Is now a good time to buy a business? It’s a question I hear on a daily basis as I begin to speak with new franchisee prospects. It is no secret that the last few years we have seen inflation and supply chain constraints impact the real estate process. Projects are taking longer and cost more than they have before. Still, my answer is a resounding yes. 

In October, Protein Bar & Kitchen officially announced its plan to begin franchising nationwide. News that many Protein Bar & Kitchen fans have been anticipating for years but also a bold decision as news headlines for the business world range from the good to the bad to the ugly, depending on the day. Despite the daily changes and challenges of the business landscape, it’s important for all restaurants to plan accordingly so bold decisions today are not as surprising as others might suspect. 

I am certain that most restaurant brands have spent much of their time the last few years planning to get ahead of both expected and unexpected challenges, largely due to the pandemic. Here are a few strategies to put into practice to overcome the hurdles of the ever-changing restaurant industry.



Getting Ahead of Challenges:

As should be excepted with any businesses, you will face challenges regardless of systems and processes you have in place to prepare you. While you should identify potential challenges and create solutions before you actually need them, remaining agile and being willing to innovate will take you the extra mile.

For an emerging brand like Protein Bar & Kitchen, we are looking at challenges from a cost and timing perspective. For us, this means having the right level of awareness and taking an active approach to help get ahead of any potential issues. For example, we are prepared to order equipment with a much longer lead time than we could have ever thought we needed. It also means spending more time and energy on value, and engineering the design and specs to make sure the economics are compelling for the area. 

As it relates to new markets and growing with franchise partners, you have to align with the right corporate team that possess the experience and networks to help mitigate the risk. The more people on your team with experience, the better of a chance it will be that someone has experienced a similar situation and can share the perfect solution. 


It All Begins with a Strong Structure:

For all brands, in order to grow in a fast and strategic way, structure has to be a priority. It is really easy when looking for the next location to get rose colored glasses, but data has to prevail for this decision. 

Prior to our launch into franchising, for example, we created standardized processes to review each potential Protein Bar & Kitchen site. This includes leveraging data and analytics when evaluating site candidates. 

Data collection can come in many forms – from public reports, in-store surveys, etc. The most important thing is that you prioritize these internal and external sources to benefit the longevity of your brand. Loyalty programs are a great way to house this date internally, and something we utilize at Protein Bar & Kitchen. It has become really beneficial to find the areas where we have a high concentration of fans. 

Equally important is investing in tools that access mobility data to help understand traffic patterns dwell time, demographics and more. Together, all that data informs your performance model for a potential site and becomes a part of a broader site package to review as a team and compare against other candidates. 

While a location right by the highway might seem like the ideal location for your brand, if the data does not support high traffic patterns or the ability to gain more consistent customers, it is not the right fit. I believe taking the extra time to create a score for each location helps educate franchisees for a location to look for, and helps the brand strategically grow.  


The Ideal Prototype Does Exist: 

The needs and wants of customers today in 2023 are very different than 2019. It is important to keep a pulse on spending habits to create a prototype that matches the consumers we have today. The world is now more digital than ever, and many guests would rather pick up their food and enjoy from the comfort of their own home. Keeping this in mind, there is an opportunity to make a new prototype that costs less than before.  

Knowing consumers may not necessarily want to spend hours on end sitting in a restaurant, brands should look at this as an opportunity to tap into scalability. With the potential for cost efficiencies, smaller footprints, and simpler models, franchise brands cannot overlook this.

As we launched our franchise opportunity, we created a standardized layout and footprint that matches how our customers use the brand, especially with the increase in digital sales and ordering through our app. With nearly half of our sales coming from digital channels, especially in the suburbs, our physical footprint is smaller than our earlier locations resulting in a lower build out cost. We have also adapted our equipment package over time to best fit the needs of our menu. Our locations do not require black iron grills or heavy ventilation which sets us apart from most restaurant concepts and has led to a lower cost to build. 

I find when there is a prototype with the estimated cost to build out available upfront, franchisees are able to decide if this is the right fit for them faster. Gone are the days of packed fast-casual restaurants with guests waiting for a place to sit, and yet sales show the demand for the product is just as high. Making a smaller dining area in new locations is a win for everyone. Less square feet, less costs and customers get to order how they want. 


Leverage Second Generation Restaurant Sites: 

I’m a big advocate for second-generation sites, when they have what your brand is looking for. If the right location is available with the right facilities, this can save franchisees a lot of time and money when opening up their location. That being said there is a lot to consider when coming across a conversion site that seems like a good fit. 

Having limited equipment package and infrastructure needs, like at Protein Bar & Kitchen, restaurant brands are able to fit their locations in unique places. Soon joining our existing non-traditional location at a local Chicago hospital will be two locations at the O’Hare and Salt Lake City Airports. Before we made the decision to open in these unique places, it was crucial that we made sure the second-generation sites fit our criteria of traffic, co-tenancy and visibility. 

The ideal circumstance that we and all brands should look for is a location where a major brand had success, before re-locating to a different site. This tends to be a sign that the major brand was doing well at this location, so well that they needed more space for their guests. We have also come across sites where another restaurant concept has run into trouble that was unrelated to the space itself. Utilizing data for the location is crucial to ensure your brand can see success at each second-generation location. 


Becoming an Expert Source for Franchisees: 

For many franchisees, you are likely their introduction into the business landscape and franchising world. Site selection, lease negotiations, and more is something they have never experienced before. Remember that this is a new territory, and that the franchisee needs to lean on the corporate team for critical support. Take extra time to help your franchisees through the real estate process – it will only benefit the new owner and the brand as a whole. 

Regardless of where you are at in your development goals, having a roster of corporate team members who can navigate real estate is essential. These folks are experts in their field, and they should have made mistakes and learned lessons along the way. It is through experience that corporate leadership can see a red flag from a mile away. Franchisees are putting their faith in you and your brand, and therefore you have to show them that the faith they have is warranted. 

Throughout the last 14 years since Protein Bar & Kitchen has been founded, we have learned these invaluable lessons and know exactly the kind of traffic and market that will breed success for our locations. Franchisees have access to our historical database of sites that we have evaluated over the years, using our system scorecard. Our system scorecard is put together with all the internal and external data we gain from researching each potential location. Sharing what made our locations successful and where others ran into hurdles, helps our franchisees find the perfect fit. 

Taking each of these key points in mind with the ever-evolving real estate market, you have the right tools at your disposal to grow. Whether you have 500+ units and counting or are an emerging brand like Protein Bar & Kitchen, identify your ideal development strategy and what your end-goals are. I am a firm believer that expansion is all about the tools that are available for the corporate team, and franchisees are what sets the growing brands apart from the rest. 


By Jimmy McFeeters, VP of Franchise Development for Protein Bar & Kitchen