It's Not Just The Biscuits: Bojangles' Recipe For Rapid Growth

Southern chicken chain Bojangles' is outpacing the growth of national industry giants like Chick-fil-A, KFC, and Popeye's. Here's how its CEO goes beyond a better biscuit to outpace the competition.

Those of you who live outside the South may not be familiar with the Bojangles' Famous Chicken 'n Biscuits chain, but this North Carolina-based company has racked up some impressive achievements. These include ranking number one for growth in the chicken category (ahead of Chick-fil-A, KFC, and Popeye's), being ranked in the Top Five for food by Zagat among fast food chains, and making Inc. magazine's list of fastest growing private companies for numerous years.

How does a regional restaurant chain get on a fast growth trajectory when going up against big players like McDonald's' and KFC? In an interview with Eric Newman, executive vice president at Bojangles', he laid out the company's three-ingredient recipe for success.

1. Know Your Brand Promise, Biscuits Or Otherwise
The Bojangles' brand promise is to deliver great-tasting food with unique flavors at a good value, and it's what the company strives to deliver at its 530 restaurants spread across 10 states. The proof points for the promise are many. They include having made-from-scratch biscuits baked fresh every 20 minutes, proprietary spices and flavorings on the meats that provide a unique taste, sweet tea that is brewed and steeped, and chicken that is shipped fresh daily (never frozen), then marinated for 12 hours, and finally, hand-dipped and breaded.

2. Execute
To deliver on that brand promise requires a complex set of processes, which is especially difficult when replicated across many locations. That's why, per Newman, Bojangles' puts a tremendous focus on operations, having high-quality personnel, and a focused regional footprint. For example, in terms of people, Bojangles' knew that due to the recession some great people would be available. So the chain made a concerted effort to hire and retain them by giving them lots of responsibility and opportunities for growth. The benefit has been significantly lower turnover, which in turn led to better execution.

A regional focus on 10 core states also is key. "We’ve got to be geo-concentrated versus spread out in order to take on the giants," says Newman. Even though Bojangles’ is opening a new restaurant every ten days (soon to be every seven), the plan is to stay within these geographical boundaries.

3. Tell Your Story
Having great marketing that brings customers in but then being unable to deliver on your brand promise does more damage than good. As Newman put it, “If you don’t have a brand promise or you don’t execute, then marketing your offering is the worst thing you could do.” So the above two ingredients, having a great brand promise and strong execution, are critical. However, this third component is needed to complete the mix.

So Bojangles’ tells its story to three targets: customers, franchisees, and influencers. Per Newman, for customers the chain has leveraged their "It's Bo-time!" campaign, which builds off the reality that customers visit Bojangles’ more times per month than other competitors and features the proof points of the brand promise. For franchisees, both current and potential ones, the focus is on sharing the fast growth story. And for influencers such as Zagat and Inc., the goal is to make them aware of Bojangles’ and get the opportunity to be ranked in their rating systems.

Newman believes these three ingredients will take Bojangles’ from an $875 million company today to a $1 billion chain in 18 months. Time will tell, but so far, the recipe is working.
[Image: Flickr user Michael D. Dunn]

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