Keith Haywood has worked for his family’s foodservice management business since early in his career after college.
When the company decided to expand into airport concepts, he looked for exactly the right franchise to buy, and with thorough exploration, he chose Bojangles. Keith has seen a lot of success over the years expanding into non-traditional markets – we had a chance to sit down with him and talk to him about his journey into franchising, how he got into Bojangles, his experience with leadership, and his advice for new franchisees.
“What was your story before getting involved with Bojangles?”
Keith Haywood: Well, I’m going to start by introducing my parents who are the owners of FDY Incorporated. That was Mr. Floyd Young and his wife Norma, my mother. They started the company 38 years ago, and he was the food service director at Johnson C. Smith University here in Charlotte, North Carolina, a historically black college located in the city.
For years, we had been growing, adapting, changing with the various classes of students, and the evolution of their university. So we were always looking for new and different concepts to provide the students.
Over the years, being the campus dining manager for the university, Mr. Young explored several different concepts. Our first concept there was we had a Papa John’s franchise on campus that did very well. It was just an addition to the campus dining program and the cafeteria program for the students on campus.
For our company, we also served several other colleges and universities throughout the Southeast over our tenure, and as we grew, so did the demand for concepts, national and local brands to enhance the dining programs. We were always encouraged to find new and different things for the 12 or so colleges that we were involved in.
We have a variety of different brands that we’ve been affiliated with over the years, and the question came up at one point being that we’re a Charlotte-based company: “Do you have a relationship with Bojangles? Do you know anything about Bojangles?” I said, “Yeah, I’m a big customer.” So, that launched the thought of “let’s investigate this brand” and learn more. I wanted to learn more about opportunities given that they have such a big brand presence in Charlotte.
I met the Franchise Development Department at Bojangles Corporate, and we went through an exploratory process back in 2006 or 2007. We went through a full discovery of the brand, and we learned that the brand itself was much more than we had experienced as customers.
The menu was very flexible and diverse, and there were many combinations to satisfy customer preference. So, we liked that about the brand and moved forward with further discovery and introduction of the brand to our company and to our clients. We ended up saying, “Wait a minute. This brand is far-reaching. It does satisfy the communities that we’re working with here and maybe we should explore franchising for our company.”
“Where did you start opening up?”
Keith: Our first thought was that it’d be on college campuses, but as we moved forward with gaining our approvals for airports, we landed an opportunity with Charlotte Douglas International Airport where we opened up a Bojangles restaurant.
There had never been a Bojangles in an airport in the country at the time, and 14 years later, I can tell you that it has been a great experience for our company.
We opened our first location in 2008 and our second location opened November of 2019, and I can tell you they both have paced very well as top locations for performance, customer preference in the Charlotte airport. From there, we immediately looked at other opportunities for the brand when we started back in 2008. We built a freestanding store in Clemson, South Carolina under a partnership, and it was our first full service franchise location for Bojangles.
A year earlier, we opened our first operation in a travel center, the first Bojangles in Washington, D.C., right in Union Station. Our latest and newest location in the Charlotte airport opened this past November.
We have been at this for almost 14 years now, and I can tell you that Bojangles has been a top performer for our company. It has helped us diversify our portfolio in a big way.
“What was the most appealing part about Bojangles? Why were you interested in it?”
Keith: Well, the menu certainly was appealing to many of our customers. But also the quick-serve aspect, something quick and convenient for our customers who are time-sensitive, especially in airports.
Those were factors I think that that really made the brand successful in the operations that we managed. The other was just a convenience. Bojangles is a quick transaction. It doesn’t take very long for the customer to place their order and pay and then pick up their order.
Our goal is always to be within a minute, minute and a half of transaction time with our customers. So, that’s very convenient for passengers, very convenient for our business customers, and primarily office workers, and employees throughout our network of locations.
Bojangles is a very unique concept when it comes to a taste profile. Southern Cajun-style fried chicken is very popular, it’s something that customers from all around the world can identify with. The taste profile really propels it to be unique and very popular amongst our customers, passengers, and customers that have never tried the brand before.
We’re a testimony that our customers that have never tried this concept before and try it for the first time are excited about the experience and the taste of food.
I recently talked to a customer who was from Illinois, and they were just passing through Charlotte connecting with another flight, and they wanted to know about Bojangles. They were standing in our line trying to figure it out. As I greeted the customer, I realized that they had never been to one of the restaurants before and didn’t understand the menu. So, as I walked him through, I guided him into something to try for his first time, and I introduced him to the Cajun Filet Biscuit, the Cajun Filet Fries, and the Legendary Iced Tea. As I circled back on that customer dining in our dining room in the airport, he gave me a thumbs up. He said, “Man, this is really good. When can you bring one of these to my home?”
That’s the experience we see in the airport.
“How has your experience with Bojangles leadership been?”
Keith: We operate in non-traditional real estate markets (i.e. airports, transit centers, etc) and I think the new leadership in the company really gets it and understands the importance of those markets.
Since Jose Armario has joined as the president and CEO of the company, he has walked in the door with new ideas. He’s come with his background experience being with global food companies, and I think he gets it clearly.
Jose has reached out to our company, and provided us with a lead team to work with us to explore the different possibilities for our company as well as the brand.
With this partnership, I think we’ll be able to capture a lot more new business moving forward as we expand. I’m excited about it.
Brian Unger, the COO, has put together a team of people to help us work on a development plan. They’ve really collaborated with us on the future of the company and the brand – for example, where do we want to go as a company? How do we look at new opportunities and expand to new niches? How can we differentiate ourselves? How can we customize our program as opposed to just offering traditional? A customer in Tennessee is going to be different than a customer in Virginia, and we have to fit the audiences that we’re serving – the Bojangles team has been incredibly helpful in helping us through that process.
It has been a great relationship with all of the different stages that the company has gone through. Working under the Bojangles brand as a franchisee has really been a very well organized, very professional, very supportive relationship, and we’ve enjoyed it.
We’ve learned a lot. As I tell people, when you select a brand that you buy into, it is a marriage, it is a relationship that it’s got to be long-lasting. If everybody is willing to understand that and work together, then it can work out really well.
“What are the areas where their support was most valuable?”
Keith: I can say the most recent is with COVID. The support that we’ve received, the help that we received to get through COVID, has been incredible.
Especially having locations in an airport, we faced some challenges when the pandemic first hit. Bojangles came through – they offered some relief on their own. Our royalties and our franchise commitments were deferred until things got better. That was a big help because we did not know what other things we would be faced with. I’ve never seen anything like this in my career.
We’ve gotten great consulting from our Bojangles franchise consultant who handles both our Union Station location and our Charlotte airport. Along with the rest of the team, folks have reached out and made sure that we’re as COVID-ready as we all could be to survive this pandemic.
“What advice would you give to new franchisees?”
Keith: You need to be prepared to walk down the aisle and meet with the minister and commit to saying “I do.”
It is a marriage. You’re entering a relationship with a brand where you have to look long term. You have to continue to invest and nurture the relationship in order to see it grow and blossom. I always tell people when they consider franchising with any brand, you just don’t want to look at that one opportunity, or that one location. You have to look at the big picture – at least 3, 5, 10, 25, 30 years out. You have got to look at the big picture when you’re investing yourself and your resources, and your team into a particular concept.
Bojangles is just one of the very special ones that I’ve seen the success stories with my fellow franchisees and with the brand.
For new franchisees walking in the door, you just don’t pay your franchise fee and think that’s all you do. It’s a lot more to it than just the franchise fee. It’s the investment in the long term, the big picture, the real estate, the location, your team improvements, your leadership, your systems, and more. It doesn’t happen overnight. You have to be prepared and do your homework.
When we first reached out to Charlotte airport, it took us 10 years to make the commitment that we were going to be an airport operator because we knew what that commitment would really take. You have got to do your homework too and make sure you understand what you’re getting into.