Slim Chickens (US) Adapts to Expand Brand Overseas
04 Feb 2019 - When I last talked with Sam Rothschild, COO of Slim Chickens, the Southern fast-casual concept had just signed a major franchise agreement with Kuwait-based Alghanim Industries to expand in Kuwait and elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa.
Fast forward two-plus years, and Slim Chickens’ second Kuwait restaurant has just opened in the Jazeera airport terminal and the brand is also in the midst of expanding in the United Kingdom through another international franchise agreement. It’s a lot of action for a brand that wasn’t actively looking to grow outside the United States and there’s been some useful learning along the way.
In the U.K., where Slim Chickens recently opened its second London restaurant to go along with a unit in the Wales capital of Cardiff, master franchisee Boparan Restaurant Group is quickly adapting to serve convenience-minded customers.
“Delivery is huge in London,” says Rothschild, something they didn’t initially anticipate. “So when they were building the second and third locations, they built in more space to accommodate drivers” from UberEats, which has been active in the city since 2016.
Boparan has big plans for Slim Chickens, expecting to open 50 units throughout the U.K. Already a successful operator and franchisor of its own brands such as Ed’s Easy Diner and Giraffe World Kitchen, Boparan sought out Slim Chickens because “they wanted a chicken concept” and the Fayetteville, Arkansas, franchise was the best fit, says Rothschild.
A challenge that’s emerged since signing the agreement with Boparan in early 2018 has been navigating the U.K.’s ban on genetically modified crops. The rule prohibits the importing of any GMO products, right down to “the traceability of an ingredient in a sauce,” points out Rothschild.
“So we have to work with our current suppliers and also with local manufacturers in the U.K. to get as close as they can to our ingredients,” he continues. A team from Slim Chickens corporate also traveled to London in the lead-up to the opening to ensure the menu of grilled chicken tenders, wings and dipping sauces passed taste tests.
In Kuwait, delivery is also proving to be big business, and Alghanim is working on its own strategic plan to integrate third-party deliver services into its operations, Rothschild says. Additionally, stresses Rothschild, “You’ve gotta have your legal ducks in a row.”
Slim Chickens hadn’t secured its international trademark and intellectual property protections before signing the deal with Alghanim, and while it eventually worked out, the process took longer than anticipated.
“You’ve gotta have the right lawyers,” Rothschild laments.
All these experiences have pushed Slim Chickens executives to think more strategically about the future of international expansion for the brand.
“We’re going to have to make a decision as a company and as a brand, we’re going to have to make some commitments on infrastructure, more than what we’ve done,” if Slim Chickens is going to continue expanding its global footprint, says Rothschild. But at the same time, “We really don’t want to take our eye off our base business.”
Decisions on investing in international franchise sales and support will likely come in 2020. In the meantime, says Rothschild, Slim Chickens will continue its open-minded approach as it learns every day from its global counterparts.