Billy Sims: Building A Michigan FranchiseBy Kyle Pollock on March 8th, 2013 /
The first word that comes to mind after hearing “Tim Hortons”, is “coffee”, especially in the Michigan area close to Toronto. More people associate the name with the coffee and donut shop over the hockey player, Miles Gilbert “Tim” Horton, who started the first Tim Hortons in Hamilton, Ontario, named after his nickname. A similar case of a generalized trademark due to an athlete turned entrepreneur is former Detroit Lions running back and Heisman Trophy winner, Billy Sims.
Billy joined Jeff Jackson, to open up the Billy Sims Barbecue franchise in Oklahoma, where Billy played at the University of Oklahoma, became a Heisman Trophy winner, and was eventually drafted as a number one pick by the Detroit Lions in 1980. When the franchise became successful in Oklahoma, they began looking at new markets to enter. Since Billy had an affinity to Michigan and the Metro Detroit area, it just seemed like a natural extension of their brand to take it there.
Slow Cooked, and Careful Expansion
Billy Sims Barbecue wants to replicate a brand that will be represented by good food, and is doing just that with the help of Jim Turner, a Michigan native who leads the Michigan expansion of the franchise. “We believe, from some of our research, that we could have around 65 units in Michigan, heavily concentrated in the metro Detroit area” says Turner. The first restaurant to open up in Michigan was in August 2012, followed by a second unit in October. The restaurant chain has chosen Michigan for it’s expansion, but Turner says with a controlled growth state. “…65 could become 75, or 80. It could take 5 to upwards of 10 years to get there, but at the end of the day we want to expand with a controlled growth format because we want to maintain the product, quality and consistency”.
The franchise has been widespread throughout Oklahoma where the term, “BOOMER-Q” has been synonymous with the brand. Asked if they would change anything to adapt to Michigan culture, Turner affirmed they will keep the experience the same. “It’s the southern style, no frills barbecue.”
However, he did mention they may add some menu items due to several requests, which means they are listening to their customers.
“If we’ve been asked once, we’ve probably been asked 1,000 times to bring macaroni and cheese to the menu, which is something we’re working on,” said Turner.
Turner compared potential menu changes similar to how McDonald’s has varying menus between regions. He did say how it can be easier for fast food restaurants to replicate brands, but he stands by the Billy Sims brand.
“We’re not shipping in prepackaged burgers, everything is handled individually, prepared individually, and cooked individually.”
Turner mentioned they looked at other out-of-state markets as well, but ultimately bet on Michigan while weighing the price point, customer relationship, and opportunity for growth of the franchise. New Billy Sims restaurants along with the growing local food hub could be good news for small local farmers in Southeastern Michigan.
Another Michigan franchise that has stayed small, but Metro Detroiters are well acquainted with is former Red Wings Defensemen Chris Chelios’s Cheli’s.
You can get a taste of the Billy Sims brand at one of the two current Michigan locations in Southfield and Lincoln Park, with a third coming soon in Troy. Make sure to leave feedback on their website, and maybe you can help build the brand.