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Customers and Salad Bar.jpg Photo courtesy of The Salad Station
The first Salad Station opened in 2012 to fill a need for fast, healthy and approachable food in a small Louisiana community. The concept generated enough interest to begin franchising in 2016 and now includes 28 locations with at least 100 planned in the next couple of years.

How Salad Station exceeded its own growth expectations

The pay-by-the-pound salad concept’s long-term goal of 100 locations has now become its short-term goal because of growing interest.

When Scott Henderson and his mom Cindy opened their first Salad Station location in 2012 in Hammond, Louisiana, they just wanted to fill a gap for their local community. 

“Our community was missing a fast, healthy and approachable option for lunch and dinner,” Scott Henderson said during a phone interview this week.

Leveraging their lifelong farming experience that poured into retail, they opened a “pay-by-the-pound” concept allowing people to build their own salads from over 100 ingredients, including proteins, fruit, vegetables and nuts. The response was overwhelming.

“We started to think that maybe the town 20 miles up the road needs this, too, so we opened up a second location in a proximity that we would never do again, but we just had to take the pressure off the first one,” Henderson said. “It just took off.”  

He started opening more locations nearby in communities without those fast, healthy and approachable offerings and by 2015 had six locations up and running – all proving the demand very much existed. The pace inspired him to adopt a franchising model in 2016, which has since driven even faster expansion. There are now 28 Salad Station locations, just eight of which are corporate. Henderson said franchising interest has grown at a swift clip because the economic model is strong and the business model is simple. The concept is dependent on self-serve stations, so labor is lighter than most of its category peers.

"When we settled on this model, we knew we wanted to share this concept with other people so that they had an opportunity to own their own business with a simpler model that was less labor intensive and didn’t require cooking or kitchen experience," he said. "Our job is to put on a show, so as someone is getting avocados, we're cutting them and refilling them." 

The concept is also closed on Sundays because one of the Hendersons’ goals is to be a family-friendly business where employees had flexible hours and less pressure. This inspiration came from their farming experience, which was "hard work, 24-7."

“You don’t have to have a lot of experience to work here, just a focus on hospitality. Because of that, I think our environment is better to work in than other concepts,” Henderson said.

He adds that labor and cost of goods together are about 55%-to-57% of the concept’s prime cost, which is about 5% lower than industry average. Its unit economics have attracted a strong and growing franchise base, which has forced the company to shift its goals from keeping things somewhat local to expanding into Texas, Tennessee, Florida and other parts of the Southeast.

To support that growth, Henderson said the company has built a “rocket ship” of a support team and is putting more of a focus on technology pieces, such as its new cloud-based point-of-sale system, online ordering and a mobile app. He also expects to add kiosk ordering “in the near future.” The Salad Station is also looking at new real estate models that support drive-thrus and mobile pickup windows. The current footprint is 1,800-to-2,200 square feet and Henderson said “we can shrink it a little further.”

As the demand for healthier eating increases and more salad concepts pop up accordingly, Henderson said The Salad Station is in a good position because it’s differentiated.

“There’s nothing really like it. I can’t think of another concept that has 100-plus toppings to build whatever you want to get a salad from $3 to $20 based on your appetite,” he said.

Perhaps because of that differentiated approach, The Salad Station is now poised to hit 100 locations in the next couple of years and the Hendersons have had to come up with a new target.

“This has become much larger than my mom and I ever thought it would. For the last couple of years, we had 100 locations in mind and were planning for that number for scalability. It’s been our long-term goal to get to 100,” Henderson said. “Now that’s our short-term goal. We’ll get there over the next couple of years, so we are now looking at a larger number. It’s super exciting, like we’re in a new phase of this journey.”

Contact Alicia Kelso at [email protected]

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