Carl’s Jr. says it’s ready to be the fastest growing burger chain in Australia

CJ’s QSR's managing director Andrew Firn talks to QSR Media about the master franchisee's flexible growth strategy.

Carl’s Jr. has always been hungry for growth in Australia, having publicly declared its race of hundreds of restaurants in the past years through separate franchise agreements with different operators.

In the latest chapter of the American burger chain’s quest to be a meaningful player in the segment and accelerate its aggressive expansion, they look to satiate that appetite by making one of its local partners a master franchisee.

“We've been on the journey with Carl's Jr. but felt that if we had the master franchise, we would be able to grow the brand through Australia more efficiently and effectively than having it been done from the U.S.,” said Andrew Firn, managing director of CJ’s QSR (Franchise) Group.

Under the deal with CKE Restaurants Holdings, CJ’s QSR will oversee the development of 130 restaurants, almost two-thirds of the restaurant brand’s larger and updated mission to open up to 200 restaurants over the next ten years.

Firn anticipates they will end up with around 50 to 60 corporate restaurants, with over 90% of its network featuring a drive-thru lane.

“We want franchisees to know that we have as much a commitment to running a profitable business and developing the brand. We're not just there as a royalty collection organization,” he said. “It's our intention, certainly, for the next couple of years to expand drive-thru sites and focus on those. It seems to be where our customers like to go as opposed to going to the shopping centers. But the future may change.

So far, the brand has grown to nearly 30 restaurants, 11 of which are operated by CJ’s QSR. Carl’s Jr.'s existing franchise agreements with The Agostino Group (which has exclusive rights to expand in SA and NT), The Bansal Group and Ostaford Pty Ltd. will continue executing their growth plans.

Location-wise, suburbs are key, anticipating demand from regional populations, with Firn confident about the availability of development opportunities.

CJ’s QSR is also exploring formats that would feature more curbside pickup and multi-lane drive-thrus but Firn says those types of stores would not be the majority.

“That obviously will only occur in some areas because we don't want to become a people-less, technology-driven restaurant. That's not who we are,” he stressed.

In terms of food, Carl’s Jr. hopes to be seen, assisted with a strengthened marketing team, as a provider of premium products with fast food-level price points. Firn is also saying no to state-based limited-time offers, arguing they want to have a national focus on generating awareness about their core products.

“Our product is at the price of a fast food chain, but the quality of a gourmet burger. We want to be seen in terms of premium products. We're not premium in terms of price.”

Carl’s Jr. already has earmarked 27 new builds in the next twelve months, with Firn certain that store openings will come in double-digits annually, saying they are flexible and open to a diversity of partnerships. He expects the group to have a development schedule out to 2024 or 2025 by the middle of next year.

“The amount per year will depend on how many franchisees we have. So, if tomorrow we were to get franchisees in four states, and they all developed at pace, then we would get to 200 very quickly,” he said. 

“We're happy to talk to people about multi-unit territories, single restaurant operators [and] perhaps joint venture partners...We don't pretend that we know best and everything. So if a potential franchisee has an opportunity that's outside of the box, we would certainly have a look at it.”

Firn also expects simple traits from potential franchisees: a passion for their food and the brand.

“If you're interested in joining what we believe will be the fastest growing burger chain in the nation and work with a very impressive team of exceptional QSR operators and if you want to be in a corporate environment with a family feel, then reach out to us.”

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