With Large Slim Chickens Deal, Full-service Operators Tackle First Franchise

Finney Hospitality Group could have chosen any number of fast-casual chicken concepts for its first foray into franchising. In the end, the Bloomington, Indiana-based company chose Slim Chickens because, as Chris Martin, vice president of operations, said, “We wanted to partner with somebody that would support and enable us to grow fast. Plus, they are just an outstanding food brand with great customer service.”

FHG Slims, a newly formed division of Finney Hospitality, signed a multi-unit deal last year to open 14 Slim Chickens across nine counties in Michigan, including Lansing, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and the surrounding areas in the western and central parts of the state. The first-time franchisee is targeting Grand Rapids for the first restaurant, with an opening in late spring or early summer of 2024 and a goal of developing no less than one location per year after that, according to Martin.

“Finding the perfect location for our Slims and then finalizing those real estate deals is going to take time,” he said. “But the great thing about Slims is that they totally committed to making this work and not pressuring us to open until we secure perfect real estate locations.”

In Finney Hospitality, founded by Nathan Finney in 2012, Slim Chickens found an experienced restaurant operator to help lead the brand’s expansion in the state. (Elsewhere in Michigan, a group of Jimmy John’s franchisees is developing Slims in the Detroit and Ann Arbor markets.) The Finney portfolio includes five non-franchised bar and restaurant concepts in Indiana—Social Cantina and SmokeWorks among them—mainly concentrated in the Bloomington market, with one of the bar concepts in Dublin and Columbus, Ohio, and another looking to break into Tennessee in 2024. The group also owns a car wash in Bloomington.

Martin said there are no plans for Finney Hospitality to franchise any of its own concepts and it has not ruled out adding other franchises. For now, the focus is on opening Slim Chickens, which they believe has enormous potential.

“Our own brands are very successful and certainly we could have just gone on and done our own thing,” Martin said. “But when you find a product that you’re 100 percent comfortable with and that you can grow pretty fast—well, it’s just a good business solution.”

Martin said so far he has been “blown away” by how selective Slim Chickens is as it helps the group find the right real estate.

“They are building the brand the right way,” he said, and added, “We’ve spent the last 18 months trying to find the right real estate for our Slims locations because we want the first one to be a home run, with the second, third, fourth, fifth, all of them being the same. Just like us, Slims doesn’t want to make sacrifices and compromises on site locations and that gives us a lot of confidence that we picked the right brand to partner with.”

Slim Chickens got its start in 2003 in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and started franchising in 2014. It has more than 230 restaurants in 30 states and in the United Kingdom. Thirty-plus units have opened this year, according to Jackie Lobdell, vice president of franchise development, with another 40 on track to open by the end of the year.

On a global scale, Slim Chickens is growing its presence throughout the U.K. and Europe with Boparan Restaurant Group, the master franchisee that has more than 30 locations open and plans for at least 50.

The brand’s southern-style food is cooked to order, with a menu featuring chicken tenders, salads, sandwiches, chicken and waffles, chicken wings and side items, alongside 17 house-made dipping sauces. Slim Chickens has an initial investment range of $1.6 million to $4.4 million, according to the company’s franchise disclosure document, with average gross sales in 2022 of $2.5 million.

Martin said Finney Hospitality is aware of how competitive the fast-casual chicken segment is in Michigan with Chick-fil-A, Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers, Zaxby’s and others growing there. Still, his group believes Slim Chickens was the right choice for its first franchise.

“I think in five to 10 years from now, there’s going to be a couple of thousands of Slim Chickens across the United States. It’s a pretty impressive organization of franchisees and franchisors and we’re excited to be a part of it now,” Martin said.

Source: TheFranchiseTimes

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