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Jonathan Weathington joined Shuckin’ Shack in an official capacity in 2014 at the outset of franchising. Initially hired as VP of Franchise Development, he was promoted to CEO in November of 2014.
Prior to working for Shuckin’ Shack, Jonathan helped build the second Shuckin’ Shack in Historic Wilmington NC, and spent 14 years in the service and retail industry with companies such as VF and BB&T.
He holds a BA in Political Science and an MA in International Relations. At home, Jonathan enjoys spending time outdoors and hanging with his wife and two cats – Frank and Etta.
This transcript is machine transcribed by Sonix
Intro: [00:00:07] Welcome to Franchise Marketing Radio, brought to you by SEO Samba, Comprehensive, high performing marketing solutions for mature and emerging franchise brands to supercharge your franchise marketing. Go to SEOsamba.com. That’s SEOSamba.com.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:31] Lee Kantor here, another episode of Franchise Marketing Radio, and this is going to be a good one today on the show, we have Jonathan Wethington with Shukin’ Shack. Welcome, Jonathan.
Jonathan Weathington: [00:00:42] Hey, Lee, how are you doing?
Lee Kantor: [00:00:43] I am doing great. Before we get too far into things, tell us about Chuck and check How are you serving folks?
Jonathan Weathington: [00:00:50] Sure, I think we’re serving folks really well. We started in two thousand seven single unit and grew to a second unit in two thousand twelve and then started franchising in twenty fourteen. And and really, it’s our goal to just treat people well by serving them the best seafood and coldest drinks possible.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:06] Now what’s the kind of the origin story of the franchise? Did it start out as a mom and pop and then just organically grew into a franchise? Or did it set out to be a franchise from the beginning?
Jonathan Weathington: [00:01:18] It did not set out to be a franchise from the beginning. I think like most other restaurants, it really just set out to survive the first year from the beginning, and that was that was twenty seven. We were kind of headed into not a great place as far as macroeconomics are concerned across the nation, but just kind of started kicking butt and taking off and grew from there. And the partners. I was not a founder, but I knew the founders and I was around when the concept started and I saw it grow from just a single location. Mom and pop with two business partners and a 960 square foot location just grew every year. Started looking for a second location somewhere around late. Twenty ten or sorry, around late two thousand eight. And then things really started taking off. Finally opened a second location in twenty twelve. And then we’re in the process of looking for a third location and at that point decided to shift gears a little bit and focus a little more on franchise growth.
Lee Kantor: [00:02:18] Now, when you made that kind of switch to being a franchise group. Organizationally, how did that impact kind of your day to day because that’s a different real business, right running a franchise. Being a franchisor as opposed to, you know, running a franchise?
Jonathan Weathington: [00:02:36] It’s an extremely different business, you’re no longer just an operator, and I came in from the outside, though I knew the founders and I helped them build the second location. I was working for a couple of other companies at the time that they started franchising, and so I came in completely from the outside to help them specifically grow the franchising side. I had a rich history and, you know, processes and procedure and all of those things and kind of consolidating. I’d gotten a taste of really ultra ultra large business for some of the previous organizations I had worked with, and I knew that Chuck and Jack was scalable. But to answer your question directly, the partners, I think, found out and really knew coming into it that you’re no longer an operator of a single restaurant. It’s no longer your base. Goals are the same, which is to treat your customers exceptionally well, served great food and give people a good time. But how you get there on the franchising side is a little bit different because now you’re responsible for imparting that knowledge and training that within your own system to new franchisees coming in who may or may not have any familiarity whatsoever with your brand.
Lee Kantor: [00:03:44] Now, what does that ideal franchisee look like? Are they kind of that second act executive or are they the professional franchisee that is looking for another maybe a food concept to kind of round out of portfolio or the empire builder that’s going into a market and wants to take over the, you know, the the area?
Jonathan Weathington: [00:04:08] I think all of the above, I think that’s one of the beautiful things about franchising in general is that for us, at least for us, I can’t speak for every brand, but I’ve certainly had these conversations with other brands and that the diversity within their own franchise system is pretty great and that we do have folks in our system who are in empire building mode. I want to start with one, I want to build 10 and I want to do that over the next 10 or 12 years. And they have multiple units of multiple brands and they see us as as a long term investment. We also have a single unit franchise owners who are owner operators, and right now in our system, that’s our bread and butter. We love single unit owner operators. They tend to care about the business extremely well. Their numbers are typically even better than us as our company units, because let’s face it, they have to pay us royalties and marketing fees. And so there’s more of an incentive for them to run a little bit tighter ship. And, you know, they’re really invested within the community. And then on the other side, we have former military former military in our system. We have folks who have retired from their other careers and started the second career in this. So they come from all different directions. And I don’t think that’s just your main to check and check. I think that’s franchising as a whole. That’s one of the best parts about the industry and the sector overall.
Lee Kantor: [00:05:25] So in your system, what separates kind of the rock stars from the kind of average?
Jonathan Weathington: [00:05:31] How they treat people. That’s it. You know, we give people a great systems, we give them great products, we give them great marketing materials to reach their customers. We can drive customers in the door. That’s not an issue. It’s how they treat people. That’s what separates the rock stars from from the average folks. And again, that may not be just germane to us, but at the end of the day, when people come into a restaurant, they’ve already decided that they’re going to spend money there. It’s how you can make that money, have value to them. What is the worth like? How do they feel walking out of the doors? Would they, without hesitation, say yes, I will absolutely come back within the first few minutes of coming into their visit. And that’s it how they treat people and how invested they are within their local communities. That’s what separates the great from just the good.
Lee Kantor: [00:06:20] Now how does the organization help a franchisee when it comes to their people and their talent? What are you doing to help them kind of identify the right check and check employee and also keep them?
Jonathan Weathington: [00:06:37] Sure. So I think on our end, a lot of what we do, we don’t we don’t certainly hire for any of our franchisees or anything like that, but we encourage folks to hire for talent as opposed. I mean, sorry, we encourage folks to hire for personality as opposed to talent or as opposed to skill. We want people within our four walls who can speak to others just like you’re in someone’s living room. We desire folks who work for us to have a genuine sense of connection with other human beings. And quite frankly, the product doesn’t matter. We just happen to serve an exceptional product. And so that’s that’s one of the things that we teach is a part of our university training is how do you identify those kind of life skills that go beyond what you might find in a restaurant? And then as a part of our further training, once we actually get people in the doors and we’re training our employees, we kind of throw out all what we believe are a bunch of bad habits that a lot of other brands use that may work for them, but it doesn’t work for us. We don’t have greetings within our stores. We don’t wear name tags. We don’t do all the typical stuff that you might see in a franchise restaurant. And that’s because when we want, when people walk in the door, we want them to feel welcome. We want them to feel like they actually belong there, like it’s a place that they would go, hang out. I’m not going to come to your house and hope that you have a nametag on and hang out with me. That’s not what I’m after. And so for us, we kind of create that homegrown environment and we are teaching. And I say this very, very often, especially when we’re talking about bartenders and servers in front of the house employees. We’re not teaching them to do the certain things we are teaching them to read the room. We are teaching them to read other people and respond accordingly. And that’s one of the things that makes us extremely different from other brands.
Lee Kantor: [00:08:24] Now, during the pandemic, were you forced to kind of make some changes that maybe will have legs post-pandemic?
Jonathan Weathington: [00:08:33] Of course, yeah, I think we were we would be not telling you the truth entirely. We didn’t take a look at our entire system and say, What’s working, what’s not working, what’s not working? Let’s not put any time, effort and energy into it, and let’s focus on what’s working. That was a little bit more of our approach. We knew, practically speaking, when you’re talking about seafood and you’re talking about our brand. There’s not a whole lot of ubiquity on seafood and delivery. And so we knew that we could not compete with pizza or or some other concepts that may have a great delivery program because that’s what they’re known for. I mean, I order pizza at my own home, and we knew that we wouldn’t be able to compete with that and capture that customer. However, what we did know we could do is stay engaged with our customer base. And then when they were ready to come back or ready to order to go or pick something up, or they just wanted to get out of the house and drive up to the curb and pick something up from us, we were there and we tried to focus a lot of time, effort and energy on exactly that, which is engaging our customer base, making sure that they were there and that we were there for them. And then as time progressed, we were able to, depending upon, of course, the state and the municipality. We were able to develop some take home programs with taken boil kits and booze to go kits and those things. But I think the name of the game for the pandemic for us was just agility. No idea was stupid. Quite frankly, no idea was immediately swept under the table. We everything was on the table and we considered everything and adaptability and agility. Just pragmatism, I think, is perhaps the best way to encapsulate our approach to dealing with COVID and continuing to do it
Lee Kantor: [00:10:15] Now as we end this year and we move into next year. Are you targeting certain regions or is it kind of the whole country in play right now?
Jonathan Weathington: [00:10:27] I think a majority of the country, you know, 20, 20 was kind of our early twenty twenty one late twenty twenty was kind of the first time we started offering franchise opportunities for the right folks across the country. Prior to that, we had primarily been focused on the southeast U.S. east of the Mississippi, of course. We just wanted to have a little bit more market proof and markets outside of the Carolinas. And now that we have that and we’ve seen our restaurants grow and do exceptionally well, not only away from the coast but outside of the Carolinas. We’re at the stage in our development. We’ve got a lot of the right pieces on board internally. We’re partnered with the Great Development Group, Braintree Franchise Systems, franchise brands and we’re poised to grow as long as with the right people. And I think that matters more than anything else is that we would consider relationships and franchise partners in other states near or far. But you got to be the right fit in our system, and not everybody fits and that’s OK.
Lee Kantor: [00:11:32] Now, any advice for the emerging franchisor that’s out there, that’s listening on how to kind of get over the hump and get that escape velocity?
Jonathan Weathington: [00:11:44] Sure, I think the biggest thing is to have high brand confidence, and that sounds that sounds so silly and stupid, especially if you’re a founder of your own brand. But if you know your brand more than anyone else, which you should, is that continue to lean into that and continue to make sure that you depend upon that when you’re making decisions. And I think furthermore, just because someone hasn’t done something doesn’t mean that you can’t do it. And so I think that, you know, you have to determine obviously systems, procedures, all of those things, but lean on what you know. And that’s at the core DNA of what your brand is and what it has been and what’s gotten you there. Then maybe it’s not something you should you should sacrifice moving forward.
Lee Kantor: [00:12:30] Well, if there’s somebody out there that wants to learn more about the opportunity, what’s the website?
Jonathan Weathington: [00:12:35] Sure, it’s Chicken Shack franchise,
Lee Kantor: [00:12:38] And that’s chicken with no gee, right?
Jonathan Weathington: [00:12:41] No, gee, that’s right s s h youkai n Shack franchise.
Lee Kantor: [00:12:48] Well, Jonathan, thank you so much for sharing your story today. Thanks, Lee. All right, this is Lee Kantor, we’ll see you next time on Franchise Marketing Radio.