As the pandemic hit, Shuckin’ Shack doubled down on its key values to stay afloat. Now, its efforts have paid off and the franchise is leveraging a lucrative opportunity to cash in on pent-up demand for sit down restaurants.
Wilmington, NC (RestaurantNews.com) Shuckin’ Shack, the rapidly growing seafood restaurant franchise with 16 locations across five states, sailed through 2020’s many sink-or-swim tests and kicked off 2021 with some of the brand’s most impressive sales numbers to date. Now, the brand is taking full advantage of a year marked by substantial growth opportunities, as restaurateurs across the country search for winning concepts for the post-pandemic era.
According to Shuckin’ Shack CEO Jonathan Weathington, the franchise’s success throughout the pandemic was the result of a series of quick pivots to keep stores earning even amid lockdown restrictions. These pivots paid off and, as a result, almost all of Shuckin’ Shack’s 16 locations have seen a substantial spike in Q1 sales.
Shuckin’ Shack’s Sink Or Swim Moment
With franchises in five states, each with its own COVID-19 responses and regulations, the pandemic required Shuckin’ Shack’s team to “flex our flexibility muscles,” said Weathington.
“What works in urban locations might not work at one of our more rural locations,” he explained. “We learned a lot of lessons on the macro level from a leadership standpoint.”
But the support Shuckin’ Shack’s corporate team provided for franchisees went well beyond logistical help. Darren Keeler, the brand’s Vice President of Marketing, said Shuckin’ Shack also pivoted its message and medium to keep franchisees in the conversation during lockdowns.
“During the shutdown, we didn’t go dark,” said Keeler. “We were always active on social media. We took different routes to stay relevant. We were calling local radio stations and getting on small-business segments — doing whatever we could to not go silent in hard times and letting our customers and franchisees know we were still working.”
Weathington and Keeler’s efforts paid off. By rolling with the changes and keeping their brand in the spotlight, the franchise was able to capitalize on a number of sales opportunities.
“One of our success stories from last year was with our North Carolina franchisees,” said Weathington. “We had spent months waiting for news of a new executive order from the governor that would allow us to sell alcohol off-premise. I think the order finally came down on a Friday afternoon. We found out we could sell alcohol at 2 p.m., and by 3:30 p.m. we had labels printed and they were ready to go. Within 48 hours, we had put together take-home bloody mary kits.”
Shuckin’ Shack’s franchisees noticed the leadership’s hustle as well. “2020, with all the Covid limitations, ended up being a good year for us and this momentum has continued into 2021,” said South Carolina Shuckin’ Shack franchisee, Don Marcum. “We recently opened our location in Easley and now, with locations in both Greenville and Easley up and running, our numbers have only continued to grow in 2021.”
Why Shuckin’ Shack is Positioned To Win
Shuckin’ Shack has spent years differentiating itself from the competition. First and foremost, the brand caters to families and seafood lovers of all types by treating the seas that feed them with respect. The brand is built on a simple concept: Sustainable, responsibly sourced oysters and seafood that “just tastes better.”
“It’s all wild-caught American seafood. It just tastes better,” said Weathington. “It comes straight out of the Gulf of Mexico or cultured oysters throughout the U.S., and that’s as fresh as you can get it, right from the coast. No offense to the people who farm-raise shrimp in Thailand, but our seafood just tastes better. It’s not full of phosphates. It’s not sitting in water for a week.”
But Shuckin’ Shack’s core values as a brand extend well beyond tasty food. The franchise has made good on a commitment to protecting the oceans, and that means controlling plastic waste. The brand’s “skip the straw” initiative shows customers it cares about sea life beyond harvesting it for food.
As consumers become increasingly conscious of their health, the ecosystem and climate change, Shuckin’ Shack is highlighting its long history — over a decade — of dedication to these important causes, keeping the brand well-positioned in the larger cultural conversation about sustainability and the environment.
“We work with local oyster farmers. We know who these farmers are, and we actually go out and volunteer to recycle our oyster shells, putting them in the water to contribute to natural reefs where more oysters will grow,” said Keeler. “Everyone wants to feel good about what they’re eating, where it comes from and how it’s grown.”
But Shuckin’ Shack doesn’t do sustainability just to score brownie points. The brand was built by people who live by the coast and genuinely care for their land and communities, just as they care for the people they serve.
“We’re not volunteering at sustainable oyster farms to be popular,” said Weathington. “I’m very proud of larger brands that made that transition to sustainability because they understand the PR value, but we’ve been doing this for over a decade. We live at the coast, we understand the actual impact, we see the physical impact of the choices we make. It’s not in vogue for us, it’s part of our business model.”
Why Now Is The Time To Invest in Shuckin’ Shack
Over the past year, much of the restaurant industry has been crippled by pandemic lockdown orders, and Americans have largely turned towards fast-food drive-thrus and delivery. Now, the pandemic has created a tremendous amount of pent-up demand for full-service offerings like Shuckin’ Shack.
“After our Cumming, Georgia location shut down, the local Shuckin’ Shack was so ingrained in the community that when they reopened, there was a line out the door. That’s all due to the connections our franchisees have in our communities,” said Weathington.
Many Americans picked up some new cooking hobbies during the pandemic, but few are brave enough to attempt a massive seafood boil or fry-up at home. Essentially, this makes Shuckin’ Shack’s already distinguished offering almost one-of-a-kind, and a formidable business concept.
“Name one other oyster franchise. You can’t,” said Weathington. “The pandemic has made us even more rare. Even if a competitor did have reasonable access to great quality seafood, what happened when things shut down? Our supply chain works wherever we need it to. We opened new restaurants during the pandemic, and we have owners that have signed new leases during the pandemic because they know just how unique and valuable this concept is.”
In fact, Shuckin’ Shack has already seen a tremendous boom in Q1 sales as the country begins to bounce back from the pandemic, dining restrictions begin to lift and customers start to feel comfortable returning to their favorite restaurants.
“Throughout the course of this past year, the restaurant industry as a whole has seen a 17% contraction,” said Weathington. “Naturally real estate is going to become available — it already is. We have the numbers to prove we can survive anywhere and now, as restaurants are reopening, people are eager to return to a family-friendly concept that makes them feel at home. Why invest in Shuckin’ Shack now? Because if you don’t do it now, you’re going to get left behind.”
About Shuckin’ Shack
Shuckin’ Shack Oyster Bar grew out of a vision for a local establishment that would appeal to families of all ages. A place where friends and family can enjoy fresh, delicious meals and creative cocktails in an environment that exudes relaxation. Shuckin’ Shack offers its guests a “lifestyle experience” in addition to exceptional seafood. The brand started as a 900-square-foot shack in Carolina Beach, North Carolina, in 2007 and began franchising in 2014. Today, Shuckin’ Shack has grown to 16 locations across five states, and soon to be six, with several more locations slated to open by the end of 2021. To learn more about Shuckin’ Shack, visit http://www.theshuckinshack.com.