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“Avoid Seagull Site Visits,” Cautions Shuckin’ Shack Seafood Franchise CEO on Industry Podcast

Jonathan Weathington, the CEO of our seafood franchise, recently had an interview on the Franchise Marketing Podcast. Now, as you’d probably expect, he gave some great insights into growing a franchise and ensuring success in a very competitive marketplace.

One of the pearls he shared was to avoid “seagull” site visits. This indeed sounds strange, but according to Jonathan, this forms the foundation for a very successful franchise business. 

But what exactly is a seagull site visit? This post will delve deeper into this concept and show you why it is so important.

shuckin' shack ceo with some words of franchise wisdom

A Short History of Shuckin’ Shack

You know, like fishing, you have to bait the hook first before you can catch anything. So, let’s look at a short history of Shuckin’ Shack before we get to the insights. This will also help you understand why we were able to grow as we did.

The Shuckin’ Shack seafood franchise story starts way back in 2007 when our co-Founders Matt Piccinin and Sean Cook craved fresh oysters. It’s easy right, just go out and have some. Wrong! In the sleepy coastal town of Carolina Beach, they couldn’t find any.

But this also made them realize something. There was an unmet need in the local restaurants seen for fresh oyster bars. And that’s how the idea of Shuckin’ Shack was born.

With a lot of hard work, lots of planning, and a lot of beer, their first location in the same year. In 2010 they started looking for a second location and opened that in 2012. The third location opened in 2013. Things really took off in 2014 when Jonathan joined us, and that’s when we started franchising.

So, what is the Shuckin’ Shack seafood franchise all about? We’ll let Jonathan explain:

We serve oysters and cold beer, and that’s pretty much the name of the game for us. If you like fresh seafood and cold beer, you’re probably going to like us just fine. If you don’t like those things, what world are you living in?

And apart from serving seafood and cold beer, we’re about having fun while we do it!

For Jonathan, the lightbulb moment came when he could see, from an outsider’s perspective, that the customer base was growing and growing. We knew that we had a good product to begin with and that it was an easy sell, but this showed us that other people thought so too. 

In simple terms, we could see that new people were coming into the restaurant, and they were giving us the same feedback that our friends and family did. So, they had good food, cold drinks, and a lot of fun.

And that brings us to seagull site visits.

Seagull Site Visits

Maybe the best way to explain it is to use Jonathan’s own words:

A seagull site visit is when you swoop in, you sh*t all over everything, and then you swoop out.”

This needs a little bit of explaining. With the typical site visit, the Franchisor will breeze in and look at everything at the location. For example, is the Franchise Owner following the rules, is the location clean, and so on. Once the boxes are checked, the Franchisor will breeze right back out again until the next visit.

We like to conduct our site visits by focusing on the customer’s perspective. That’s why we don’t really want to call them site visits anymore. We call them operational excellence visits.

And as this name suggests, the end goal is to make sure that the customers are taken care of, the Franchise Owners feel comfortable and confident in all of their day-to-day operations, and the experience is as good as it can be. For example, does the food look good? Do the servers talk to the customers? Are the music, temperature, and lighting just right? So, in short, does the restaurant feel welcoming?

And that’s been our focus from the start. We want to make sure our customers have an experience that’s filled with smiles, fun, and fantastic food. This not only keeps guests coming back for more Shuckin’, but it also helps keep our Franchise Owners happy and doing lots of business!

We think of it like this- is this an atmosphere in which we’d want to sit and watch a sports game? If the answer is no, then we need to correct that. Sure, we follow all the other procedures, and they are important, but at the end of the day, our goal is to get our guests to return. And as Jonathan says:

They are not going to return because there’s no dust on your kitchen rail. They don’t care. They don’t even see it. They’re going to return because the conversation was great, the experience was great, the food was dynamite, and it’s consistent.

Ultimately, we want to focus on the quality of the customer experience because you know that’s what’s brings customers back and ensures growth and revenue.

So, how do you get to this place where your Franchise Owners focus on these things? Like so much in life, it’s all about having the right people.

Great Staff = Great Experience

Let’s face it, having the right people is incredibly important. After all, the people who become our Franchise Owners are representing the Shuckin’ Shack seafood franchise brand in their community!

Now, what do we do to get the right people to own our seafood franchise locations? For one, there has to be a cultural fit. The Franchise Owners we work with should fit in with the laid-back, fun-loving culture of Shuckin’ Shack. As Jonathan says:

As a brand, we’re a little more relaxed. So, you know, for instance, and this is just kind of a little microcosm, is that when someone comes into our support center in our office here in Wilmington, we don’t allow them to wear a tie or coat in the office. I will make you take it off at the door, and so we did that during our interview process, and we wanted to see how people reacted.

By doing that, we make sure that we find the people who understand us and our culture and fit into our way of doing things. So, someone may be an excellent operator, and they may have a great history in business, but the question is whether they can be authentic.

So, as Jonathan says: “We can all point out G&A on a profit and loss statement. I’m not interested in that. I want to know if you can actually speak to franchisees and communicate.

In other words, can the people we partner with communicate effectively with their people? For instance, can they ask about their family or know their kids’ names? Those things are all super-critical to us, and we feel that that is a massive contributor to our success. 

It goes beyond just running a business- it’s more about knowing the actual person to make sure that there is a strong cultural fit. We want to have a long, mutually beneficial partnership with our Franchise Owners and, by extension, our employees at each Shuckin’ Shack seafood franchise location, and it all starts with that solid foundation.

That’s why Jonathan believes that it makes no sense to ask someone during an interview what their great strengths are and then not allowing them to use those great strengths. We want people to be authentic and natural because customers see through it if they are not.

Sure, there must be some sort of give and take. Naturally, you may not like everything they do. Still, if the end result is that guests are taken care of and that treating their employees well, then many of the things you don’t like don’t really matter that much. Or as Jonathan says: “Then what does it matter if I don’t like the shirt that they’re wearing to work. What does it matter? I don’t give a rip.

Our relaxed culture allows people to be themselves. And if they’re themselves, they’re more comfortable and that, ultimately, rubs off on the guest.

And you know, it’s really hard turning down deals because, as an emerging franchise, you need that franchise fee to pay your expenses like your rent, your salaries, and of course, yourself. Ultimately, though, if you want to find the right people, Jonathan says you should know when to turn down the franchise candidates that aren’t the best fit in order to make room for the people whose goals are more in alignment with ours.

seafood franchise outdoor venue marketing

How Does Marketing Fit Into All This?

What does Jonathan think about marketing and some of the channels that can really help? Well, Jonathan believes that social media is great. Obviously, things like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube are very important. 

However, he’s a great believer in the channel of people. And what is meant by this is that you can use social media to get your brand out there and create awareness, but it comes down to the people. So, for example, you can boost posts on social media, you can geofence, you can geotarget, and you can use analytics to get people into the door. But the important thing is getting them to come back.

Jonathan believes: “We can do all of that, but none of it matters if they walk into your door and have a bad experience. They’re not coming back, period, and so you’ve got to start at the granular level, at the store level, at the location level to make sure that when those people come in, they’ll know 30 seconds into a visit that they’re going to come back again and what you’re doing the rest of that visit being there.

As a result of this, we spend an inordinate amount of time focusing more on what happens when the customer gets in the door rather than customer acquisition. Jonathan believes that it’s vital to focus on the long-term life of the customer and that many people miss that boat on this because they think that they’ll just get more customers through advertising. However, at some stage, this strategy will stop working.

Therefore, it is essential to give a great customer experience that’s authentic because customers realize when it’s not.


So, what advice does Jonathan have for someone just starting out in business, other than finding the right people?

He also believes that the best staff members are people who truly love what they’re doing. They should have a passion for it. Ultimately, this will shine through, not only in the running of the business but also in marketing and creating awareness.

Here, he believes that storytelling is a vital component. You can only tell stories if you’re genuinely passionate about what you do. In other words, if there’s a story behind what you do and you communicate the story, you’ll find the right people if they share the same passion.

And when you find the right people that share your passion and love for something, you set yourself up for success.

The Bottom Line

Jonathan Weathington is a rising star in the restaurant franchise industry and is on his way to making some pretty big waves in the coming years. With new Shuckin’ Shack seafood franchise locations popping up in locations across America, the man at the helm of Shuckin’ Shack is poised to shake up the post-pandemic casual dining scene with his outside-the-box thinking and his passion for bringing genuine fun to the workplace! 

If you want to know more about owning a Shuckin’ Shack seafood franchise, visit our franchise website today!

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