Captain D’s looks to build on positive momentum

Captain D’s looks to build on positive momentum

Nation’s Restaurant News speaks with CEO Philip M. Greifeld about driving sales, franchising and marketing

Captain D’s Seafood Kitchen is aiming to build this year on same-store sales growth it realized in 2011 [3], chief executive Philip M. Greifeld told Nation’s Restaurant News.

Greifeld joined Nashville-based Captain D’s LLC, parent to the Captain D’s Seafood Kitchen chain, in September 2010, just months after it was acquired by Sun Capital Partners Inc. from equity group Sagittarius Brands Inc.

For several years prior to Sun’s purchase of Captain D’s, the 527-unit counter-service chain suffered from declining sales and unit counts. But Greifeld said current management says it has “stabilized the business,” continued momentum so far this year, and that there is the potential to grow average unit sales volume.

“In January, so far, we’re up 9 percent in same-store sales, and we think 2012 will be an incremental growth year,” Greifeld said.

While the privately-held chain would not disclose specific figures, it had estimated sales per unit of about $808,000 in 2010, according to the Nation’s Restaurant News Top 200 census.

As a result of rising confidence, Greifeld said the chain would launch a new franchising initiative in 2012. He characterized the move as a heightened new-store development effort after a hiatus to give improvement initiatives time to take hold, and said refranchising may play a limited part in the program.

The company also is planning marketing and menu campaigns to drive this year’s growth.

An upcoming February advertising campaign with the tagline, “It’s got to be D’s,” will highlight the craveability of the chain’s menu items and feature a three-meal, $4.99 value offer that includes a new 6-ounce fried “Southern-style” whitefish entrée.

The Southern-style item was originally slated as a limited-time offer for November and December, but “earned its way onto the menu” by accounting for 10 percent to 11 percent of the sales mix during that promotional period, Greifeld said.

A dozen butterfly shrimp and two pieces of flounder are the other entrée choices for the upcoming systemwide $4.99 meal promotion, which includes a choice of two side dishes and hush puppies.

“Our average check is $6.25, so our $4.99 campaign represents a solid value on price,” Greifeld said. But he added that beyond price, the quantity and quality of the $4.99 offerings make them unmatched in quick-service and fast-casual circles.

Although Captain D’s would not disclose its 2011 systemwide same-store sales improvement, Greifeld said it resulted from growth in both guest traffic and average check.

Gains in guest traffic were “rooted in operational improvements and how we treat the guest,” Greifeld said, adding that “customers are noticing … [and] beginning to reward us with increased frequency of visits.”

He said of higher check amounts: “Our sales growth did not come from raising prices — we only took one price increase of 1 percent in 2011 — it came from product innovation, compelling add-ons and other things such as sales contests.”

On the menu, the chain is experimenting with items that appeal to children, shareable appetizers, dessert additions and new fish preparations that may include in the future such options as steamed shellfish.

Captain D’s is “not turning its back on its loyal customers” for fried seafood, but wants to better communicate its non-fried offerings to boost sales and “eliminate ‘No’ votes” for fried foods that may be keeping groups or families out of its restaurants,” Greifeld said.

The chain’s menu currently features such non-fried items as wild-caught salmon, tilapia and skewered shrimp, which in most company-operated restaurants are now prepared on griddles, which Greifeld said can yield inconsistent results.

The chain added broilers to about 30 company locations in 2011 to improve preparation consistency and create an appealing new flavor profile, and will do the same at another 60 units in 2012, including those throughout the Nashville market, which will see a broiled-foods marketing campaign.

The addition of broilers at company restaurants is a “back to the future” move for Captain D’s, as the chain had them before the prior management team decided to pull the equipment — a move Greifeld said some franchisees did not copy.

“Given that I have begun installing broilers back into company restaurants, with the goal of 100-percent completion by 2013, franchisees have begun implementing this state-of-the art cooking platform for our grilled menu items, too,” he said.

Contact Alan J. Liddle at [email protected] [4].
Follow him on Twitter: @AJ_NRN [5]