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Darren Keeler Interview: Do You Have What It Takes to Be a Shack-lete in Your Community?

Darren Keeler of Shuckin Shack behind the bar

Darren Keeler – Shuckin’ Shack’s VP of Marketing and Creative – recently had an interview with Lee Kantor of Franchise Marketing Radio, and their back-and-forth conversation should be an eye-opener for potential Franchise Owners. We already know that Shuckin’ Shack is one of the hottest bar franchise opportunities around, but what makes the concept special? What’s driving Shuckin’ Shack’s outstanding growth? The answer is pretty simple yet effective: genuine community involvement – not just limited-time promotions, ads, and flickering neon signs. 

You can’t say the same about other seafood restaurants and a bar franchise for sale because Shuckin’ Shack is doing it entirely new. Our brand now sponsors local collegiate athletes, and right now, no one else is going all-in with the idea like Shuckin’ Shack. Spoiler alert: it’s already paying off huge dividends! 

From choppy seas to smooth sailing, the Shuckin’ Shack success story continues

In case you’ve been out of touch with the food and drink scene, Darren gave a great breakdown of where our company is going over the next year. “We have 16 open locations right now, mainly on the East Coast, but this year we are officially going national,” he said, “we are opening locations just outside of Chicago, in Naperville, Illinois, in the St. Louis area, and then also in Mansfield, Texas. 2022 has been pretty good to us where we are officially crossing the Mississippi.”

Pretty soon, you’ll start seeing Shuckin’ Shacks in Hawaii if this pace keeps up over the foreseeable future. Cheers to hoping! Still, that kind of expansion doesn’t happen overnight, and it certainly isn’t possible without staying ahead of the curve and thinking outside the box.

The cliche “sports bars are a dime a dozen” was probably started by someone who’s never had a good time in their life because they’re actually some of the most fun businesses you can create. The challenge is finding the right timing, partners, and support to get the bar off the ground, but this year, the NCAA gave us a gift when they finally loosened up name, image, and likeness (NIL) restrictions. Now (and it’s about shuckin’ time), college athletes can accept sponsorships for their NIL and support themselves while still in school.

As Darren put it, “the past year has seen a lot of companies and brands trying to figure out what this NIL thing really is, and colleges are doing the same thing. This is brand new to everybody, but Shuckin’ Shack is a sports bar. We actually don’t even care what sport is on. If it’s college gymnastics or curling, we’ll watch it at The Shack. It just fits in with our brand.”

Whereas some business owners would balk at trying something new, Shuckin’ Shack decided to take the lead and start working with Icon Source to set up a new sponsorship program. So far, the results speak for themselves because it’s working out better than anyone hoped, which is great for the future of college athletes and potential Franchise Owners. It’s a win-win, no matter how you look at it.

Wait, college athletes didn’t get paid for their NIL before?

Here’s the long story short. The NCAA wouldn’t let student-athletes profit a single dime personally while simultaneously licensing those students’ NIL to marketers, advertisers, and even national retail outlets. Think of all those legendary college quarterbacks that never go on to the pro level but become local legends in their own right. Before the U.S. Supreme Court smacked down the NCAA’s insane logic for not paying athletes, no proceeds from jersey sales or t-shirts would filter down to the student, not a penny.

If students were caught licensing or promoting their NIL, they could lose their scholarship, be expelled from school, or force the college to limit scholarship offers. Thankfully, the courts finally called out the NCAA’s reasoning, which essentially went as follows: “we can’t pay our employees (student-athletes) because our customers (fans) prefer them not to be compensated since, in their eyes, that makes the game pure.” We’ll wait for you to stop shaking your head, but that’s really what the NCAA argued – and ultimately lost to the applause of thousands of college athletes nationwide.

Seafood franchise launches athletic sponsorship program

Genuine sponsorship opportunities for collegiate athletes

In a nutshell, here’s how the Shack-lete program works. “What we do is we sponsor collegiate athletes that are local to our Shuckin’ Shack franchises, so let’s say a couple of weeks ago we just signed Elise Bauer, who is a swimmer for the University of Florida,” Darren explained. 

“Her hometown is Ocala, Florida, where we have a Shuckin’ Shack location, so we sponsor collegiate athletes that have ties with our hometowns or any family members close to our locations,” he added, “or they go to school close to one of our locations. So, when we sponsor collegiate athletes like Elise, we use them as brand ambassadors.”

“We send them apparel. We send them gift cards. They post on social media at their local Shuckin’ Shack, and they get to know our owners and our staff. These college athletes are wearing our apparel around campus, and they’re even bringing their teammates to Shuckin’ Shack now, which is awesome,” Darren said.

Think of it as influencer marketing at hyper speed. By sponsoring young local athletes, even if they never reach the pro level, Shuckin’ Shack is building genuine relationships with the community, not just promoting a bar. As Darren put it, “we are a national brand now of a seafood restaurant where you go and slurp down a bunch of oysters, crab legs. Watch the game with a cold beer in hand with all your friends and family. We’re just a good shuckin’ time!”

Visit our franchise website if you’d like more details about opening up a Shuckin’ Shack in your community.