Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Lauren Silich: taking Chick-fil-A to a new frontier

What type of person does it take to run one of the most successful new restaurants in Chicago? Well, considering the restaurant is a southern fixture, a lifelong Midwesterner wouldn’t be the first thought would it?

Well that would be the case, and Chick-fil-A Franchised Restaurant Operator Lauren Silich has taken quite the path to get to where she is now, serving happiness and high quality food on the corner of Chicago and Wabash.

“I’m proud to be the person who go to take them there [first location in the city of Chicago],” the 33-year-old Silich said.

The success of this “flagship” location, as Chick-fil-A likes to call it (due to the high profile, high visibility, and high traffic) has come quickly. The restaurant is already in the top five of the entire chain and broke first day and hourly sales records on the grand opening day.

Founded in Atlanta, Chick-fil-A has an almost cult-like following in the south and seems to gain one wherever else they decide to open one up. This location in downtown Chicago is also special according to Silich because there are items and ideas at this location that aren’t available anywhere else.

“This restaurant, for lack of a better term, is a concept store for Chick-fil-A,” Silich commented. “There area a lot of things here that are in test, from the food to the tables, chairs, marble, stools, patios, light fixtures, and LED lighting.”

But it is almost impossible to know how the restaurant has been so successful without seeing how Silich got to be the head honcho for this location.

The fourth-generation Chicagoan, now married to a Chicago Poilice sergeant with one daughter, is from the West Lawn neighborhood on the Southwest side of the city, and when she was young she moved out to the suburbs of Palos Hills and attended Stagg High School.

Sillich attended Marquette University and got her bachelor’s degree in journalism and moved to Monroe, Wis. where she was the lead reporter for The Monroe Times for two years.

Being the beat and sports reporter, which she admits she “Wasn’t as good at as she hoped she’d be,” led her back to her hometown Chicago with the hopes of getting hired by the Tribune or Sun-Times. When she found out they were in a hiring freeze, you could essentially call the start of her career metamorphosis.

She took a job at Imagination, a custom content and custom publishing agency. Silich described the job, at first, as a hybrid of journalism and marketing. She enjoyed it and “loved the culture of the company” which led her to stay there for nine years. Among her clients at Imagination were Wells Fargo, General Mills, and Chick-fil-A.

The latter of the three companies thought she was really good at what she did. Her job at the company was to give good advice and information about the companies about how to market themselves and get better known. That is when she decided to take a shot at interviewing for an operator position.

After an extensive interview process with Chick-fil-A, about two and a half years, she was picked to run the historic first store in the Windy City and the fifth in the Chicagoland area. It is not an honor she takes lightly.

“About 25-30,000 people apply to run a restaurant every year,” Silich said. “The pick 50. It’s very competitive.”

She is enjoying all that comes with running a new restaurant in a major city like Chicago, but she admits that there are challenges facing her and the brand in general.

“A vast majority have no idea what we are,” Silich admitted, saying that 75 percent of her staff had never even had Chick-fil-A before being hired. “The biggest challenge was, and will be for a long time, building brand awareness. Who we are, what do we sell, what are we known for.”

Another challenge for Silich has been marketing, which because it is a new store in an area with not many Chick-fil-A locations, does not have the market accrual that a region like Houston does. Instead, they have had to focus on extremely local marketing and word of mouth, social media (Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare) and charity donations.

“A big part of our marketing is just getting our food out there, especially in a new market,” Silich said. “Me just marketing this store has been about as well as you can do.”

In the end, she took the job and has been able to succeed because of two simple things are that are now intertwined.

“I’m a friend of the brand [Chick-fil-A] because I’ve worked with them for so long, and I understand Chicago because I was born here.”

1 comment:

  1. You so would do an article about the first Chick-Fil-A in the Chi! :)