Although Atlanta-based Zaxby's is widely known in the Southeast part of the country, few consumers west of the Mississippi are familiar with the chicken brand. That's where Amy Pritchett comes in; the senior director heads up the franchise development division at Zaxby's, and the brand is ready to spread its chicken wings nationwide.
Zaxby's, which launched a new franchisee website last week to introduce possible franchisees to the brand, is actively pushing the concept West, targeting specific markets in multiple states, including Mississippi, Arkansas, Texas, Missouri and Oklahoma.
"We are a solid regional brand," Pritchett said, "and last year we were faced with the fact that we don't really have anywhere else to go here. It's time to be more intentional with our franchising opportunities outside the area and introduce our products to audiences who haven't had the chance to try our food."
Creating brand awareness
Opening franchises on its home turf for the past 25 years hasn't been difficult, Pritchett said, because consumers were already familiar with the food.
"Now, we are having to introduce the brand from scratch; we don't have the legacy of our product in these new markets," she said.
To combat that issue, Zaxby's has launched a reallocation program for all locations opening west of the Mississippi. The brand will invest 2 percent of the royalties it earns from each franchisee into marketing that unit. In Texas, for example, a lot of those funds have gone toward television advertising.
"We've been able to get some good cable time, and it's key to be able to present our food," Prichett said. "It's a beautiful product, so that's doing a lot for us on television."
Competition: What competition?
Although Pritchett realizes there is a challenge in creating brand awareness, she's confident getting consumers to take notice one time will turn them into fans.
"Not to sound smug, but there's really no competition," she said. "There's really no product that's just like us — there's just nothing out there like us. When you want Zaxby's nothing else will do."
The company's research shows that it stacks up against all the other chicken chains, including Chick-Fil-A, which is also based in Atlanta.
"We're spicer, zestier, and you may be in the mood for a fried chicken product, but they're just so different in my mind," she said. "We do very well side by side."
Courting the "right" franchisee
The Zaxby's franchisee can't be summed up in a few character traits, said Pritchett, who said the company once hired a firm to develop the perfect franchisee profile. It didn't work.
"Of course, we have a financial requirement, but after that it's more of a soft thing," she said. " 'Do you fit? Do you believe in our brand?' We have people from all walks of life from truck drivers to attorneys to CPAs; all different educational levels but the same core values."
Each franchisee goes through, what Pritchett describes as a date.
"We don't call it an interview. We are courting each other. We want to know who you are to see if we should continue with this relationship because it's going to be a 20-year relationship," she said.
Zaxby's, which opened 30 units in 2012, is projecting another 36 by the end of this year with a goal of hitting another 150 in the next two years. Its long-term goal is to be nationwide, which Pritchett and CEO Zach McLeroy are confident about as long as the brand sticks with two important business operations: The high quality of the food and a commitment to its culture.
"It's a brand you want to be affiliated with because it's about people," Pritchett said. "We really are a family — from the people in our office to our licensee community. We know each other by first name."
That value of putting people first has contribued to the brand's success, McLeroy said.
"Zaxby's is not here to just serve food; we're here to serve the community as well. We're about more than just about selling chicken and making money," he said. "It's a brand with a heart; it's brand with a soul, it's a brand that has passion and compassion. It's just who we are."
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