A Simple Plan Salad Creations relies on a straight forward menu and low startup costs to expand quickly.
By Maya Norris
Although 80 to 84 percent of sales are derived from the Create Your Own Salad option, the menu also includes wraps and soups.
Salads are available tossed or chopped, thanks to Salad Creations’ patent-pending double-sided chopper.
When President Jeff Levine opened Salad Creations three years ago, he intended it to be a fast-growing, franchised concept. Now the tossed-to-order salad chain is embarking on an aggressive expansion strategy, counting on low startup costs, flexible space requirements and a focused menu.
Salad Creations has grown to six units in southern Florida and one in Columbus, Ohio, with 16 more slated to open by year-end and 50 in 2007. In 2005 as well as the first quarter of 2006, same-store sales went up 10 percent.
Levine attributes the chain’s growth and strong sales to the simplicity of the concept for both franchisees and consumers. “When I created this concept, I really created it to franchise it,” he says. “One of the things I wanted to do from Day 1 was to keep it as simple as possible.”
Freedom of Choice
Salad Creations’ menu centers around its Create Your Own Salad option for $6.59. Guests choose from iceberg mix, romaine or spring mix as the base. Then they select from among 40 toppings such as artichoke hearts and Mandarin oranges, choosing as many as they want without incurring an extra cost. The 16 dressings include Balsamic Vinaigrette, made from 12-year-old balsamic vinegar. Protein options such as baby shrimp cost an extra $2.25.
Because nothing is cooked on site and the menu is small, units require only minimal equipment such as lettuce crispers and sandwich stations. So franchisees can open a unit for about $200,000 or less and adapt it to fit various locations. Current units range from a 350-square-foot kiosk in a mall to a 1,500-square-foot inline location.
Targeting college-educated women ages 25 to 45, Salad Creations claims the concept can work in both downtown business districts and suburban markets. But it prefers a mix of residences and businesses, particularly endcaps in lifestyle centers.
2005 U.S. Systemwide Sales
2006 U.S. Systemwide Sales
$6.2 million (company estimate)
Average Unit Volume
16 in 2006, 50 in 2007
Gaining an Edge
As Salad Creations expands, newly hired Chief Product Development Officer Tony Esposito, a former Subway franchisee who worked in R&D for Subway as chairman of its strategic planning committee, is developing the chain’s first limited-time offer, which will be launched in the third quarter. He is also looking into offering hot toppings like steak and salmon that can be heated on site.
The company is purchasing ovens without hoods to offer freshly warmed breadsticks. And it recently switched soup purveyors to one that makes soups with all-natural ingredients.
In the meantime, Salad Creations is growing rapidly using area developers. This year the chain will open restaurants in its current markets and will enter west Florida, California, Virginia, Washington, D.C., Rhode Island, North Carolina, Mexico and Puerto Rico.
Because Salad Creations plans to have 5,000 stores in 10 years, Levine is confident the chain will have the market saturation and brand awareness to compete with similar concepts. In addition, unlike most salad chains, Salad Creations’ Create Your Own Salad option offers guests an uncomplicated pricing structure with unlimited toppings. Yet the concept remains easy for franchisees to execute. “The fact that the concept is so simple and the customer is telling you what to make, it’s pretty hard to mess up,” he says.