Culver's Hasn't Closed a Store in 4 Years — And It's All Thanks to One Smart Strategy

The Wisconsin-based burger joint is in the Top 10 of our Franchise 500 for five years running.

By Blaire Briody

Courtesy of Culver’s

This story appears in the January 2023 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Started Franchising: 1988 | Total Units: 871 | Cost to Open: $2.3M-$5.8M

By one measure, Culver's had a low-key year: The Wisconsin-based burger joint opened only approximately 55 locations in 2022, and it's the smallest brand in the Top 10 in terms of total units. But by a uniquely telling measure, Culver's excelled: It had zero terminations or closures between 2019 and 2022. That's especially impressive given the challenging headwinds that fast-casual restaurants faced during those years — the pandemic, labor shortages, supply chain issues, inflation. For comparison, the average number of closures in 2021 for our list's QSR category was eight. "Our focus has always been on opening one successful restaurant at a time rather than striving to reach an arbitrary number of openings," says Rick Silva, president and CEO, who took over in 2021. That strategy has helped it land in our Top 10 for five consecutive years.

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To optimize for success, Culver's focuses heavily on talent. The company offers a unique mentorship program and provides a strategic roadmap for any employee, including entry-level cashiers or line cooks, to work their way up to becoming a franchise owner. More than 200 employees have completed the program, which includes partnering with an existing franchisee to learn the business.

Culver's also focuses on systems, and adapting them to every franchisee's needs. For example, the brand invested in better drive-thru and online ordering systems based on increased customer demand for these services that intensified during the pandemic.

While Culver's has global changes that it rolls out to every location, it also listens closely to its owner-operators and relies on their insight to determine together what those changes should look like. "Our operators know their local communities' needs, so we encourage them to embrace whatever works best," says Silva.

View the 2023 Franchise 500 Ranking Now

Culver's also thought about supply chains a lot in 2022, just as most businesses had to. "We've worked to create an even higher level of collaboration, transparency, and trust with our suppliers," Silva says. That included carefully adding suppliers, along with adding facilities from existing suppliers, to ensure less disruption.

As Culver's looks ahead to 2023, it's focused on making customers and franchisees even happier — including options for customers to order on the go, such as drive-thrus with two places to order, plus tablets and an enhanced online ordering experience.

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