United Commercial Realty
Pollo Campero plans U.S. push
Chain's expansion efforts could mean 40 stores for region4.7.2008- Lauren DaVolio, Dallas Business Journal
Pollo Campero, the Guatemalan chicken restaurant chain whose American headquarters recently opened in Dallas, is planning a decade-long expansion that could add as many as 500 U.S. stores, including 40 in North Texas.
Globally, Pollo Campero, which translated means "country chicken," wants to own or franchise about 2,000 stores by 2018, up from about 280 locations currently.
A new Pollo Campero in North Dallas, with its trademark grilled and crispy fried chicken, is the first of five prototypes for the company's aggressive expansion plans. That location, which opened March 18 on Preston Road near the President George Bush Turnpike, cost $1.3 million to develop.
"It's a unit that reflects all of the traditional elements of the brand, but with a twist -- because we have Americanized it," said Rodolfo Jimenez, executive vice president of business development. "The unit has been redesigned to make it more functional, more appealing, while still keeping all the attributes of the brand."
When the original Pollo Campero restaurant opened in Guatemala in 1971 -- long before company executives considered adaptations to refine its concept for the American consumer -- it served no grilled chicken, black beans and rice or caesar salads, and its logo blazed in bright oranges and yellows. To this day, those traits hold true for stores in the company's native land, but not in its burgeoning American market.
The new North Dallas prototype features muted colors, sophisticated furniture, larger menu boards and salsa bars and wider drive-throughs to accommodate larger American vehicles. The new concept will be replicated in Pollo Campero's 500 forthcoming U.S. stores.
These aggressive plans come after studying the U.S. market for five years and deciding to concentrate on the East and West coasts, Texas and Illinois, where diverse populations offer the biggest market opportunities, Jimenez said. The family-owned, privately held company does more than $450 million in annual global revenue, Jimenez said, and is considered the biggest chicken restaurant chain in Latin America. Last year, the chain generated sales of about $50 million in the United States; this year, Jimenez expects that number to be more than $80 million.
Pollo Campero opened its national headquarters in Dallas last year at Interstate 635 and the Dallas North Tollway, where it employs 22 people handling everything from construction and real estate to product development and marketing.
Dallas was selected because of its central location, quality of life and restaurant talent, Jimenez said. He wasn't sure his company is big enough to have a real market share.
Coming to the states has been great for productivity and efficiency, Jimenez said. Although staffing in America is more expensive, the quality of labor is better, he says. And the 3,000-square-foot North Dallas location is quite a bit smaller than its typical 4,500-square-foot Guatemalan counterparts, partly because those offer full table service.
"The American customer is more pragmatic," Jimenez said. "They don't like as many details as those in Latin America. People here have told us they want to have a quick break -- 15 minutes or so. In Guatemala, it's more of a family thing."
Pollo Campero has locations in 11 countries and employs about 8,000 people in more than 280 restaurants around the globe. It has 38 stores in the United States, 36 of which are franchised, Jimenez said. The brand has been in the United States for less than 10 years.
Its first Texas store opened in Houston in 2002, and it entered the Dallas-Fort Worth market three years ago with a restaurant on Northwest Highway near Love Field Airport.
The company is planning additional locations in Euless, Fort Worth, Frisco, Plano, Rowlett and Dallas, Jimenez said, and will have 60 units open domestically by December, most of which will be franchised. Each unit costs $40,000 for franchising rights, plus property investments.
Traditional, with a twist
A more health-conscious and discriminating American public has led to the grilled chicken option, a diversion for the chain known for its fried offerings. A transparent building design, with windows from ceiling to floor, is meant to eliminate the hesitation of anyone who may think this restaurant isn't culturally for them.
Jimenez said his company has adapted its trademark -- lightly breaded fried chicken -- to the American palate and lifestyle.
"It's kind of a mixed experience," Jimenez said. "In the states, we've learned we needed to offer a strong grilled option, so we've developed a strong grilled line of products."
It's natural for a restaurant to test concepts in North Texas, said Jack Gosnell, executive vice president of United Commercial Realty. The overabundance of choices for diners here creates an eat-or-be-eaten market.
"If you succeed in this market, you can go anywhere," Gosnell said. "I think a lot of people like to test restaurants here. It's a great wide-open market. Eating is the fixation. It's the pastime."
Dallas restaurateur Gene Street traveled to Guatemala three years ago and spent several days with the Pollo Campero team. He said Consolidated Restaurant Operations, his former company to which he's now an adviser, considered franchising Pollo Campero in Texas three years ago. Street loved the concept, but questioned its viability in markets that weren't Latino heavy -- even Dallas.
He also said the franchising fees were out of their price range.
But where Pollo Campero's brand recognition is greatest, its following is cultlike, he said. There was a Pollo Campero in an airport he visited, and there were quite a few people who bought four or five boxes to carry on.
"It was of the funniest things," Street said. "At the (arrival) airport, they didn't greet people with a hug. They greeted them with a box of Pollo Campero."