A Golden Opportunity.
As the pioneering American entrepreneur James Cash Penny once observed, “The Golden Rule finds no limit of application in business.” And that’s especially true at a Texas-based dining franchise whose adherence to such golden principles is imparted through the service provided to guests, the relationships fostered with franchisees and particular attention to detail in the dishing of deliciousness. For prospective franchisees seeking means to further feather their respective nests – the golden goose may be famed for eggs, but when it comes to golden opportunities, look to the chicken.
With more than 110 current locations, growing expansion throughout the western United States and an emerging international presence, the innovators behind a dining brand distinguished as “Golden Chick” are demonstrating real talent in tantalizing tastes by increasingly appealing to appetites that savor the flavor this brand so indulgently imparts. While Golden Chick is capably capturing more national recognition, the fact remains that this dining brand has been well known to folks in central Texas for almost 50 years.
That all began back in 1967 when a man formerly employed by another chicken-themed franchise confidently reasoned that when it came to cooking fried chicken, he could simply do it better than anybody else. He set out to prove it. His restaurant “Golden Fried Chicken” was a resounding success and so much so, it wasn’t long before new locations were opened, including franchised units.
Yet to account of what that small family of restaurants went on to achieve, and all it is achieving today, is a story that begins with another man whose vision was not so focused on what the brand was, but all that it could become.
In 1989, Mark Parmerlee purchased the small chain of restaurants fueled by a similar measure of confidence that it could be done better. While the proprietary secrets to their savory bone-in fried chicken were integral to former success, Parmerlee reasoned that to be better positioned for future growth, guests needed better options than the standard mashed potatoes and soft drinks. Beyond the menu, he focused his attention on interior fixtures and lighting to elevate the dine-in experience. In the course of making all these adjustments, Parmerlee discovered that the “Golden Fried Chicken” name had never been formally registered, and when he attempted to do so, as required, he was informed the name was too generic. “Golden Chick” therefore became the brand’s new identity, and in the years that have followed, the restaurant has consistently operated in a way that is anything but generic.
Trendsetter in Taste
As difficult as it may be for some comfort-food connoisseurs to consider, there was such a time when appetizing menu options like chicken “fingers” or chicken “tenders” were not so readily found like they are on today’s menus. While history actually credits the esteemed gourmand Robert Baker with referring to such a dish in his 1950 book of recipes, Golden Chick is distinguished among the earliest restaurant brands to capitalize on the tantalizing potential in a tasty strip of tenderloin, using honest-to-goodness chicken as opposed to whatever is substituted for such in certain nuggets today. As Parmerlee affirms, “Ours was the original and still the best.”
But in contemplating menu additions, Parmerlee also reflected on all that he wanted the brand to represent to dining guests. “We took the approach that we would be a value to the family, not necessarily by offering the cheapest prices, but by providing exceptionally good, quality of food, with a variety of side items, and healthy options,” explains Parmerlee.
To help accomplish that goal, Palmerlee relied on support from Stephan Pyles, one of the most celebrated and respected chefs in Dallas and Texas at-large. Pyles not only developed the roast chicken recipe by which Golden Chick has allured so many appetites, but also created the gourmet chicken salad so many cravingly clamor. How good is it? Parmerlee says there are a number of catering companies that purchase in-bulk and pass it off as their own to unsuspecting clients.
Golden Chick also began offering healthy salad selections long before it became a national trend among fast food operations. Again, as Parmerlee explains, his goal was all about distinguishing Golden Chick from the otherwise routine, run-of-the-mill restaurant brands. “We wanted to separate ourselves from chicken shacks, the plain-jane, fast-fried concepts that give you a bucket … that’s just not us.”
With a successful menu, in more recent years, Parmerlee has rolled out a reimaging program to further evolve the dining experience within Golden Chick. Explaining the vision to distinguish Golden Chick, Parmerlee offers an observation on other environments: “There are some places where you just wouldn’t think of eating inside … think of the older units affiliated with some chains that have bright orange or bright red plastic booths and long tube fluorescent lighting that scream fast food.”
Golden Chick interiors today are modernizing through the incorporation of contemporary color schemes, canned-lighting enhancements, real wooden tables and touches that impart a more bistro-esque aesthetic. Quality food and quality service in a comfortable, casual, but classy environment, this is what Parmerlee anticipates in his dining experiences, and these are the very ingredients that his brand is offering to guests today. There’s no doubt, The Golden Rule prevails at Golden Chick.
Flocking to Franchise
For all his focus on enhancing the menu and interior décor, Parmerlee has manifested an equal amount of mental fortitude in developing the franchise model, which has spurred growth throughout Texas and Oklahoma, as well as soon-to-open locations in Georgia and South Carolina. There is also a Golden Chick in Aman, Jordan, but soon, that international presence will include Egypt, Saudi Arabia and China. In fact, Parmerlee’s partner Allen Tharp has recently opened an office for Golden Chick in Shanghai, and has plans for a pilot store to open this year. Tharp is a food service veteran based in San Antonio. He has already opened five Golden Chicks in San Antonio, with more on the way.
Parmerlee says he has long advocated for controlled, concentric growth, but in the case of the international locations, the company is working with franchisees who first achieved success operating locations here in America, which allowed him greater sense of security in opening overseas. “We know these operators have been trained and are sensitive to our standards, so that has made it easier to make the adjustment.”
For others entrepreneurs considering the potential here, Parmerlee says it all begins with a simple phone call or online inquiry through the Golden Chick website at www.goldenchick.com.
Parmerlee says the company is looking for those who are willing to be active participants in the operation, either directly or with family involvement. He seeks owner/operators, not simply investors who let others do the work while they manage a portfolio of other interests.
The investment is flexible, and largely dependent on real estate and construction costs in areas of operation. In some cases, Parmerlee explains, franchisees have been able to remodel structures where restaurants once operated, saving more than half of what it costs to typically build a location from the ground up (averages could range from $900,000 to $4 million). If property is leased, as opposed to purchased, there are additional savings. In all cases, Golden Chick’s corporate team assists with site selection, modeling, building negotiations and demographic analysis that empower candidates to make well-informed decisions about where and how to operate in their respective communities.
Franchisees also complete corporate training in Dallas, typically for six weeks. Prior to opening, a team from corporate will actually go to the new location to provide further training and hands-on-help to prepare for the opening. “We assess each situation, and do all we can to help someone along. If it’s a brand new franchisee, we want to help them as long as needed. We’re not one to just say, ‘Give us the franchise fee. Now, we’ll give you the manual and good luck. You’re on your own.’ I have seen that happen to some and I could name chains that have come and gone doing things that way, but it isn’t the way we operate,” says Parmerlee.
Franchisees also benefit from ongoing support from a district director and marketing support from a dedicated staff. Moreover, all Golden Chick locations benefit from buying power and Golden Chick’s long established relationship with distributors and suppliers. In fact, the relationship with one supplier recently provided extra special support to franchisees. During the remodeling campaign, beverage partners helped create a fund to subsidize costs of remodeling.
But regardless of the vendor, contracts are negotiated on behalf of all locations. And whereas some franchisors treat these type of operations as a profit center, at Golden Chick, savings are passed on to franchisees. “Sometimes, the right thing to do really is the right thing to do,” explains Parmerlee. “Some chains profit from the equipment they sell to their franchisees. Our approach is to be on same side as our franchisees, not to create that sense of mistrust or abuse.”
In that same line of thought, Golden Chick has some of the lowest royalty rates in the industry (only four percent). According to Parmerlee, “If our franchisees are making money, we’re going to grow faster. We don’t have to take money out of their pockets to accomplish that.”
He says such policies have helped Golden Chick maintain “the best franchisee relationships in the business.”
“To me this is a franchise family. We’re big enough to have purchasing power and brand recognition in our markets, but small enough to still have a family-styled feel.”
Part of that is accomplished through routine family meetings, or more appropriately known as the President’s Council. Comprised by elected representatives from each geographic area, this council meets quarterly and allows franchisees to offer input and suggestions on all operational matters. Parmerlee says this process may take a little longer in the way of making decisions, but it allows all to offer insight and help guide the future direction of the company.
A franchising model that allows flexibility, affordability, family-focused values of communication and cooperation has helped Golden Chick grow, both in locations and earnings. Sales have increased by double digits for the last two years in a row. Even in times of economic flatness, Parmerlee says Golden Chick has continued to experience great success. Locations that began by earning $6,000 a week are today averaging $15,000 a week, or in the case of newer locations, $20,000 and higher.
With great growth, Parmerlee expresses great appreciation, observing, “In the old days, we used to open five or six units a year. Last fiscal year, we opened thirteen. We have more than twenty on the drawing board for 2013. Last month, we opened five new locations. Five openings once represented a great year, now it represents a great month!”
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