While the year of the COVID-19 pandemic was most lucrative for familiar purveyors of comfort food classics like pizza and fried chicken (including a continuation of the chicken wars), not all of 2020’s winners peddled in indulgence. Charlotte, N.C.-based smoothie and organic healthy foods chain Clean Juice was a surprise standout last year with a double-digit sales increase of 24.6% and unit growth of 20%, according to Top 500 data provided by Datassential.
The husband-and-wife team behind Clean Juice, CEO Landon Eckles and chief branding officer Kat Eckles, credit much of their growth over the past year to the passion of their franchisees and their dedication to the Clean Juice lifestyle brand that’s more than just about selling smoothies.
“I think our owners just really believe in the brand,” Kat Eckles said. “We have former McDonald's owners that stopped eating McDonald's and are eating clean. They’re just really dedicated and believe in what we do. […] So come hell or high water, they're not letting their doors close, because it's more personal, it's more intimate to them than wrapping up a burrito and sending it off.”
Clean Juice is 90% franchised with mostly single-unit owners, and it’s always touted itself as a lifestyle and media brand, not just a foodservice restaurant. For example, the company has a podcast that’s posted on the new Clean Juice app — which launched last summer — where customers can learn about the benefits of eating organic and listen to interviews with experts in the same place that they can place online orders. That way, during the pandemic — especially in the early days when many restaurants shut their doors — Clean Juice could still communicate with customers and encourage them to maintain a healthy lifestyle, even during a pandemic.
Clear and concise communication was one of Clean Juice’s main leadership strategies during the pandemic.
“Our franchisees are what make this business go,” Landon Eckles said. “Even though our office closed last year for a couple months through a really tough part of the pandemic, we actually never felt closer to our owners. All of the video conferencing that we did, all of the telecommunications that we did […] even though we were physically not together, we were rallying around this brand and wanting it to be successful.”
One unique aspect of the Clean Juice app is the review compilation generator, where all of the customer reviews from guest experience surveys are sent to owners of each individual location so they can easily pinpoint specific problems, challenges and triumphs at each Clean Juice store.
“Sometimes you’re just looking at sales and sales don’t always show the true picture,” Kat Eckles said.
Over the past 12 months, Clean Juice added more franchisees than they ever have in a year-long period. Moving forward, the company’s owners want to keep focusing on adding franchisees to their system (Clean Juice is currently in 26 states) and expanding their menu.
“I think people fundamentally believe that health and wellness is the future,” Landon Eckles said. “I think that people woke up and said, ‘Well, if I’m living a healthier lifestyle, I probably have a better chance of fighting off this disease.’ And I don't think that that's going to slow down.”
Contact Joanna at [email protected]
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