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Franchise team flourishes with Slim Chickens locations in Arkansas

by Andrew Moreau | August 22, 2021 at 1:48 a.m.

John Luckett started his fast-food career as a teenager flipping burgers and running the grill at Wendy's Little Rock location on Cantrell Road about 38 years ago.

Gradually he progressed to management roles and met up with the right folks who are now part of a partnership that operates Slim Chickens restaurants across the state. The Dixie Chicken ownership team -- yes, they plucked the name from the Little Feat tune -- has been on an aggressive stretch of expanding Slim Chickens' stores and plans to close on its newest location in Fort Smith tomorrow.

Last month, a new restaurant was opened in Cabot and the Dixie Chicken franchise team has plans to open up to 15 locations over the next five years. The company is scheduled to break ground on its next store -- specific location undisclosed though it will be in Central Arkansas -- in January.

"We're in a growth mode, there's no doubt about it," Luckett says.

The Wendy's location where Luckett started out is just two blocks east of the Slim Chickens he now co-owns and helps operate at Cantrell Road and North Mississippi Street, one of 22 Slim Chickens locations in Arkansas, which includes locations in Northwest Arkansas that are owned and operated by Slim Chickens' corporate team.

With the Fort Smith restaurant, the Dixie Chicken partners will own and operate 12 stores with about 300 employees in the state. They have not just survived; they have thrived during a pandemic that has ransacked the restaurant sector.

The franchise team is looking at potential locations in Arkadelphia, Conway, Greenbrier, Maumelle, Monticello, North Little Rock and Sherwood for expansion opportunities.

As other restaurant operators turned to the government for stimulus payments through initiatives like the Paycheck Protection Program or the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, Dixie Chicken didn't ask for the federal aid.

Indeed, the partners went on something of a mini-hiring spree to build bench strength, believing that the pandemic would eventually ease, and having trained employees would be a valuable asset to support growth plans. Profits were squeezed but the ownership team knew the payoff for keeping employees on staff would produce dividends in the long run.

"We didn't lay anyone off during covid; we made a commitment to give everybody their hours," Luckett said of the strategy. "We knew this would be cyclical -- our industry is cyclical anyway -- and we knew things would come around eventually. We knew that we would be better off if we didn't lay anyone off."

Another payoff for retaining staff was unknown at the time -- the Arkansas labor pool would tighten as workers were supported by generous federal unemployment benefits and not seemingly in a hurry to find a job. Hiring today is still a challenge as the company grows but there is a strong foundation in place, Luckett notes.

"We feel like we're in a really strong position to continue growing," Luckett says. "We're looking for opportunities every day, whether it would be to purchase locations or build from the ground up."

TAKE YOUR PICK

Thursday is lined up to be a busy day in Central Arkansas with several events to help business leaders learn more about entrepreneurial efforts, rural economic development and gather more information about business resources available to all Arkansans.

There are several events to choose from that could help grow and expand your businesses.

Let's take a quick look:

• The Little Rock Venture Center and FIS are holding demo day for the 10 emerging financial technology companies participating in the sixth fintech accelerator program that draws entrepreneurs from around the world.

From 11 a.m.-1 p.m., accelerator participants will each have seven minutes to pitch their products and services to bankers and potential investors. The livestreaming event is open to all and registration is available at venturecenter.co.

• The Better Business Bureau of Arkansas' education foundation is holding its last lunch and learn of the month from noon-1 p.m.in partnership with the U.S. Small Business Administration

Events throughout the month have featured SBA resource partners that provide support for the organization's work with small businesses across the state.

Thursday's event is free and will feature the business and commercial services division of the Arkansas Secretary of State's office.

The office provides articles of incorporation and other information that need to be filed by current businesses, new businesses and nonprofits that want to operate in the state.

Registration is available at https://www.bbb.org/local-bbb/bbb-serving-arkansas.

The SBA partner network offers free or low-cost training and guidance to help small businesses succeed.

• SBA officials will be busy Thursday -- the federal agency is holding another streaming event from noon-1 p.m., this one featuring an online panel discussion focused on rural small businesses.

Business owners will share their stories about how they used SBA resources and the aid of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to pivot and survive during the pandemic.

The session also will offer details on resources the two agencies provide to help entrepreneurs compete in the marketplace, funding opportunities available to small businesses, counseling services that can be accessed for help and guides to help launch or expand rural businesses.

Panel participants include Terri Billups, SBA's deputy director and senior adviser for rural affairs, and U.S. Rep. Sanford D. Bishop, Jr. of Georgia's 2nd Congressional District in the middle and southwest part of the state. The congressman has served on the House Committee on Appropriations since 2003 and is chairman of the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee.

For more information or to register go to sba.gov.

• Isabella Guzman, SBA's top official, will lead a streaming event to recognize women entrepreneurs and to celebrate national Women's Equality Day. Guzman was in Northwest Arkansas on Aug. 13 to tout the agency's efforts to support small businesses battling the economic destruction caused by the pandemic.

She will be joined from noon-1 p.m. by Natalie Cofield, assistant administrator for SBA's women's business ownership office, to promote resources the agency offers for women small business owners to continue operating and remain profitable in the pandemic economy.

More information and registration is available at sba.gov/women.

Column ideas or recommendations? Thoughts or musings that need pursuing? Contact me at amoreau@adgnewsroom.com or at (501) 378-3567.

Print Headline: Franchise team flourishes with Slim Chickens locations in Arkansas

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