Salad Chick Sticks to ‘Secret Sauce’
Now at 150 locations, Chicken Salad Chick had a good 2019 and it’s looking like a good 2020, too. But as the good times roll, CEO Scott Deviney said a key part of his job is keeping the concept feeling like it did at 15 locations.
In 2019, Chicken Salad Chick found a new ownership group in Brentwood Associates, grew sales by more than 40 percent and added 40 locations. In 2020, the company is on track to open 50 or more, further sales growth and an entrance into Indiana. Deviney said it took some time to build the team to execute on that growth and keep up with the tiger they have by the tail.
“We’re trying to put the leash on the tiger,” said Deviney. “We spent a couple of years building the team to be able to build 50 a year so it wasn’t overwhelming. This year, we actually take a bit of a pause on new states. We opened up in four new states last year, this year we’re opening one.”
Plenty of infilling will occur in the 17 states where the company already does business. This year will also see marketing enhancements, namely branding work as the company footprint continues to expand beyond core markets. The popular grand openings known for long lines and free chicken salad will, of course, continue. The first person in line gets a year’s worth of chicken salad—1 pound every week—and Nos. 2 to 100 get a pound of chicken salad a month. All that runs through the loyalty program, which now accounts for 500,000 chicken salad fans.
Deviney said another big pillar for 2020 will be catering. The company is in the process of rolling out an online component, a CRM and a call center to drive catering orders.
“We’re really ramping up the catering efforts, and we’ve seen in the markets where we’ve pushed that, it’s been a nice additional piece of the business. It’s a natural for us and our product, so we need to ramp it up,” said Deviney. “If you look at the successful catering companies, they’re at 15 percent, that’s the number that most people like to get to. We’re at 5 or 6 percent, so we have some good growth there.”
But as the tiger keeps charging along, he said a major part of his job is “to make sure that no matter what happens that we maintain a very intimate culture that continues to spread joy and enrich others and be the true north.”
Part of that means making the hard decision to say no to fat multi-unit development checks.
“Our bread and butter partner now is in that three to five space, we’re not doing anything more than 10 stores. If you want to come in and buy a big block, I wouldn’t let you,” said Deviney. “I think that’s part of our secret sauce. We get great local franchise owners that are mayors in their community. Brentwood has been fantastic, they understand that. This isn’t their first restaurant brand; they understand the pitfalls of selling big territories.”
Now at 64 franchise groups and on track to have 200 locations, another part of maintaining a close-knit operating group is keeping the relationship open and communicative. That means a franchise advisory committee, an appointed one, but one Deviney said the company takes seriously. Then it’s just keeping in touch.
“We view that as a two-way street. We’re listening to them and hearing any concerns and what are we doing good or bad, but our FAC is also good at telling the community what we’re working on,” said Deviney. “No. 2 is weekly emails, I send an email out every week.”
But maybe the most novel (and so millennial) way to keep in touch is with a new company podcast.
“I call it the ‘Chick Cast;’ I interview members of our team and I’ll eventually interview franchise owners for 20 to 30 minutes and shoot that out,” said Deviney. He said it’s been a great way to introduce new faces and let the entire organization get to know leaders in the company, even as it gets harder to answer every phone call.