How Red Rooster took flight

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Inside Franchise Business: Red Rooster started out 46 years agoImagine where a $27,000 investment can lead to? For Red Rooster founder Peter Kailis, putting his hard-earned cash into the chicken business 46 years ago has more than paid off.

Hospitality was in Peter Kailis’ blood – his Greek-born parents bought and operated for decades a fish and chip shop in Perth – and he had owned and operated several large companies including a packaging company and a timber factory, building companies from scratch and establishing enduring processes and management systems.

It was in 1972 that Kailis and nine partners invested in an existing chicken rotisserie shop and so the Red Rooster business was born, in Kelmscott, Perth. But the road to success wasn’t always an easy journey – within the first 12 months the company, which Kailis chaired, had lost $100,000 and one of the partners.

Innovation across the decades

The losses panicked other shareholders but Kailis kept his cool and eventually bought out all the partners. Then one store turned into four, an expansion that was built on happy customers sharing the news about the brand. No money was spent on advertising.

In those days the cost of a whole roast chook, stuffed, was $1.95. Peter Kailis developed the Hawaiian Pack (originally with a banana fritter), and he also invented the Rooster Roll as a way of using up leftover chicken- these are both popular items still on the Red Rooster menu today. The Hawaiian is still his chicken of choice.

Today the business is led by CEO Chris Green, who has worked in fast food for three decades, starting out as a 15 year old in Hornsby’s McDonald’s.

Green has had key roles in the global giant including vice president of operations and franchising in Malaysia, director of operations in Australia, and director of operations in South Africa.

Sharing his 45th birthday with Red Rooster, Green says “Being at the helm of Red Rooster is a dream job for me. The job is challenging but very fun and rewarding. Watching the transformation of stores, seeing the brand grow - every day I get to work with the best food, the best people and the best brand.”

It was Green who initiated the delivery option with a dedicated digital platform and website. These have enabled franchisees to get their roast chicken on the move and home-delivered to hungry customers.

Franchisee favourites

The passion for Red Rooster is shared by franchisee legend Sue Lomax who has been on the journey with the chicken business since 1977. For nearly 40 years Lomax worked in the corporate business, only recently leaping into the challenging role of a franchisee.

But she hasn’t looked back and now employs about 50 local staff in her two busy outlets in Orange and Dubbo in New South Wales.

Fellow franchisee Dimi Cumner has also notched up a few decades with Red Rooster, starting as a teenager behind the counter. Cumner was inducted in to the company’s Hall of Fame in 2016 for her contribution to the brand.

“Over the years I have watched the Red Rooster brand grow and evolve. There have been changes and challenges but what I’ve learned from my life with Rds is that it’s all about the food and the customer.”

For hospitality professional Kylie Johnson, franchisee of two Townsville outlets, juggling staff, family, and the business still leaves her with time to join in with community initiatives. Like her fellow franchisees, Johnson is committed to serving the local community and she is the key figure behind the drought appeal Buy a Bale, helping Aussie farmers.

“We are proud of what we bring to our customers and communities,” she says, “and passionate about seeing the brand get bigger and better. Delivery has totally exploded, taking our food to more customers than ever before.”

Red Rooster: from one store to 360 stores

  • 1972 Red Rooster opens in Kelmscott, WA
  • 1973 A quarter chicken and chips costs 79 cents
  • 1985 Launch of successful jingle Red Red Ready
  • 1992 Red Rooster expands into the Eastern Seaboard and has 230 restaurants
  • 1995 Combi ovens replace rotisserie ovens
  • 1997 Old cash registers are replaced with digital versions
  • 2000 International flavours such as Bombay Bites on the menu
  • 2014 Brand relaunch and introduction of Tender Loving Chicken. First roast chicken home delivery
  • 2016 Online delivery platform and national delivery rolled out nationally. Smaller format Reggie stores introduced
  • 2018 Today there are 400 delivery cars, 360 stores, 180 franchisees and 10,000 staff.
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