Founders to Know: Greg Smart, Slim Chickens
Founders to Know: Greg Smart, Slim Chickens

Slim Chickens CMO discusses his journey in entrepreneurship.

Greg Smart, co-founder and CMO of Slim Chickens, started the brand in a garage test kitchen in 2002 with high school friend Tom Gordon and has positioned the brand as an emerging leader in the “better chicken” segment.

Focusing solely on chicken, Slim Chickens has seen double-digit comp sales growth for the past three years, and has experienced accelerated growth. This is due to a commitment to serve traditional Southern hospitality within its communities while offering the convenience and affordability of fast-casual dining. In 2014, the brand’s first year of franchising, Slim Chickens was able to sign on with six franchise partners, who all will develop multiple units in their respective markets. Currently, the brand has a lofty goal of 600 restaurants across the country by 2025.

This success, however, hasn’t deterred Smart from holding on to his humble beginnings. Despite rapid growth, he is committed to maintaining personal relationships as the system expands so that each new franchisee lives and breathes the same passion for the brand as he did when coming up with the idea.

What inspired you to open your business?

I have always been an entrepreneur and at the time, 2002, I felt that there was an unmet demand for fresh chicken tenders served in a fast-casual setting in northwest Arkansas. The opportunity to serve premium quality recipes with an elevated focus on customer service was our inspiration; we felt this was our opportunity for success.

At the time, our local economy was growing at a rapid pace fueled by the University of Arkansas and the growth of several large companies in the area (e.g. Walmart, Tyson, J.B. Hunt). My business partner and I began with one location in Fayetteville with the growth plan to be a regional, if not a national, restaurant brand.

Was it a concept you instinctively knew would thrive?

Yes, but persistent optimism is a founder’s best asset.

What challenges did you, as a founder and owner, face this past year?

In any business year there are always challenges, especially in the hospitality industry. Food cost inflation and supply chain management were a challenge for us this year. Rapid growth in multiple regions also led to supply chain challenges, but we chose to invest in hiring the position of Director of Purchasing to mitigate this challenge. This individual has also made a positive impact in reducing the effects of food inflation for the business.

As a founder of a fast-growing business, a constant challenge is maintaining and cultivating a vibrant company culture that other talented individuals want to be a part of. I feel that we have met this challenge and continue to assemble a team of the best in the business.

What is your vision for your brand in 2015?

The vision for 2015 is to double the number of open Slim Chickens restaurants in new and existing markets.

What do you know now that you wish you could have known when first opening your business?

To be patient and know that staying focused on the core quality principles will allow you to succeed. I am glad that I did not know how difficult and challenging the trip would be.

Do you have any advice for failure or a misstep in business?

Having been through both before, I would say to keep motivated and have faith in what you are trying to accomplish. The world is full of nonbelievers and people that will tell you “no.” Do not let these individuals lead to internal doubt. Learn from both failure and success and understand why they happen.