Chuck Cain | Crain's Houston

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Chuck Cain

Background:  

Cain Holding Group, which is based in The Woodlands just north of Houston, is a franchisee of restaurants across the country with sales of around $60 million. More locally, it’s known for bringing Panera Bread to northwest Houston. It recently began opening a new concept in the city, Slim Chickens, a fast-casual dining restaurant founded in Arkansas that offers chicken strips, wings, sandwiches, wraps and salads in a rhythm-and-blues atmosphere. There are now five open in the Houston area with one under construction and another under development. Cain’s goal is to open 20 or 25 Slim Chickens in the greater metropolitan area while also adding more Panera restaurants. Founder Chuck Cain has been in the franchise business since 1992, opening and operating such concepts as Applebee’s, Sonic Drive-In and Pizza Hut.

The Mistake:

Moving too fast.

We had seven Panera’s open in Houston and we decided to do another brand. We picked a C-plus location and thought we’d do two to three per year. But it took us a while to get Panera going. It’s hard to get a new brand launched and we struggled. We forgot how difficult it was.

We thought we were smarter than everyone else and didn’t pay attention to details. We had earlier successes and felt like we couldn’t miss. But we put the wrong people in at the other brand and we didn’t market it the right away. The timing also wasn’t good. It was a month before Lehman Brothers collapsed [in 2008].

I had never closed a store before. We lost seven figures doing it. It took me a couple of years to get over that.

We thought we were smarter than everyone else and didn’t pay attention to details.

The Lesson:

You can’t go so fast. You have to make sure the sites are good and the people are well-trained. You can’t just open a restaurant and expect it to do well. You have to block and tackle.

You also have to go out and market. Tell people who you are. For a city this size, you have to tell them about the brand. The brand has to outlast who we are.

Our Slim Chickens restaurants in Katy and Humble are doing really well with a lot of effort. We’re spending a lot of time marketing. We hired marketing people and did mailers and billboards and are using Facebook and Instagram. We just went too fast with the other brand. That’s a mistake I will not repeat ever again.

Follow Slim Chickens on Twitter at @slimchickens.

Photo courtesy of Chuck Cain

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