The Franchisor/Franchisee Economic Relationship – It’s A New World!!

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This specific suggestion will not be adopted by existing large chains, because it would be such an obvious reduction of the current royalty stream. However, well established franchisors could, and should, absorb more of the additional systemwide needs…

THE FRANCHISOR/FRANCHISEE ECONOMIC RELATIONSHIP – IT’S A NEW WORLD !!

restaurant, COVID-19, Roger Lipton, Franchise Money Maker

By Roger Lipton

Almost everybody has noticed that there is an increasing strain between franchisees and their franchisors. It is no accident that new franchisee associations are being formed and existing organizations are getting more militant. There are many intangible reasons, as too many franchisors do not treat their “z’s” as partners. We have written many times that the “asset light”, “free cash flow” model is not reflecting the necessary investments in the system to keep franchisees as profitable as possible. Many franchisees are especially bothered by the fact that their franchisors are spending hundreds of millions, sometimes billions, of dollars buying back stock and making acquisitions, while leaving the franchised operators without the necessary new product development, technology upgrades, marketing initiatives, etc.etc.
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With all of that in mind, the bottom line is the bottom line. Too many franchisees are suffering financially, under more pressure than ever. The typical franchise royalty is 5%, give or take a point, plus 2%, as an advertising contribution. There are often additional charges, not all that material in and of themselves, but adding to an already large burden. Let’s say the franchisee is fortunate enough to be making 17-18% store level EBITDA (and Depreciation is not free cash in the long run). Rebating 7 points out of 17 or 18 points starts to feel like a pretty big load, and there is still local G&A to be carried. Even if store level EBITDA, before royalties, is in the low twenties, 7 points gets to be a bother. Additionally: many franchisees, Dunkin’ Donuts and Burger King and Jack in the Box are just a few examples of mature systems where decent money is still being made at the store level because the store leases were signed ten or fifteen years ago, so occupancy expenses are lower than today’s economics would allow. That’s, of course, why so few new units are being built by many mature franchised systems, especially in the USA. Today’s economics do not allow it.

When Ray Kroc started franchising McDonald’s restaurants over 60 years ago, the royalty was 1.9%. By the 1960s, franchisors had started charging 2-3%, by the 1970s 3-4%, by the eighties 4-5%, and 5% seems to be the standard today, plus advertising and other fees.

Read the entire article click here https://www.liptonfinancialservices.com/2019/03/the-franchisor-franchisee-economic-relationship-this-is-not-your-fathers-world/

Restaurant Industry In Turmoil, But There Is A Way Out!

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In short, most operators, with a great deal of effort, should be able to generate enough sales, on premise and off, to satisfy their landlords, who will have become their partners, dependent on sales. Store level expenses will be largely variable, including rent, and there should be less upward pressure on the fixed costs at store level.

RESTAURANT INDUSTRY IN TURMOIL, BUT THERE IS A WAY OUT!
By Roger Lipton
restaurant, COVID-19, Roger Lipton, Franchise Money Maker

The world, as we have known it, is seriously changed for the foreseeable future. Restaurant and retailers will have to cope with lots of new requirements that deal with social distancing and testing.

PAYROLL PROTECTION?? NOT QUITE!

One of the current priorities is to access the Payroll Protection Program. Unintended consequences are already coming into focus. Restaurant operators realize that business will be slow after opening, which is still weeks or months away. If they spend 75% of the money, mostly for payroll and rent, in the next eight weeks to qualify for loan forgiveness, they will not have the resources to carry the predictable losses when they first reopen, and those losses will likely last for months at least. They have the option of holding the money, which will then remain a loan rather than a “grant. However, while the two year term, at only 1%, seems cheap enough, there is no way that cash flow will be sufficient to pay back the loan that quickly.

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Some operators will therefore let their ex-employees remain on unemployment insurance for the time being, use the government capital to cushion losses after reopening, and deal with the ramifications two years from now. Other operators, will take the money, never reopen, and walk away. There are no personal guarantees, after all.

At the least, therefore, the program must be changed to allow for a sufficient payback period to recoup losses. We suggest this will happen, because the problem, and the fix, is so obvious. There are, predictably, other unintended consequences of this huge program that was implemented with such a rush, but we will leave that for another day.

RENT – THE BIGGEST FIXED COST

We are all reading about various companies, small and large, holding back rent. It’s understandable under the circumstances, and landlords realize that their world has changed as well. At the end of the day, we believe that percentage rents will be the new normal. The lessors have no real option. Yesterday’s rent structure is gone, and their alternative in almost all cases is to have empty space for perhaps years.

OFF-PREMISE CONSUMPTION BECOMES CRITICAL

Even after vaccines and treatments are in place, it is going to be quite a while before consumers are comfortable in close contact with strangers. We can be assured that dine in traffic will be at a lower level than previously. It therefore becomes critical for restaurant operators to do everything possible to build their off premise activities. Drive-thru locations, where applicable, can help a lot, but delivery (with or without third parties), catering, curbside pickup, packaged products to go are all brand building alternatives that can help to carry the physical overhead.

OVER-STORED NO MORE

Stated most concisely: there will be more closures than we have seen in at least fifty years (from today’s huge base). Far fewer chains will be expanding. Survivors will have less competition.

LABOR COST PRESSURE WILL ABATE

When the stores open, there will be less upward wage pressure than we have seen in the last few years and that we were anticipating would continue.

The cost structure will be more variable than ever before. It will take a while for negotiations to take place but rent will be based on a percentage of sales. Cost of Sales is variable and Labor is largely variable. Other Operating Costs at the store level (waste removal, bank fees, insurance, property taxes, etc.) can be negotiated lower. (It happens that I am affiliated with a Company that can help in this regard, with no up front cost.) Corporate Overhead can be scaled for the new world we are all living within.

In short, most operators, with a great deal of effort, should be able to generate enough sales, on premise and off, to satisfy their landlords, who will have become their partners, dependent on sales. Store level expenses will be largely variable, including rent, and there should be less upward pressure on the fixed costs at store level. Store level cash flow may not approach previous levels but should be adequate to support, if not enrich, a reasonable level of corporate overhead. Regional operators will have an advantage, with their proximity to the store level and their ability to respond quickly and efficiently to changing circumstances. National operators should decentralize to whatever extent possible for the same reasons. Dedicated corporate management should be able, in most cases, especially if not burdened by excessive debt, to lead their companies to survive, and even prosper over the long term.
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About Roger Lipton
Roger is an investment professional with over 4 decades of experience specializing in chain restaurants and retailers, as well as macro-economic and monetary developments. After earning a BSME from R.P.I. and MBA from Harvard, and working as an auditor with Price, Waterhouse, he began following the restaurant industry as well as the gold mining industry. While he originally followed companies such as Church’s Fried Chicken, Morrison’s Cafeterias and others, over the years he invested in companies such as Panera Bread and shorted companies such as Boston Chicken.

A Roger Lipton Update – Chicken Salad Chix

A Roger Lipton Update – Roger is an investment professional with decades of experience specializing in chain restaurants and retailers, as well as macro-economic monetary developments. He turns his background, as restaurant operator and board member of growing brands, into strategic counsel for operators and perspective for investors.

By Roger Lipton -with Permission
An archive of his past articles can be found at RogerLipton.com.

Chicken Salad Chick, based in Auburn, Alabama, was formed in 2008, by Stacy Brown. Stacy was a stay-at-home mom and self-proclaimed connoisseur of chicken salad who began the business by selling chicken salad made from her home kitchen. She was eventually shuttered by the local health department for selling food from an un-approved facility. She then joined her future husband, Kevin, who left a career in software sales, to help build the foundation for multiple corporate locations and future franchise growth.

In terms of equity ownership, in early 2015, Eagle Merchant Partners (“EMP”), an Atlanta, GA based private equity firm, purchased the majority ownership of the company. Kevin Brown, tragically, succumbed to colon cancer in 2015 at the age of 40. Before his death however, Kevin was instrumental in negotiation of the PE transaction, and he also helped establish the Chicken Salad Chick Foundation, which raises funds for cancer research and feeding the hungry.

In conjunction with that transaction, Russ Umphenour and Scott Deviney become chairman and President/CEO, respectively. Both are highly respected industry veterans. Mr. Umphenour was the CEO of Focus Brands (parent of Moe’s, Auntie Anne’s Pretzels, and others), and before that ran RTM Restaurant Group, the Arby’s franchisee that he founded.

Mr. Deviney was CEO of SDZ (a multi-unit Wendy’s franchisee) and SVP with SunTrust Bank, specializing in the restaurant industry. Over the last several years, the management team has obviously been broadened further to support the ongoing rapid growth. Stacy Brown, the cultural creator of Chicken Salad Chick remains a prominent spokesperson and brand voice, as well as a shareholder.

Originally a drive-thru and takeout only operation, the menu was expanded and sit-down facilities were added as additional stores opened. With franchise operations beginning in 2012, 29 units were open by the end of 2014, with contracts for an additional 114 locations.

The comfortable family oriented decor is combined with a creative and modestly priced menu, featuring over a dozen varieties of made from scratch chicken salad plus pimento cheese and egg salad, as well as fresh sides, salads, soups and sandwiches.

The primary meal special called The Chick includes a scoop of sandwich of chicken salad with a choice of a fresh side, salad, soup or another scoop of chicken salad, egg salad or pimento cheese. All meals are accompanied by a pickle spear, wheat crackers, a selection of breads for sandwiches and a small cookie. The menu also offers chicken salad BLT and turkey club sandwiches, though over 85% of sales come from chicken salad, which is also sold in large and small grab’n go containers called Quick Chick. Upwards of 70 percent of guests are women and the chain prides itself on being “chick friendly.”

Chicken Salad Chick ended calendar 2018 with 104 locations operating—74 franchised and 30 company operated. There were 21 franchised locations and five company stores opened in 2018. When EMP purchased the business in May 201, there were 32 stores in the system, so growth has been dramatic over the last four years.

The 104 locations are now located within twelve states—ALA, GA, FLA, NC, SC, TN, MS, LA, TX, KY, AK, OK. It is expected that 45 locations will have opened in 2019, 13 of them being company operated. It has so far not been necessary to advertise for franchisees, as the curb appeal of the physical unit combined with the menu and employee culture, as well as attractive unit level economics have generated more than adequate franchise interest.

According to the most recen Franchise Disclosure Document: The stores are about 2750 square feet in size, generally located in strip malls, costing an average of about $450,000 in total to establish, including up front franchise fees.

Much of the franchise appeal is the operational simplicity, which in turn generates attractive unit level economics. The equipment package is basic, with a steamer to cook the chicken (everything is prepared daily in the restaurant), food processors, refrigerated sandwich tables, a walk-in cooler, reach-in freezer, water filtration system, toaster and Quick Chick refrigerated case.

The absence of fryers (which must be vented) reduces construction costs, creates site flexibility as well as relative desirability as a tenant. The entire package of furniture and fixtures cost around $120,000. The up front franchise fee is $50,000 per unit, the ongoing royalty is 5% of sales with an additional national advertising contribution of 1.5%.

Last twelve months’ AUV was $1.2M in 2018, growing by about 9% in 2016, 13% in 2017 and 11.2% in 2018. Same store sales were up 15% in 2016, 8% in 2017 and 4% in 2018. Traffic has also been up consistently, most recently up 2.9% in 2018. The sales improvement is especially impressive within a restaurant industry that has been challenged in this regard.

Cost of Goods Sold has averaged about 30.5% with fully loaded labor at roughly 25.0%. Stores are open from 10am to 6-8pm (depending on the market) and closed on Sundays, taking a page out of Chick fil-A’s playbook, and allowing operating management to “have a day for family life.”

It is noteworthy that only about 45% of sales are dine-in, the balance being takeout (25%) and catering. Dine-in and takeout sales combine to provide a ticket average of $14.82. Also important: Drive through locations generate 27% more sales than without. 31% of the current system has drive through windows, and 40% of the planned locations will have them.

While the company makes no unit level profitability claims, our analysis indicates that franchises are likely earning at least 15% EBITDA (after royalties) at the store level. With sales now running at about $1.2M per unit, that would generate a “cash on cash” return of $180,000, or 40% on the $450,000 investment including franchisee fee, among the best returns in the franchised food industry. We emphasize: this is our analysis, not their claim.

Chicken Salad Chick continues its smart and rapid growth with no obvious impediments. While still relatively small, with only 104 units system-wide, franchisees are “voting with their pocketbooks,” and opening stores at a rapid rate. The concept seems “defensible” in terms of product line differentiation, combined with an employee “culture” reflecting the “chick” founder, but an operational simplicity that allows for fairly rapid growth. We look forward to following this company’s future development.