Devon Scoulelis is a quiet go-getter on a mission to empower South African entrepreneurs.
Six years ago the 31-year-old Glenwood High School old-boy set out to build a business on the back of what fast food giant KFC does well and not so well.
He launched Chicken Xpress in a single store in Umlazi where Scoulelis paid “school fees” for 18 months, setting up a franchise model and learning how difficult life was competing with established brands.
But, he stayed true to the pledge, creating a franchise model with an offering based on the South African palette. His motto: trust the flavor.
“We looked at what KFC didn’t do. They didn’t offer pap with an amazing homemade gravy or chicken Russians, for example.”
The efforts have paid off. Chicken Xpress has 23 outlets with a lean head office of nine staff and an attrition rate of one store in six years.
It will take a while to get to the size of KFC, with over 820 outlets countrywide, or Chicken Licken with 240, but in that time seven of the big brand stores have converted to Chicken Xpress and the chick in the coop is starting to chirp.
He has 400 stores planned for the next eight years.
Before Chicken Xpress Scoulelis was one of the founders of Taco Zulu in Florida Road.
Apart from the company’s foothold in South Africa, it also has six stores in Botswana and one in Sudan.
The Chicken Xpress mission is to grow by offering a more affordable franchise model, breaking down many barriers to entry experienced by young entrepreneurs and offering an accessible franchise model.
It costs R895 000 for a franchise, compared with between R4 million and R7 million for a rival chicken brand.
And now Scoulelis is tying up government assistance to help potential franchisees buy into his brand. “I come across so many passionate and talented entrepreneurs who can’t afford the franchise. Ours is a turnkey at R895k, excluding rental deposit and opening stock. Banks require you to come up with 50% of that, which puts a lot of good people out of the market.”
Scoulelis is finalising a deal with the government’s Small Enterprise Finance Agency to finance 50 Chicken Xpress entrepreneurs.
The idea is for the company to vet applicants, put them through training with Varsity College and then manage a joint Chicken Xpress/SEFA loan. In return, franchisees have to commit to training and a structured management regime.
Scoulelis says: “Any successful franchisor will tell you that if you have a good site, stick to the formula and run your business honestly, you will succeed. We have a franchisee who paid off his business in seven months. On a small outlet you can turnover R280 000 a month with a return of 18%. This is SA’s first true social franchise which will have a huge positive impact on each franchisee and community we enter into. We will be looking for the country’s most passionate food-orientated entrepreneurs to fund, train and mentor.”
Nine things you didn’t know about Chicken Xpress
- The founder, Devon Scoulelis worked for a nationwide franchise after school (Vida E) and as a franchisee himself before going solo.
- He started Chicken Xpress because: “I looked at various markets and eventually decided the most efficient way to make a difference was not to reinvent the wheel, but to take a product already loved by the whole of South Africa and provide a truly homegrown and locally inspired brand.”
- Interest in Chicken Xpress has come from as far afield as the US, India and China.
- Scoulelis says his business can disrupt the establishment because: “It is aimed at providing a business model accessible to South African entrepreneurs. Other brands take much higher fees which creates barriers to entry and place strain on a growing franchise business.”
- His goal is to become the “peoples’ champion” in every community Chicken Xpress exists. “We are not only focusing on brand and store growth, but also the impact we have on each community. We are providing a sustainable business model to local entrepreneurs with support and mentorship, jobs for the surrounding community, and inspiring stores where you can readily access Africa’s loved meals.”
- The thing about the food and hospitality sector is: “There are low barriers to entry, but individuals with an intrinsic passion to deliver extraordinary products and service will thrive.”
- He has many role models in business, but one of them is Howard Shultz, the chairman and CEO of Starbucks. “He not only grew a brand across the world, but created the global coffee culture. He has a consistent approach to long-term success while making a difference with the brand wherever it goes. It is these ideals and passions that I look to instill into Chicken Xpress.”
- In six years, Chicken Xpress has created 300 jobs.
- How well do Chicken Xpress franchisees do? “Our top franchisees do around R600 000 per month. Stores trade at 45% gross profit.”