KFC Franchisees Clucking Mad At Corporate Overlords

Tension between many KFC franchisees and the chicken chain’s corporate leaders have reached a fever pitch in recent months, with the suits at HQ trying to revamp the eatery’s image while the upset franchise operators say it’s only alienating customers and hurting business.

Here’s what one woman, who has been a KFC franchisee since 1963, thinks of the company’s current president:

Roger Eaton and his company don’t give a rat’s ass… They hire marketing guys with blue blazers who tell us what to do with our damn stores. But it’s one thing to be behind the big mahogany desk calling the shots and another to be down here in the trenches.

Of particular annoyance to the franchisees was Eaton’s decision to launch the “Unthink KFC” ad campaign in 2009. The ads and marketing for the campaign attempted to shift the focus away from KFC’s tried-and-true business of selling huge buckets of fried chicken and toward grilled chicken and sandwiches.

“‘Unthink’ hurt KFC as a brand,” says another franchisee. “We told our customers not to think of us as a fried chicken chain.”

This move caused the KFC National Council & Advertising Cooperative, which represents all U.S. franchisees, to file a lawsuit earlier this year against KFC to gain control of ad strategy. While that matter is still pending, KFC did axe the “Unthink KFC” campaign in May.

A rep for KFC HQ defended the company’s president and his strategy:

KFC’s strategy is derived from extensive consumer research… While some franchisees may not be aligned with this strategy, Roger Eaton is executing a plan that will ensure the KFC brand remains relevant with consumers.

However, according to a New England franchisee, an internal survey of 642 franchisees showed almost 50 percent of stores’ grilled chicken is thrown away. So maybe what customers say they want in a focus group isn’t what they’ll actually buy.

A man who runs 60 franchises sums it up best:
Kentucky Fried Chicken hit the streets with 11 herbs and spices, pressure-cooked, and by and large the general public doesn’t give a damn how many calories are in it.

Why KFC Franchisees Are Squawking [BusinessWeek]