‹‹ RETURN TO NEWS

“How That Happened” Episode 36: Tom Gordon – Slim Chickens – Creating a Successful and Scalable Business

Interview Transcript


Robert Wagner:            From HoganTaylor CPAs and Advisors, I’m Robert Wagner and this is How That Happened, a business and innovation success podcast. Each episode of the show, we sit down with the business and community leaders behind thriving organizations to learn how business and innovation success actually happens. Our guest today is Tom Gordon. Tom is the CEO and founder of Slim Chickens. Slim Chickens is a fast casual chicken restaurant chain based in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The chain has over a hundred locations in 19 states, plus restaurants in Kuwait and the UK. Slim Chickens was founded in 2003 and began franchising 10 years later in 2013. Tom and his co-founder Greg Smart have an ambitious goal of having 600 locations and annual revenues of over $1 billion in the next 10 years. So, Tom, welcome to the How That Happened podcast.


Tom Gordon:                Thank you very much for having me.


Robert Wagner:            Yeah, really excited to have you. Think you’ve got a lot of things to share with our audience and so anxious to get into it. So, Tom, it’s hard to transport ourselves back to 2003 and kind of remember what the fast casual dining landscape looked like at the time, but just doing research for our conversation today, the story goes that your partner, Greg Smart, called you and said something to the effect of, “Hey, no one’s doing this thing right.” So what did he mean, and what did you guys kind of launch into that you were trying to do in this market?


Tom Gordon:                Yeah, that’s an accurate depiction. He called me, I was living in California at the time, doing restaurants out there. And he had seen, throughout the southeast mostly, some of our competitors, some that exist today, and some that have not stayed around, but there were tender concepts and there were some wing concepts and there were some chicken sandwich concepts. He said, “I don’t think anybody has really drilled down on the essence of what this really could be; and, by the way, no one’s doing a fresh tender concept in Northwest Arkansas.”


                                    Or he was at the time, where it was really growing fast, and we thought this would be a great place to not only live, but to launch, attract talent, and be able to spoke off around the country, which we’ve now done with the brand. Now, you got to roll the tape back, proof is in the pudding, from the very beginning of the first store, but that was kind of how it all sort of kicked off. And we married many elements that we thought were decent together. I think we did what we felt was a big improvement to the type of offering in food quality, and then we put it out there; and the rest is history.


Robert Wagner:            So what were you trying to do, and I guess have done, differently, just about the chicken itself?


Tom Gordon:                Sure.


Robert Wagner:            What’d you do?


Tom Gordon:                The main thing is our buttermilk marination process that we do, and also our proprietary breading. That breading is our blend. We used to blend it up in the restaurants. We [inaudible] about once a week, blending ourselves. We’ve finally gotten big enough where we could have it outsourced, but that really was the magic, that breading and seasoning blend that was proprietary to only us, and still is, was really what we were able to put together and create a cult-like following. Now, also we wanted to have a bit more expansive menu than some, and so we have wraps, sandwiches, and wings, and lots of flavors of wings, and also a wide variety of dipping sauces.


                                    So now, we talk about knocking down barriers, we don’t want anybody to just say, “Well, they don’t have that, so I’m not going to go.” And of course, that’s a wide range, but just for our type of product and our type of segment, we wanted to be available for those who want four different sauces, and someone else who wants a salad, and someone else who wants a grilled product. And so, we tried to put the menu together that way, thinking “how can we appeal, with this type of a chicken brand, to the most people and make it work right in a thoughtful manner?” And I think we did [inaudible 00:04:34].


Robert Wagner:            Yeah. Well, proof’s in the pudding. You guys have done very well. You alluded to this earlier, but just maybe tell us a little more about what you were doing kind of when Greg called you.


Tom Gordon:                It’s a long time ago, but I went to TCU in Fort Worth. My undergrad was finance and I did some work in the finance world, but just couldn’t scratch the itch. I’m not even sure I could articulate what that itch was, but started doing restaurants, and worked the [inaudible] Macaroni Grill, cut my teeth there, worked for Sunset Conglomerate in California. And just liked it. Felt like I was pretty good at it, but as we came back to Northwest Arkansas to start Slim’s, I kind of had the parts and pieces needed to have a kickoff upstart [inaudible] company. I had a finance degree, I had some finance training, but I also knew the operation side of the business, which is making a schedule, making an order, contacting your vendors, handle the restaurant balance sheet, and so it’s kind of a rare thing. Most operators are operators, most finance guys are finance guys, and often, they don’t get along.


Robert Wagner:            Right, right.


Tom Gordon:                But I had a few of those arrows in my quiver the whole time, and it put me in a good position to lead the organization and really have a great start to it.


Robert Wagner:            Awesome. Well, that’s going to segue into some other things we want to talk about, but just kind of staying with the initial theme here: so why chicken and kind of why only chicken?


Tom Gordon:                Again, there was just no one doing this type of segment when we were looking in Northwest Arkansas, and certainly no one in the country, we thought, that was really maximizing and doing it right. Available, sure. But, for us, we wanted to be sure that we could create the kind of experience that was important to people and deliver on it; and so, that’s why we pulled these menu items together, and it’s why we really kind of focused on how that was presented to the general public in the communities.


Robert Wagner:            Yeah. Is there no end to America’s appetite for chicken?


Tom Gordon:                Doesn’t seem like it, and it works all over the world. I mean, there’s no social, religious, political objection to chicken anywhere. [inaudible] McDonald’s everywhere. And a lot to be done with it, and it’s a quality protein, and it’s the lowest cost animal protein that you can get, so it works economically. It works across the economic strata of different varying incomes and social economic parts of the country, and in the world, really. And you can do a lot with it. But for us, again, having those extra, little, special pieces like 17 different dipping sauces and wing flavors and dry rubs and sandwiches and wraps and grilled products that a lot of folks weren’t doing is what really made it work for us.


Robert Wagner:            Yeah. When you open a new restaurant or maybe in a new market, where do customers come from? They’re eating somewhere, right? Some are eating at home. Are you taking market share from the other chicken guys, or what’s your sense of that?


Tom Gordon:                Dining out occasions hit its peak around 2007, 2008 when a big crash came; and they’ve since never quite recovered to that level, but they were going up. And after they went down in 2008, they started going up again. So there are two parts here. One, you are taking share from someone, typically always, but you’re also accessing kind of the US consumer’s general growth in appetite for eating out. I think that’s going to stay. The whole rise of culinary TV and chef-driven restaurants, I mean, that’s not our segment, but it’s driving the whole, “I want to get out of the house and eat.” People have an old cliche thing of thinking it was simpler back then, people cooked at home, and I suppose that’s true, but I know my family is busy. My kids play sports and running around. And while we do like to stick at home still, there’s always a night a week or so that we’re trying to find something great to eat that’s not a home, and Slim’s is often a choice for my boys and my wife, and it is for a lot of people, I think.


Robert Wagner:            Yeah. Yeah, I do some financial wellness teaching here for our folks at the firm, and that’s one of the graphs I show is the growth in eating out. Eating away from home versus eating at home is now over 50% in America, so it’s a pretty interesting trend. So let’s kind of start moving around the wheel here of different things that are part of running a restaurant chain like yours, and let’s go to franchising first. So you’ve given us some of your background, I guess, which maybe answers part of the question. But you started getting inquiries about franchising, and then I think, what seemed like in the research that I did, the tipping point was you started getting some inquiries for some real players in the industry. Some guys who own multi-location franchises and things, so tell us about that process and how did you know what to do to create a franchising model?


Tom Gordon:                You’re exactly right. I think from the time we had one store, people were asking about franchising.


Robert Wagner:            Wow.


Tom Gordon:                They said, “Where’s this from? How’d you get this franchise?” Our answer was always, “It’s just one: it’s us. It’s here.” But that was validation to the dream. Now, we [inaudible] always want to have a lot of restaurants, have a big footprint, but then, over the years, the quality of potential franchisees kept rising up. And as we started to hear from folks who had 50 Subways or 20 Sonics or 10 of this or 8 of this with infrastructure and operations dialed in pretty well, we realized there was a legitimate opportunity to really go after sort of franchisees and expand the brand without utilizing your own capital, which we, for a long time, had very little of, and get the footprint spread out in a very effective manner.


                                    Now, franchising is a very kind of regulated by the [inaudible] business, so it was before we really started building our internal corporate and executive team to try to take hold and master that franchise system. We brought in a CFO about seven stores in, to really help us forecast and budget and do all the things that Greg and I just couldn’t really get to because we’re inside the restaurant all the time. And then, a few years later, we really brought in a heavy hitter franchising mastermind in Sam Rothschild who kind of helped us build a franchise-in-a-box: “Here are the pieces you need. Here’s what you’ve got. Brand is great, but to do this effectively and also within the guidelines that are set out for franchising businesses, you’ve got to do this, this, this, and this.”


                                    So it took us about a year to build that system and have everything buttoned up, but he was bringing in people. And so, our executive team we brought in kind of spent a good bit of money to get these guys in early, probably before many consultants would say we were ready. But we let those guys build their own teams and kind of built it top-down, which you can argue is good or not good. You can build it bottom-up, but just the way it fell in for us was really hiring some top-notch executives, letting those guys build teams, and then getting the franchise system really up and running.


Robert Wagner:            Yeah. That’s awesome. Was it just your experience that you sort of knew you needed to hire that talent way ahead of revenues, obviously. I think the inclination for a lot of people would be: “I’m going to bootstrap this until I can get enough revenue to support an executive.” But you obviously did that the right way, but-


Tom Gordon:                I mean, I thought we bootstrapped anyone, and it took us [inaudible] tell everybody Greg and I were [inaudible] for 10 years, but we took that sacrifice by getting these top-notch executives, and then by letting those guys build the teams they wanted, because I don’t know that I knew, but what I could recognize is that we were getting quality inquiries. And if we were going to ever have the ability to take advantage of quality inquiries, you needed quality people supporting them and building out the system, and you can’t fake that. I think Greg and I are as good of entrepreneurs as anyone, but that means recognizing what you don’t know how to do and to get the right talent in place to support the kind of inbound quality candidates that we’re seeing.


Robert Wagner:            Yeah. So just to stay with this theme a little bit, I wanted to just ask you about scalability. Because all of our listeners who are owners and operating businesses, they’re thinking about how to make their business more scalable. What are some of the secrets you’ve learned to that, to really be able to scale and open multiple locations in a single year, and doing kind of bigger things like that?


Tom Gordon:                It kind of goes back to where I was talking before. It’s a lot about people, lot about capacity. Can the internal team manage what’s coming at them? Because as you add on new openings, you’ve got lagging, trailing, [inaudible 00:14:40], training, aux, marketing that has to support every one of those new stores you sell, so having the internal team to do all those functions is critical. On the front side of that, when it comes to understanding where you can go in the marketplace, I think that’s a more strategic conversation about: Where will this brand work? What should we stay away from, at least initially? And how are you choiceful about what geographies in the US, and then around the world, do you want to go tackle?


Robert Wagner:            Yeah. Well, Tom, what about maybe a little granular approach to that question, just around processes and things like that? I mean, I assume those are extremely critical and scaling this type of business so [crosstalk] everyone gets the same experience.


Tom Gordon:                Yeah. I mean, without question. “Processes, product, preparedness.” Those are the three P’s we talk about all the time. And so, what that really means though, for a restaurant business, is not overthinking it. Don’t get outside the four walls. Run your restaurant in the prescribed way, which is staffing levels, line checks, product checks, correct ordering, inventory turns. Run your theoretical food costs appropriately so you don’t destroy the bottom line. But to scale it, it has to be packaged up in a form where it is teachable and transferable, and that’s what we had to build. It took a year to get the knowledge out of our heads and down on paper and jump drives to be able to create something that someone could actually visualize, read, see the videos, and end up on the other side having a pretty good idea of how to run a Slim Chickens restaurant.


Robert Wagner:            Yeah. Yeah, that’s very good. So let’s talk about supply chain for a second, and I wanted to maybe just focus in on just the supply of chicken to the restaurants. And I’ll show my naivety, I guess, about how this stuff works, but you need chicken and you got one restaurant or four restaurants, I mean, that process is completely different than where you are today, so how has that evolved? How do you manage that? I mean, obviously it’s a mission-critical element. You get more purchasing power the bigger you get, but then you’ll have a lot more complexity as well. So can you speak to that a little bit, I guess?


Tom Gordon:                Sure. Even in the beginning, when you’re a one-star restaurant, any broadline distributor will call you a street customer. And that’s where they come in, they sell your product, and you have really no choice but to rely on the US Foods and Ciscos and Ben E. Keiths and PFGS of the world to deliver that product to you. They contract with poultry providers: Tyson, George’s, Simmons, and [inaudible] out there to get your [inaudible 00:17:53], and it’s expensive. That’s why I think a lot of restaurants fail.


                                    It will always be kind of a crusade of mine to try to help restaurateurs that have one or two restaurants that can’t break that street customer cycle because you just get so overpriced, a lot of that stuff. Not by fault of the broadliners, that’s just how the business model works. But once you can break free of that, with a third restaurant or really kind of dig into the right pricing model if you can get your broadliner to go there, it makes a massive impact on P&L, because restaurant businesses hand-to-hand combat every day to make sure the P&L looks right at the end. One blow up and one single day on inventory and you’re toast all month, so it’s tricky. And that’s why I think restaurants have the reputation they do.


                                    But once you can break through that noise and get to the pricing that you need, it makes a massive difference on how your business can be profitable and how the P&L can look. In terms of how the chicken process and supply chain scales over time, as we got bigger, we started doing direct deals with the manufacturers, with the Tysons and George’s of the world, and we would do our deal, then they would sell it as prescribed by us to the broadliner, and broadliner was just moving boxes for us. That makes a massive difference as well. We’re to the point now where we have a lot of different suppliers. We do contracts with all of them, and to manage different parts of the United States and the world, obviously. We try to hang with that discipline of that supplier supplies this part of the country for this price, and then the broadliner just moves boxes.


Robert Wagner:            Mm-hmm (affirmative). That’s fascinating. Okay, so another aspect of your business is real estate, and so it has nothing to do with the breading, the frying of the chicken, anything. So how have you learned that business is obviously critical: site selection, the cost of the real estate, managing it, all of that. How has that process evolved for you?


Tom Gordon:                Oh, you’re right. It’s a critical component, and it evolved by making some mistakes, as most people do. And even in [inaudible] my executive staff here, they still give me a hard time about some old restaurants that look wrong, in the wrong part of town, and they give me a lot of grief over it, which is fine. What you got to remember is: You sort of got to go through that to get to where you are today. You have to take those steps, crawl before you walk and walk before you run, to get to the kind of really triple-A quality stuff that we do today. We just didn’t know.


                                    But as we have learned how to monetize real estate, that was a big piece to keep the capital flowing in the early days, when we could build a restaurant, put a lease on it, and then transact it to a triple net investor and have that single tenant deliver some income, or at least pay the equipment off so we can keep that capital rolling. We also succeeded pretty well as our notoriety and credibility rose with our number of restaurants, we kind of rode the cap rate wave down to a very favorable position. It allowed us to unlock some dollars in the capital spread of those net lease asset sales that made a lot of difference for how we were able to survive as we really started to go up.


Robert Wagner:            Okay. One other question, because we’re kind of going around the horn here, is around technology. So, again, got nothing to do with frying chicken and all that, but technology is an essential part of every business now, and it’s certainly a part of the restaurant business. So you got to have the app, you got to have the online ordering, all of that. We’re recording this still during the COVID time period, I suspect you’ve had to upgrade your app and make adjustments to it. So, again, how have you managed that aspect, made investments in bringing the technology to bear to help your business?


Tom Gordon:                Sure. Typically, technology allows you to do two things: you add sales or you add information and reporting on how you’re doing. We were fortunate. In fact, two years ago, before COVID, we decided to invest in the app regardless, and it took a lot of money that kind of got us [inaudible] up, but we thought it was the right investment because we believed that in the very near future, app-based and online ordering would really just be [inaudible] for any restaurant. Maybe the really nice, white tablecloth guys can get away without it because it’s experiential and you want to be there and have your wine and spend two hours. But for about anybody else, I think you’ve got to be able to have that transaction available if you come in the restaurant, go through the drive-thru, if you’re on your computer, or if you’re on your phone.


                                    And so, we made the investment early on to execute that and get it there. Lucky we did, because when COVID showed up, we were ready, and our online channels and app channels went up four or five fold, and it allowed us to really stay in the game and keep our sales at a good spot. I mean, those last two weeks of March and first week or so of April, when no one really knew what this meant to the world, were little scary, but we climbed out of that awful fast and made things happen, duly in part to the app and the online and our marketing around the drive-thru. The rest of the technology components that we’ve implemented are all about: How do we make ourselves better? Timers in the drive-thru, timers in the kitchen, video tracking of cars in and around the restaurant. Do people get in and out of restaurants effectively in walk-up, park, drives?


                                    And then, measurement of kitchen times. High tech on the kitchen equipment, fryer timers, [inaudible 00:24:05], and all the ancillary stuff goes along with in-store technology. And then, we can get into a whole nother discussion about back office technology and [inaudible] having descending dollar reports on your cell phone, and sales reports on your phone, and what your PMIX is based on what you’re ringing in on your point of sale, and on and on. But I think the technology is, and will continue to really be, an evolving, but also critical, must-have component of any restaurant. We’re just past the point of a diner that doesn’t have an app or a computer or any kind of electronic mechanism to make orders go from point of sale to kitchen.


Robert Wagner:            Yeah. Well, when you’re talking with the back office there, and the timers and all of the sort of smart devices basically that you’re talking about, I mean, that’s very intriguing what that can do for your business over time as you learn that data and learn what it means. That’s very cool stuff.


Tom Gordon:                Sure.


Robert Wagner:            Sometime in 2019, you guys took on an investment from private equity. And again, as I’ve seen you describe that process in prior discussions, similar to the franchising, right? You were contacted a lot, but then started getting inquiries from really quality people. So why’d you go down that path, and what has it done for you?


Tom Gordon:                Well, like you said, we have had lots of suitors over the years. Fortunately for us, there’s a lot of capital out there on the sidelines, still sloshing around, and I think will be for a long time to come. People need diversification from equities and real estate, and private equity has grown over the last decade to super lofty heights. For us, it was important to make sure that we could get in a position where if we took on an equity partner, we could still maintain our relationships and integrity and direction with our franchisees, because the franchisees who buy into our organization are what really drives our organization; what pays us all. So we did not want to [inaudible] control over those franchisee relationships or the direction of the company, and we also wanted to make sure that all the different financial and economics components that we wanted would be included in the deal.


                                    To get all that wrapped up in package, we had to wait awhile. And we had a lot of guys that would show up and say, “Listen, we want to do a deal.” I would say, “Great, but your credit analysts in the back office will not allow you to write the check that I’ll accept.” And that proved to be true for quite a while. But as we got bigger, as our revenues sort of really jumped, our profitability kept improving and improving, we got to a place where we could partner in the right way. I won’t say “make demands of.” But we could create the kind of partnership we wanted. It finally made sense to somebody on the outside, and it wasn’t just so lofty and crazy that people said we just can’t get there, which was fine. We understood. But since then, with our 10 Point partners, they’ve been great. They have delivered some wonderful insights to us, but mostly been very supportive and pleased with what we’ve been up to; and they’re a good sounding board, seen a few other things, know a few people, and have been great partners for us.


Robert Wagner:            Yeah. So, again, just for the benefit of folks who might be thinking about that process or hope to do it in the future, by going through the due diligence process and the negotiating process, did you learn anything new about your business or about yourself or about that whole process that you didn’t expect?


Tom Gordon:                I think you always learn a few things. The diligence process is time-consuming. It takes a long time. You’ve got to really dig. But I think the very important piece of the puzzle is if you go down the road with these guys, typically they’re not trying to be unreasonable. They’re serving the master of internal rate of return for their LPs. So they [inaudible] trying to hurt you, they’re just going at this with a different set of guidelines, and understanding what they’ve got to get out of it, I think can give an entrepreneur or business owner a good idea of why they’re [inaudible 00:28:56]. That doesn’t mean that you [inaudible] say no, and you negotiate around the points [inaudible] report to you, but when you reach that middle ground that seems to make sense for everybody, it’s a magical moment. Closing a big deal, for a deal junkie like me, is always fun.


Robert Wagner:            Yeah. Yeah. All right, Tom. So we’ve kind of been around the horn of various aspects of your business. I really appreciate the insights and experiences that you shared. So what does a week in your life look like? What things do you focus on?


Tom Gordon:                I focus on trying to not work 24 hours a day and being somewhat of a decent father and husband, but I fail at that regularly. I spend a lot of time with my executive team, understanding strategic direction, and always really trying to make sure we’re focused on: How do we execute on the budget that we set for ourselves the year, and then quarter by quarter as we go? I also spend a whole lot of time with my franchise sales team. The franchisees are critical to our business. I want to know them. Typically, they want to know me. They want to know where we’re coming from, where I’m going to take the business, and the direction that Greg and I want to go.


                                    So ensuring our franchisees that we’re headed down the right path is important, but then there’s also lots of touch points with real estate, with the capital stack, making sure that our 10 Point investors are satisfied. We spend a lot of time with them, as the liaison between private equity and the operating company. So CEO wears a lot of hats, no different for me; but, fortunately, I’ve got a lot of support. Exec team is fantastic and all the way down the line. Everybody in the support center is really great and believe in the dream. They believe the brand. We believe you treat people like family, and we believe that our reputation and integrity is the most important [inaudible] we got.


Robert Wagner:            Yeah. So Tom, one last question before we head into our kind of last five questions that we ask every guest. So we think about the world, technology, the convergence of things. Is there disruption coming to the fast casual industry, or is it happening and I’m just not seeing it?


Tom Gordon:                Well, COVID was rather disruptive. If there was ever a shock test to see if you could survive or not, COVID was a big one.


Robert Wagner:            Yeah.


Tom Gordon:                I think what you’re going to see in the future is people starting to marry kind of chef-driven, conceptual stuff with more fast casual, which you’ve seen some now. How do you get really kind of quality, unique things without having to go to a white tablecloth restaurant and spend a hundred dollars? That will happen, but I also think that the industry kind of always sort of has a few grooves that will exist. One being our business, which is quality drive-thru and speed, and what we do for living. There will always be the white tablecloth, experiential restaurant that people love to go to. I mean, I love [inaudible] restaurants. I’m a restaurant guy. I love fast casuals. I love fast sandwich shops. I love white tablecloth places with extensive menus and wine lists and the whole thing. Those will exist.


                                    But if there’s a disrupting factor, it’s going to be: How do you make sure guests find you, and how do you make sure once found, you can actually do a great job with them? Tech has an impact on that. Speed has an impact on that. All the different marketing channels that are available to us today that weren’t even 10 years ago: Twitter, Facebook, social media, Yelp, Google, Google Maps, all those things, I don’t know if they’ll disrupt the industry, but they all count, and they all count more and more and more as we go down the road.


Robert Wagner:            Yeah. Yeah. That’s a great answer. I appreciate that. Those are great insights. So, Tom, heading towards the end of our time here, we have five questions that we ask every guest, so are you ready?


Tom Gordon:                I hope I don’t fail. I guess [inaudible 00:33:36].


Robert Wagner:            What was the first way you made money?


Tom Gordon:                I used to pick weeds in the summer at my church. I wore leather gloves and had a five gallon bucket, and I’d walk around all the flowerbeds, pick all the weeds out.


Robert Wagner:            That’s rough. That’s rough work. That’s great. So if you were not running Slim Chickens, what do you think you would be doing?


Tom Gordon:                I love the hospitality business. I love restaurants. I love hotels. I love the experience, business travel, restaurant [inaudible] experience. Great hotels are an experience. Travel experience. Something in that world is always fun to me, but also the real estate business. We do lots of real estate business with Slim’s, and lots of other real estate business investments that I’m a part of. Those would be my two high points, sure, but I can be probably suckered into taking a crack at about anything if it’s a good deal.


Robert Wagner:            The deal guy. I heard that loud [inaudible] a minute ago. So, Tom, what would you tell your 20-year-old self?


Tom Gordon:                I’ve thought about this question more than once. I sometimes tell myself “be patient and less aggressive,” because [inaudible] cause problems. I rubbed some people the wrong way when I was younger guy, trying to get somewhere in life, but then you look back on it and wonder, “Man, if I wouldn’t have been that way, would I be here?”


Robert Wagner:            Right.


Tom Gordon:                Always hard to know. But understanding that everybody has a perspective, like the example with the private equity guys. Most people are good people, and if you can’t agree, there’s a reason on each side. And I think being aware of that, not just think someone’s out to get you, would have helped me in the past.


Robert Wagner:            Mm-hmm (affirmative). Okay. That’s really good. Tom, what will the title of your book be?


Tom Gordon:                Maybe: “Everybody Told Me I Couldn’t, but I Did.”


Robert Wagner:            Yeah. Yeah.


Tom Gordon:                That’d be a pretty good one, I think.


Robert Wagner:            Okay.


Tom Gordon:                Because I got a finance degree and I didn’t like that as much. Everyone said, “Man, don’t do restaurants. They’re hard and they fail.” But that’s not unique to me. When you’re young and trying to do something on your own, you get a lot of that heat from different people, but I never felt that way. I think if you’ve got a good product and you can build a good team, you got shot.


Robert Wagner:            Right. Right. Okay. Last question. So what is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?


Tom Gordon:                This is this one I know, because I tell this story all the time. I was lucky enough once to have lunch with Ralph Mason, who was the largest Sonic franchisee ever in the system. I think he had 400 stores. And I think I had three or four at the time, and I felt like I was sitting in the presence of royalty. And after we talked and chatted, Ralph is in his seventies, I think, I said, “I want to have 400 restaurants. That’s what I want.” And I asked Ralph, I said, “How did you do that? How did you get here?” And he said, “Well,” and I sat back thinking I was about to catch the golden egg that he was going to throw me, and he said, “one store at a time.” And it kind of always stuck with me. Every store’s got to work, and you got to do them one at a time. And it’s kind of corollary to: There’s no shortcut to success.


Robert Wagner:            Yeah.


Tom Gordon:                And that lunch and that statement always stuck with me.


Robert Wagner:            Yeah. Well, it confirmed there was no magic bullet, right? And you just got to go do the work.


Tom Gordon:                That’s right. You got to go do the work.


Robert Wagner:            All right. Well, Tom, thanks so much for being with us. This has been a great conversation. I really appreciate the insights. So how can people find out more about Slim Chickens?


Tom Gordon:                The website is www.slimchickens.com. We’ve got stores all over the United States. We have a map on the restaurant. If you want to be a franchisee, we have a franchise page right there on the website. You’ll get in touch with our franchise team if you email them, and we look forward to seeing everybody in the restaurants as guests all around the country.


Robert Wagner:            Yeah. Awesome. Again, thanks so much, Tom. Appreciate it.


Tom Gordon:                Pleasure to do it. Thank you.


Robert Wagner:            That’s all for this episode of How That Happened. Thank you for listening. Be sure to visit howthathappened.com for show notes and additional episodes. You can also subscribe to our show on Google Play or Stitcher. Thanks for listening. This content is for informational purposes only and does not constitute professional advice. Copyright 2020, HoganTaylor LLP. All rights reserved. To view the HoganTaylor general terms and conditions visit: www.hogantaylor.com.


 


Tom Gordon is the founder and CEO of Slim Chickens, a fast-casual chicken restaurant chain based in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The chain has over 100 locations in 19 states, plus restaurants in Kuwait and the U.K. Slim Chickens was founded in 2003 and began franchising 10 years later in 2013.

Tom and his co-founder Greg Smart have the ambitious goal of having 600 locations and annual revenues of over $1 billion in the next ten years.

In this episode, Tom reflects on the decisions he made alongside co-founder Greg that led to the success of Slim Chicken. He shares the process of bootstrapping a restaurant business and eventually franchising it and discusses important components of the business from supply chain to real estate to technology.

This episode is now on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to podcasts. You can also listen via the podcast player embedded above.

Make sure to subscribe to “How That Happened” to receive our latest episodes, learn more about our guests, and collect resources on how to better run your business.

Subscribe