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Young millionaire: Todd Graves

Todd Graves (born February 20, 1972)  is an American entrepreneur and the founder, chairman and CEO of Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers, a quick-service restaurant that offers fried chicken fingers as its only main course. Graves, along with Craig Silvey, founded the restaurant in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on August 26, 1996. Graves had a vision for a quick-service restaurant focusing on a simple menu item, chicken fingers. Unable to gain financing, Graves decided to raise his own capital and worked as a boilermaker in Los Angeles, California and a commercial sockeye salmon fisherman in Naknek, Alaska. On August 26, 1996, Graves opened Raising Cane’s for business. Over the next 12 years, Graves would oversee the company expansion to over 70 restaurants and over $100 million in annual sales. The Baton Rouge Business Report, a local business news magazine, named Graves the Young Businessperson of the Year for 2002. Additionally, the Business Report named Graves to their 2000 Top 40 Under 40 list, a recognition given to young businessmen and women in the Baton Rouge Capital Region for their achievements before the age of 40. Graves has also been named an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year 2008 award winner.

What’s their secret? Concept: doing one thing and doing it well

If you ask Raising Cane’s CEO and founder Todd Graves what the secret is to his company’s success, he will tell you it’s being committed to a vision and having a quality product and a cool corporate culture with great “crew members.”

But there’s an even simpler and more fundamental reason that the chicken-fingers chain has grown to a $97.4 million company with 73 stores in 13 states and limitless plans for expansion: It focuses on one thing and doing it well.

“We stay focused and committed to that one love,” Graves says. “We do one thing, and we do it better than anyone else.”

That was Graves’ intent when he founded the company: to sell just one product, but to do it right. That product was a high-quality meal of fresh fried chicken fingers, and the target market was the college crowd. Back then, however, Graves and partner Craig Silvey had their eye on just a single location outside the North Gates of LSU.

The rest of the story is the stuff that has become local lore. A business school professor told Graves, then a student, his plan had no future. Local banks wanted no part of it, either. He worked 20 hour days as a commercial fisherman in Alaska to raise the seed money to launch his dream.

From those humble beginnings in 1996, the company has grown exponentially, particularly in recent years. Employees now number more than 2,300, and the chain has an expanding presence throughout the South and West, with a mix of company- and franchise-owned stores.

When the company moves into a new market, it seeks to establish itself through aggressive promotional campaigns. It advertises heavily on local airwaves and, more important, gives away copious amounts of its chicken fingers, banking that once people try their product they’ll come back for more.

“Then, once we get them in the door, we’ve got them,” Graves says.

While focusing on a limited menu has been one of the biggest factors behind Cane’s success, another key has been the fun ambience of the restaurants, which are decked out with ceiling fans and sports or movie posters, and the playful attitude of its employees.

“If we had people who didn’t care and weren’t inspired, our sales wouldn’t be nearly where they are today,” Graves says.

The company recently announced plans to relocate the bulk of its corporate operations to Dallas, though Graves maintains Baton Rouge will remain the company’s headquarters. It’s a move designed to fuel even more growth and enable Cane’s to join the ranks of the big-time, fast-food chains, which have thousands of outlets around the world.

“We want to be international,” Graves says. “This is the next logical step.”

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February 19, 2009 - Posted by | Business, Entrepreneur, Million dollars Idea, Millionaire, Uncategorized, Youtube | , , ,

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