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Exclusive Q&A: Bojangles expansion heats up with focus on non-traditional sites

Traditional and unconventional venues are fueling Bojangles’ long-term expansion plans.
Traditional and unconventional venues are fueling Bojangles’ long-term expansion plans.

Bojangles is expanding its breadth in an unconventional way.

The Charlotte, N.C.-based quick-serve restaurant chain, known for its signature fried chicken and buttermilk biscuits, has come a long way since its 1977 debut. Bojangles, which has both franchised and company owned locations, currently operates approximately 800 restaurants — 280 of which are company-owned. And more growth is on the way. 

Continuing its ongoing westward expansion, Bojangles in July announced that it would open 20 new restaurants in Las Vegas. However, the Vegas sites are only one component in the company’s expansion plan. 

With chicken being the highest-selling protein in the QSR space, market saturation is inevitable,” said Jim Cannon, Bojangles’ chief development officer. “We must approach our [expansion] strategies more thoughtfully as we continue to grow outside of the Southeast and adapt to consumers’ changing preferences.”

This includes focusing on non-traditional venues to drive growth. Through a partnership with LVP Restaurant Group, an entity of LV Petroleum, Bojangles is developing its first set of unconventional restaurants within 10 TravelCenters of America franchise locations across Western markets. The project will be led by LVP and its investment partner, Kingsbarn Realty Capital, as the developer. The stores are set to open in 2024.

Since our top priority is connecting to guests through food, we’ve developed streamlined processes to make our locations accessible, convenient and portable, while giving guests the Bojangles’ experience they know and love,” Cannon explained.

Chain Store Age’s Deena Amato-McCoy spoke with Cannon about Bojangles’ continued growth and aggressive adoption of non-conventional formats.

What is Bojangles' overall expansion strategy?

Besides aiming to become a well-known brand across the nation, our goal has always been to give consumers what they’re hungry for and to be top-of-mind when that hunger strikes — no matter where our guests are located. We achieve this by establishing both traditional and innovative store locations at every development stage, and featuring operational and supply chain support. 

As part of our nationwide expansion strategy, we’ve continued to develop streamlined avenues to deliver the best customer experience. This includes offering a simpler menu with new items, new building design and a new staffing model, all of which is aimed at simplifying operations and enhancing the guest experience.

Behind the scenes, we are continuously analyzing nationwide market trends from a strategic standpoint. We also leverage our existing market relationships in the Southeast and continue to grow [our brand] throughout the United States. For example, new locations will be open soon in both Ohio and Texas.

Throughout our expansion, we continue to maintain thoughtfulness in our approach to best support our franchisees across market locations — including through new non-traditional growth into locations like airports, college campuses and travel centers. These innovative venues give us the ability to gain access to their existing customers — and perhaps a new customer base, altogether.

You mentioned “innovative store locations.” Why is non-traditional expansion important to your growth strategy?

Non-traditional venues are attractive to franchises like Bojangles for several reasons. First, these locations typically experience high volume of foot traffic with people constantly coming and going. Meanwhile, the convenience of consumers finding what they need in one place is also a significant selling point. For example, travel centers attract people from various backgrounds, regions and demographics — allowing us to test different products or services on a cross-section of consumers.

In some cases, non-traditional venues have limited competition, enabling businesses to establish a unique presence and stand out in the market. Further, these spaces often have specific regulations and guidelines for businesses. This factor can provide a level of predictability and stability for entrepreneurs looking to set up shop. 

Besides the deal with LVP TravelCenters of America, what other innovative spaces are Bojangles considering?

We’re interested in the full gamut of non-traditional venues, from universities to occasional uses like food trucks or kiosks. These are great opportunities for the brand to grow in a non-traditional direction when strategies align — and the timing is right. 

We want to encourage and support our franchisees across the board to operate in a successful manner, and we strive to properly guide our franchisees, no matter the venue in which our brand is located.

What is the ideal size for non-traditional spaces?

The typical non-traditional location can range from a travel plaza end cap of 3,200 sq.ft. to a small airport location of 900 sq.ft. With our desired menu and customer demand, it takes a certain square footage to deliver the customer experience we strive for, although there are alterations that can be made if the size doesn’t match the desired needs.

How are these smaller venues influencing store design? 

We tend to think more about the portfolio of options for our franchisees. When we first open doors in a new market — what we call a “brand entry” — all our brand elements are included in a bigger store format. As we think about smaller, or in-fill, opportunities in a market, which non-traditional can sometimes be, we focus on the best elements of what makes our brand so recognizable and scale that to non-traditional venues.

Moving in the non-traditional direction pushes us to think more strategically and efficiently. We ask ourselves questions like: What are the most recognizable attributes of our traditional stores that our consumers know and love? How do we get the best of the menu and kitchen design into a smaller venue? 

Each time we strategize around non-traditional locations, we want to match the branding and design aesthetics that traditional store locations bring, while keeping in mind those on-the-go travelers looking for a more convenient and timelier QSR experience.

What decor and materials are priorities and why?
What resonates most with our guests are our quality brand finishes, messaging, signage and recognizability  — those are of paramount importance as we find quality ways to bring the brand into whatever facility they are entering. And of course, the smell! People walk into Bojangles and instantly recognize the smell of fresh, well-made products, which is ultimately our bread and butter.

What role do streamlined menus and technology play in your non-traditional spaces? 

Streamlining and adapting our operational processes into non-traditional spaces helps mold the experience for the traveling consumer in a convenient, on-the-go atmosphere.

We’re dedicated to implementing the use of digital menu boards and modifying the menu experience to the needs of a non-traditional facility. Along with implementing back-office systems, we have new labor management systems in development to set our franchisees up for continued success, and operating with the best labor force. 

We have also updated the Bojangles app for a more streamlined mobile ordering experience, and to maintain our relationship with consumers in a fast-paced environment. These digital enhancements help us make the necessary optimizations in price or menu in real-time, which is an integral part of our modernization processes.

How will the non-traditional concept expand in the next 12-24 months?

We are currently working with multiple airport authorities and additional travel center operators. Bojangles also continues to seek out expansion opportunities in regions across the U.S., including the Southwest, Northeast, Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, and parts of the Southeast.


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