Running one of the nation’s fastest-growing hamburger chains may seem like easy money. Open outlets, sell burgers, rake in cash.
But for Smashburger’s new CEO, Scott Crane, how do you top seven consecutive years of double-digit growth?
By making sure that it becomes eight consecutive years, then going from there. Crane’s plan is to stick to the template that has made Denver-based Smashburger one of the nation’s fastest-growing players in the restaurant segment defined as fast-casual, better-burger.
Category leader Five Guys Burgers and Fries has about five times as many outlets as Smashburger’s 256, but Virginia-based Five Guys has been in business 21 years longer.
Crane, 40, took the reins in November after the departure of CEO David Prokupek. Crane, however, is no newcomer. He has served as Smashburger’s president since the company opened its first location on South Colorado Boulevard at Mississippi Avenue in 2007.
Crane projects that Smashburger this year will open about 75 new units nationwide and in a few foreign markets. Sales will grow to an estimated $300 million compared with $228 million in 2013.
Restaurant analysts wonder whether America’s appetite for upscale hamburgers is limitless.
“Is the better-burger space too crowded?” asks John Gordon of San Diego-based Pacific Management Consulting Group. “Many believe that there are way too many chains, and only a limited number are going to make it.”
Few are betting against Smashburger.
The chain recently was ranked by Forbes magazine as one of the top 10 “Most Promising Companies,” and Crane was named one of the “10 Executives to Watch” by Nation’s Restaurant News.
Crane said customers will find a smattering of menu changes this year, including more gluten-free products. The company is testing concepts such as organic milk and juice, low-sodium bacon and preservative-free salad dressings.
Smashburger’s growth is viewed as impressive in some metrics but tiny in others.
Restaurant-analysis firm Technomic reports that among all limited-service hamburger chains, Smashburger’s market share is 0.2 percent. By comparison, Five Guys has a 1.4 percent share. Mega-chains McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger King collectively command 71 percent of the market.
Steve Raabe: 303-954-1948, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/steveraabedp
Number of Smashburger outlets
Company’s sales in 2013
Company’s share of market in 2013