chicken franchise

In this exclusive Q&A, we talk with Tom Ferguson, founder of Rise Southern Biscuits & Righteous Chicken franchise, about the lessons learned during his brand’s revamp, as well as overcoming challenges amidst COVID-19.

Franchise Chatter (FC): Welcome, Tom. Thank you for your time today. Why don’t you start by telling us about Rise Southern Biscuits & Righteous Chicken? When did it launch and when did you begin franchising?

Tom Ferguson (TF): Thanks for having me! I launched Rise Southern Biscuits & Righteous Chicken in Durham, North Carolina in November 2012, originally under the name Rise Biscuits & Donuts. It began with a simple vision – serve great food made with premium quality ingredients by people who care.

About two years in, I was contacted by Fransmart, the leading franchise development company. I had a three-hour meeting with company founder Dan Rowe, who identified and grew brands like Five Guys Burgers & Fries and Qdoba Mexican Grill. After discussing the benefits of franchising, we were sold. We now have 16 locations, three are corporate stores and 13 are franchises.

FC: You rebranded the concept in 2019, what led to that decision?

TF: Once we opened franchise stores, we realized we didn’t have consistency across the locations. Different locations offered different menu items and it was challenging to get the same quality across all stores. It was frustrating and really difficult for me personally. I felt like I had failed, and I didn’t know where to begin to course-correct.

I decided to go into the stores to dig in on the day-to-day details and conduct a deep assessment. For six months, I evaluated products, equipment and workflow. After getting a clearer picture of where the brand was lacking, I decided it was best to rebrand and start fresh with the best aspects of what was working in our favor.

FC: What changes did you make in the rebrand? What was working in your favor?

TF: We decided to focus on what we were best at – biscuits. They are and always have been the soul of Rise. We also decided to focus on our ‘Righteous Chicken,’ which is tenderized and brined in buttermilk before being fried to a golden brown. Once we reset our priorities, I worked to update the menu and create consistent quality across all locations. Our biscuits, brine and glaze are made in-house, so I had to ensure the staff was comfortable and capable making the products the way I intended them to be made.

Then, I looked at the equipment we used and determined what was providing the best ROI. After doing research and attending seminars, I realized the future of our industry was going towards delivery and to-go orders. I was scared to implement this, because it is unsettling to give away 25% to a third-party delivery company, but we leaned into it. We made these changes in February 2020, so luckily we were in a good position when the pandemic hit.

FC: What advice do you have for those who feel their brand is veering off-path?

TF: Advice I had received from my mentors was to focus on what creates a strong ROI. Once we focused on that, it was easier to make decisions and build out from there. My personal advice is to be open-minded. I never thought I would do delivery, that was not in my original vision. However, I had to push myself past the lines I drew in the sand, because I wouldn’t have been successful otherwise. Lastly, if you know something is wrong with your brand, you have to dive in headfirst – but don’t dive in so deeply that you lose balance in your life.

FC: How did COVID-19 affect the brand?

TF: Like I previously mentioned, we were in great shape once the pandemic hit since we had fully implemented our delivery and to-go services. To create a more comfortable environment for our guests, we also decided to implement kiosk ordering and curbside pick-up. This helped enable guests to be in and out quickly while reducing contact with employees. We’re beginning to implement a locker system as well, to create an even safer take-out experience.

FC: What do you see for the future of the brand?

TF: I think we are definitely back on the right track now with the original vision of the company. Our profits are up 25-30% in our corporate stores and we have a goal to open 500 stores over the next five years. I think we will continue to be an attractive option to franchisees, especially after COVID-19 has refocused people on their work-life balance. Since our locations are open 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., our franchisees and staff can spend quality time with their family while still creating a profitable chicken franchise.

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