Blain Shortreed has taken the helm as chief executive officer of the Long John Silver’s (LJS). He joined the Louisville, Kentucky-headquartered company, which with more than 700 outlets ranks as the USA’s largest quick service seafood restaurant chain, as chief operating officer in January of 2019. Six months later Shotreed was promoted to president, taking on additional responsibilities of marketing, human resources and development.
“We’re excited to have Blain lead our fleet of restaurants into the future,” said Rick Duffy, chairman of the board of directors. “Since our launch in 1969, Long John Silver’s mission has been to make the unique seafood experience from the coasts accessible to everyone. Based on the progress we’ve made since Blain came aboard, we’re confident he is the right person to lead this charge of change.”
Prior to joining LJS, he spent 28 years at YUM! Brands in various leadership roles, including managing director of Pizza Hut’s Middle East/North Africa Division, as well as vice president of operations for Pizza Hut USA. In this capacity, Shortreed led operations for more than 6,000 restaurants and spearheaded the brand’s World Class Operations initiative.
Right Sizing for Growth
Shortreed and the Long John Silver’s leadership team have been charting a new course for the brand. The first phase of the plan, which focused on stabilization, began in 2019 and lasted throughout 2020. The second phase, which entails shifting the focus of the brand to revitalization and growth, is set to begin in earnest this year.
The leadership team and corporate structure were reshaped, and new faces brought a wealth of quick service restaurant experience, decades of strategic development and plan execution, and expertise from a variety of disciplines. In addition to Shortreed’s rise to the chief executive officer position, Stephanie Mattingly was promoted to chief marketing officer. Tom Burress entered as vice president of franchise operations, and Christopher Caudill advanced to vice president, marketing.
With new players in place, fresh eyes soon took a hard look at the brand’s position within the greater marketplace. After taking stock of the company’s locations, franchised and corporate restaurants no longer financially or operationally viable were closed. This enabled investments to be made in areas with more potential and promise for growth.
“We’re moving the brand from surviving to thriving,” said Shortreed. “We’re restructuring the business for growth; reinvesting in assets; strengthening training, development, marketing and technology; and focusing on giving our core consumer – and new customers – a better experience.”
The company also made strides toward a renewed relationship with its franchisees. Leadership amplified its focus on the importance of the franchisee system, investing in programs to support their growth and success.
“We are confident we will continue to build our relationship with Long John Silver’s as we have in the past year and a half,” said Chris Walsh, franchisee and franchise association board chairman. “During the coronavirus pandemic, the leadership team has dutifully helped our franchise community navigate some challenging times with regular updates and guidance on crew safety, PPP loans, adjustments in ordering and more. We believe the leadership team’s measured approach to growth is moving the brand in the right direction. The energy and strategic focus they are creating is what we needed, and we are looking forward to our shared success.”
Tides of Change
In early 2020, Long John Silver’s was riding the waves of change to its best start in nearly five years. Then the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) and Covid-19 spread from China to the United States and virtually the entire world. As was the case with many restaurants across the country, LJS was forced to shut down in-person dining, causing its drive-thru business to grow from 40 percent to 95 percent of sales. Almost overnight, overall sales dropped by 30% to 40% during the peak Lenten season (which usually brings in the highest sales volumes of the year). Immediately, resources were redirected to help restaurant teams adapt, with a primary focus of safely serving customers and keeping crew members and managers protected. Instead of letting the headwinds from the coronavirus stifle momentum, Long John Silver’s approached this as an opportunity to push forward at an even faster pace.
Since the moments of being “below sea level” in the early months of the pandemic’s onset, the company reports it began to experience a recovery in same store sales. This is largely credited to a swift change of course to focus on the drive-thru business, increasing contactless delivery options, and an expanded emphasis on family meal promotions and offerings.
“Our ability to adjust course and enhance our drive-thru and delivery capabilities was the game changer,” said Shortreed. “Both saw a dramatic increase, allowing us to maintain restaurant, team and food safety as a top priority and deliver the flavors and convenience our customers are familiar with.”
Moreover, the brand identified opportunities to provide added support to its communities and crew throughout the course of the pandemic. Long John Silver’s created programs to help franchisees with royalty and advertising relief, provided discounts and contributions to frontline workers, and partnered with No Kids Hungry to help feed children in need.
Redirection Leads to Recovery
While the coronavirus accelerated the company’s transformation, the organization continues to invest in its future. Looking ahead, there are promising plans for 2021 with additional investments in operations, more culinary options, new mobile ordering, guest rewards programs, restaurant remodels, locations in new communities, and more.
Investments include a speed initiative developed to provide LJS employees with tools, technology and training to increase the accuracy and swiftness of service.
Menu innovation will also continue to be a focus. While Long John Silver’s is known for fish and fries, customers are also seeking more variety and flavor options. New product launches in 2019 and 2020 were popular – especially the debut of a grilled menu lineup featuring Grilled Shrimp and Salmon Meals, Tacos and Rice Bowls. Looking ahead into 2021, plans are underway for additional new offerings, specifically around shrimp, sauces and side dishes.
In 2020, LJS continued to find new ways to make seafood convenient and accessible to all by rolling out delivery with third-party partners. Building off the success of that initiative, the company is set to offer ordering for pick-up and delivery from its own online platform in early 2021. This launch is expected to drive higher profitability for restaurants, reduce complexity for the crew, and make ordering easier and more affordable for clients.
Meanwhile, new store prototypes and remodels of existing locations are in the works. Investments are being made into both the interior and exterior of locations across the system in preparation for a time when dining out will resume at more normal levels of volume.