Chicken Salad Chick’s ‘Concentric Circle’ Model Drives Growth

Chicken Salad Chick

For most restaurants, the past year has been an enormously difficult one, as consumers turned to grocery shopping to meet the bulk of their food needs, avoiding the COVID risk of on-premise dining. Closures ravaged the industry, and even those that managed to weather the storm generally opted to curtail growth and focus on getting by. It was against this landscape that fast-casual chain Chicken Salad Chick — which, as its name implies, centers on chicken salad — pushed its rapid expansion, adding 37 new restaurants in 2020 and growing to more than 175 locations as of the end of the year.

“Since I first became CEO of Chicken Salad Chick in 2015, my goal was to develop a concentric circle model of intentional growth,” Scott Deviney, the chain’s president and chief executive, told PYMNTS in an interview. “When I came on board, the brand had 32 restaurants in six states, so we focused on those locations and their markets, and worked to gradually build brand awareness in neighboring markets through strong community relations and development, the idea being that these efforts would eventually help pave the way for growth into those surrounding communities.”

The chain’s growth has continued into 2021, with the restaurant now operating 180 locations.

Expanding During The Pandemic

The 37 new locations opened in 2020 fell just shy of the company’s pre-pandemic goal to add 40 new units during the year, 11 of which had already opened before the outbreak. The company resumed its push to expand in June, opening the remaining 26 restaurants throughout the second half of the year.

As restaurant businesses’ executives around the world looked for COVID-friendly alternatives to their pre-pandemic models, Chicken Salad Chick’s pick-up program actually came from the bottom-up, created by franchisees.

“Our very own franchise owners created a grassroots program called ‘Quick Chick Drop-Offs’ in an effort to build brand awareness, bring our products directly to guests and keep up sales during the pandemic,” said Deviney. “…Guests could pre-order pre-portioned one-pound and half-pound containers of our 12 chicken salad flavors … which would then be delivered to a community location in bulk for pick-up. All pick-ups were coordinated through each location’s Facebook page. Locations were delivering large bulk orders on average five times per week, with an average of 100 orders per delivery.”

Deviney added after seeing how effective the program was, the corporate team “created a framework so that it could be scaled system-wide.” In addition to driving sales, the program also assisted with the concentric circles growth model, in that it “allowed Chicken Salad Chick to infiltrate neighboring markets and generate more widespread brand awareness.”

Differentiating In A Crowded Space

With so many quick-service and fast-casual restaurant giants, it can be difficult for smaller references to offer competitive products and prices. Chicken Salad Chick sets itself apart with its highly specialized offerings.

“Chicken Salad Chick exists in its own unique niche in the highly competitive chicken category, with virtually no competition,” said Deviney. “…Additionally, chicken salad provides the perfect medium – like pizza – to layer in distinct flavor changers, creating a fresh, protein-rich, better-for-you meal.”

Additionally, the chain establishes its following with its singular opening day promotions. The company allocates “a $10,000 budget for grand openings, allowing for a more robust giveaway program to garner attention as well as build consumer relationships.”

According to Deviney, this budget enables promotions that garner widespread attention, with customers lining up as early as seven in the morning to try to claim these rewards. “Each grand opening week, we offer special promotions, starting on opening day with free chicken salad for a year to the first 100 guests, as well as various collateral offers throughout the remainder of the week,” he explained. “We’ve always seen an incredible amount of success from our grand openings.”

Looking Ahead

Moving forward, the chain will continue with its quick expansion, adding hundreds of new locations in the coming years. According to Deviney, “We’ll maintain our focus on community growth and involvement, and continue prioritizing innovation in the years to come. It’s our overarching goal to become America’s favorite place for chicken salad, with 500 restaurants open by the end of 2025.”

In the last year, the chain has learned to pay attention not only to the ever-evolving needs of consumers, but also to the franchise owners who facilitate this relationship with the customer more directly, and to people at every stage of the process.

As Deviney reflected: “The major takeaway from the past year is to remain innovative. You never know where your next big idea will come from or who will provide it, so keep an open ear. After this year, I think we’ve all learned it is important for brands to keep their pulse on what’s trending and stay flexible with change.”

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