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CSC-25 (1).jpg Chicken Salad Chick
Kirsten and David Garret in front of their Chicken Salad Chick store.

Making the career leap from military officer to Chicken Salad Chick franchisee

Kirsten Garret was an aerospace engineer in the Air Force and now is a first-time franchise owner in Colorado Springs

If founders, chefs and other creatives are the beating heart of the restaurant industry, then franchisees are the veins delivering their ideas to all corners of the globe. Franchising is critical to the success of the industry, allowing brands to quickly scale their big ideas using other people’s capital. And whether it’s a mom-and-pop restaurant owner with one or two franchised restaurants or a seasoned veteran whose influence in the industry is well-known, franchisees — with all their individual attributes, styles and personalities — make a huge impact on the success of a business.

In this week’s installment of Franchisee Spotlight, we spoke with Kirsten Garret, who made the career jump from military lieutenant and aerospace engineer to Chicken Salad Chick franchisee in Colorado Springs and owns the business with her mother. Garret spoke about making the transition from military life to civilian life as an entrepreneur and her goals for her business.

Store count: Currently one that opened in June, but with two more signed and on the way

Transitioning from military life to entrepreneurship

I got a degree in aerospace engineering and then went into the Air Force for nine and a half years. My husband and I met in the Air Force, and then, while we were there, we were stationed at Maxwell Air Force Base Squadron Officer School, and we found Chicken Salad Chick down there sometime around 2010, and I loved it. We would go fairly frequently. Then we moved from Mexico to Colorado in 2013 and I always would say, “this place needs Chicken Salad Chick.” We probably had been here a few years when we reached out and the franchise was not moving that far West yet, so we moved on….We started a homecare company in 2014 and my husband retired in 2016. Then, about two years ago, my sister-in-law reached out to Chicken Salad Chick again, because I had turned her on to it, and they reached back out to her and said, “we’re moving forward with Colorado. Are you interested?” And we wound up going the rest of the way.

Why Chicken Salad Chick fits

Part of what I loved so much about Chicken Salad Chick coming from the Air Force is that the Air Force core values were integrity first, service and excellence, and that’s all we do: short and sweet and obvious. Chicken Salad Chick had their own set of core values, which were similar and short…and not a lot of businesses have a vision like that…. Before we signed, we were going through the final process and my mom was undergoing cancer treatments, and  someone from Chicken Salad Chick like sent flowers and they would call and check on her… I just feel like they really do care about the success of the brand and the culture.

Behind the scenes of a family business

I’m in this business with my mom, and it works for us, but I don't know if it works for everybody. She’s more of the back-office type stuff, and I'm more of the frontline person. We actually own three businesses together… it definitely has its challenges like any business partnership…. But overall, the two of us do fairly well together. We have a similar vision and ideals. I'm like the people manager, the interface, and she really digs deeper into all the numbers and make sure everything is working that way.

Labor challenges

Labor laws are a huge challenge. Everyone wants equitable opportunities, but Colorado is…especially a challenge because they're based out of the south where minimum wage is $8 and here, minimum wage is $13, and you’re lucky if you can hire for that. We also have mandatory paid time off and 401ks, so being a business owner in Colorado is kind of tricky. But I just tell people it’s all worth it in the end.

Goals moving forward

Since I have not had restaurant experience, there has been a good learning curve, but a lot of things are similar [to the military]. You have to build a team and trust them… It's really just learning how to control some of those additional food costs… and then going into winter here, it's dark for and it's cold and people don't necessarily want to get out of their car. So now I'm rethinking if we should have a drive-thru since our first location doesn’t have one and the second and third ones we’re looking at also don’t…. So we’re looking to own our own piece of land and we’re running up against some real estate problems in the space. We want to grow. I don’t want to do another brand. I just love Chicken Salad Chick. Maybe the real estate market will change again in a few years.

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