This article was featured in Franchising.com.
Golden Chick is one of the fastest growing restaurant brands in the U.S. and one of the top players in the lucrative chicken QSR space. The brand has reached this level of success by developing the quintessential golden fried chicken product and fine-tuning a system that is easily and successfully replicated. Not content to rest on their success, the brand is now turning to innovation to take the system – and its franchisees – to the next level.
Specifically, the brand is using innovative tools and strategies to generate and sustain new customer trial while building increased frequency among current guests. Success is coming quickly. The brand has recently been recognized as a finalist in the D Magazine Innovation awards (Dallas, Texas) and as the Gold Level Winner of the Franchise Innovation Award given by Franchise Update Media.
We asked Golden Chick CMO Howard Terry about that recognition and spoke with several other top execs at the brand – including President Jim Stevens – to find out more about just how they are going about innovation.
Tell us more about the awards Golden Chick has recently been recognized with:
Howard Terry, CMO: We have been working tirelessly, especially since the onset of the pandemic, to continue to think fresh and bring appealing new food concepts to our existing and new customers. It is gratifying that the industry has taken notice of our efforts – we have recently been cited in multiple national respected trades, but also featured as a finalist in the D Magazine Innovation awards (Dallas, Texas) and the Gold Level Winner of the Franchise Innovation Awards by Franchise Update. Innovation is driving new ideas, approaches, and methods which starts with a culture without limitations. Such a culture allows everyone in the organization to ask the question, ‘What if? Our unexpected partnership with Fletchers Corny dogs to sell their famous corndogs in our 200 locations, resulted in the best promotion in the history of the brand. And we’re just getting started.
Why is innovation so important at Golden Chick?
Jim Stevens, President: Innovation is important for two reasons. 1. If you are not keeping up then you are falling behind. History shows us that the lack of innovation is not sustainable. 2. Today’s customer requires a level of innovation with respect to technology and menu, innovation is as important to the customer as service and product. On the equipment and building side of innovation it is what allows us to serve our customers quickly and safely. You can’t just innovate on the menu side, or you won’t keep up on the production side, it’s all tied together. Our purpose for innovation is to help our franchisees grow sales by reducing complexity so they can focus on the guest and do it fast, friendly, and accurately.
Talk about some of the brand’s recent innovations. How did they impact the brand, its franchisees, and customers?
Scott Stevens, VP Development: We were excited to open our new modular building concept in 2021. It was the cumulation of 2 years of work. It enables us to get the restaurant to market in as little as 6 months. This allows our franchisees the ability to generate revenue, instead of getting bogged down in permitting. Our guest wins also, as they have the chance to eat our world class products even sooner than expected.
Mike Jensen, Senior VP of Operations: Our equipment selections and specifications enable us flexibility to produce multiple side dishes and proteins. Although we are cautious about equipment package costs and remain conscious of unit economics, we do source equipment that not only provides us the flexibility but also simplifies store operations, produces optimum quality foods, and maximizes quality while holding.
Terry: We have implemented a new digital interior menu system and media wall in all new locations and all remodeled Golden Chick locations across the system. The impact has been dramatic and is certainly best in category. Additionally, we are developing two new exterior menu prototypes that will incorporate digital features to enhance the “Drive Thru Experience”. Our current tests show a 5-8% check average growth for stores using digital menu systems.
How is Golden Chick using innovation to generate new customers and build frequency?
Terry: Our promotional strategy over the past two years has included a heavy dose of product innovation and LTOs. The key is landing on innovation ideas that are easily executed by our current operations, and are appealing to our current and aspirational customer targets. In 2020, as the pandemic was making much of the industry withdraw from innovation and marketing in general, Golden Chick became even more aggressive by offering unique items such as Butterfly Shrimp, Cholula Chicken Tenders, and our new Big & Golden Chicken Sandwich. However, our most successful promotion was an “outside the box” offering – Fletcher’s Original Corny Dogs. This product has a “cult following” across Texas and was going to be unavailable due to the State Fair cancellation in 2020, so when Golden Chick offered it, existing and new customers flocked to our locations. This innovation strategy has proven invaluable in our efforts to attract new customers who we then turn to loyal fans of the brand.
The same strategy we use to attract new customers works to build frequency with existing guests. NPD reports that 27% of current customers will try a new menu item if offered (either permanent or LTO). Golden Chick has a huge and loyal following who love our traditional offerings of Golden Tenders, Fried and Roasted Chicken, US Farm Raised Catfish, and of course, our “Almost World Famous” fresh baked yeast rolls. But many of these customers also want to try something fresh and new. We have shown that using innovation and product LTOs not only attracts new customers but also builds frequency of our current guest base.
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