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How Jonathan Weathington Accidentally Fell Into Franchising and Built Shuckin' Shack Into a Beloved Brand

Jonathan Weathington has a “take it or leave it” approach to building a brand, which has resulted in the refreshingly authentic culture of Shuckin’ Shack, and people love it.

By Erica InmanStaff Writer
3:15PM 06/12/24

Jonathan Weathington's journey into franchising with Shuckin' Shack began unexpectedly. His initial exposure to the industry came from working for a PostNet franchisee in his teens. 

As a 16-year-old, Weathington wondered why PostNet customers were willing to pay more for a service they could get cheaper elsewhere. However, through his work experience, he learned a valuable lesson. 

“It didn't have anything to do with the service … It had everything to do with the personalities of the owners of that business,” he told 1851 Franchise Founder and Publisher Nick Powills on an episode of the “Meet the Zor” podcast. “I saw that business grow and grow and grow and just honestly, it just had raving fans, people who would come in there for everything … That was really really impactful very, very early on in my career.”

Years later, in 2014, the founders of Shuckin' Shack invited him to Wilmington, North Carolina, and presented him with an uncertain but intriguing opportunity to help franchise their brand. They candidly admitted that they didn’t know if franchising the concept would work, but they liked Weathington and wanted to give it a shot with his help. 

Transitioning into his new role, Weathington faced the challenge of operationalizing the business. He recalled his first interaction with a franchisee: “I called ... and said, ‘I’m going to help you open your location,’ and their response was, ‘Well, we don't have a location.’” 

This pivotal moment marked the beginning of his deep dive into refining Shuckin' Shack's operational processes, including rewriting the operations manual and restructuring its real estate process.

Weathington and his partners remained committed to maintaining their unique brand culture, with an emphasis on authentic customer experiences. This philosophy has been central to their approach, ensuring that their growth is aligned with their values and vision for the brand.

A transcript from the video is included below. It has been edited for clarity, brevity and style.

Nick Powills: Today we are talking Shuckin’ Shack on Meet the Zor. Jonathan, how did you accidentally fall into franchising?

Jonathan Weathington: I accidentally fell into franchising with my first job ever, working for a franchisee. At 16, a day after I got my license (I had failed the test the first time), my first official job was with a PostNet franchisee. This early exposure gave me insight into the typical franchisee experience — mostly happy, sometimes upset, working with the franchisor to figure things out. It was a great experience. Fast forward, I was around when Shuckin’ Shack was being built. I wasn’t a founder, but I knew the founders well. They called me in February 2014, asking if I wanted to help with franchising. By July, I resigned from my job and moved down, even sleeping on one of the co-founder's couches for about a year. The rest is history.

Powills: Going back to PostNet, did you ever think you might own your own business someday, seeing that franchisees invest their life savings?

Weathington: At that point in my life, I was influenced by my parents, who always instilled in me to do something I was passionate about. I saw that in my dad, who loved his job every day. I was never on a straight and narrow career path; I’m a generalist by nature. I enjoyed the autonomy the franchisee had — opening the doors, building customer relationships. The most impactful part was seeing customers choose PostNet not because of the service, but because of the personalities of the owners, Alan and Diane. That personal connection was a huge influence on me.

Powills: Is that a miss in franchising today, being far removed from the owner-operator?

Weathington: It’s twofold. Franchisors sometimes lose focus on what really matters — people. If you sell sandwiches with a smile, people will come back. On the consumer side, there's a notion that franchises aren’t local. In reality, the person who owns the McDonald’s in your town probably lives there. We don’t do enough to tell the story that these businesses are local, supporting local owners.

Powills: When you joined Shuckin’ Shack, were they already franchising?

Weathington: Yes and no. They had an FDD [franchise disclosure document] and had signed a few franchisees, but there was no follow-through. When I joined, my first task was helping the franchisees find locations and setting up operations. I spent 90 days rewriting our operations manual and establishing a real estate and buildout process to support our franchisees effectively.

Powills: Did you have a roadmap for franchising or did you have to educate yourself?

Weathington: It’s continuous education. I bet on myself, knowing I could figure things out. It’s about refining and upgrading the system continually, like improving a car. It's just adding zeros and it's just adding more to the system. We’ve built a strong base and constantly look for ways to make it better.

Powills: Your website has a unique approach. How do you decide on the brand positioning?

Weathington: It’s a reflection of our culture — we do what we want and have fun with it. We’re enablers of dreams for those who share our values. If a prospective franchisee is overly focused on profitability alone, I tell them they might be a great fit for another system. Our priority is building customer bases through authentic experiences.

Powills: Can you still achieve a successful exit with this approach?

Weathington: Absolutely. We have an annual meeting where we discuss whether to change our approach for faster growth, but we always decide to keep doing what we’re doing. We’re building a system with a strong foundation where 90% of our franchisees validate well and would do it again.

Powills: Do you have bad days, and how do you get past them?

Weathington: Of course, I have bad days like everyone else. I take inspiration from Joe Dirt’s philosophy: “Just keep on keeping on.” It’s about putting one foot in front of the other and knowing I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing.

Powills: Do you feel like you’re taking the right steps towards franchise excellence?

Weathington: Yes, we focus on authentic experiences and supporting our franchisees. We might take a longer road, but we believe in building something foundationally strong. This approach has led to high validation from our franchisees, and we’re confident in our path.

To watch the full interview, click here.