Because of the soaring sales and increasing consumer interest, franchisee interest has never been higher, Eckles says. Typically, Clean Juice brings in franchisees who have never run a franchise or owned a restaurant before, but the passion is there. Many times, they can only afford to open one store. But now, many operators are beginning to look at future development and buying even more locations this year. In 2020, the chain opened 29 franchise stores and it projects 35 more for 2021.
In Q1, Clean Juice awarded 15 locations—25 percent more than what it expected. Eckles says the chain is on pace to surpass that number in the second quarter. The company has 60 locations under development, leading the CEO to believe Clean Juice will have its best year ever when it comes to development and awarded units. Clean Juice is open in 23 states, and has awarded locations in 28. The brand prefers to plant a flag in a certain market and then open multiple units in the area to build brand density. The company finds that when several locations are open, guest acceptance accelerates and supply chain becomes more efficient.
“We will occasionally open just one store in a market, but many times it's because we have a franchise, he was doing multiple units to get the first door open, and then they have several in development behind it,” Eckles says. “So we want to grow the territories that we’re in as well as looking at new territories that makes sense for us from a logistics standpoint and demographic standpoint.”
Of the 105 open locations, 13 are company-run. Clean Juice is planning one corporate location within the next year, which will include a celebrity partnership. The store will be in Florida, where the company already owns four stores. Going forward, Eckles expects the franchise/corporate split to remain about 90 to 95 percent.
“I do believe that we need to own and operate and run our own stores just so we always have our thumb on how the operations are going, our thumb on the challenges that are out there,” Eckles says. “I think that it's really hard to sell a business that you're not running. So even if it's a smaller amount, we will always own stores here at Clean Juice. They do provide a nice income back to the company. And so, it is a part of our strategy, but at the same time the franchise buzz and opportunity and excitement is there. It's just we can scale the business faster through that, and so that's a massive focus of ours.”
It’s true that Clean Juice is surging, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t feeling the ongoing labor crisis. Eckles believes the situation will change soon, especially with students returning home from college. The turning point is particularly key for Clean Juice since summer months are usually its highest sales months. Supply chain has been affected too, but the CEO knows Clean Juice doesn’t have a unique problem. Like he says, “If Chick-fil-A can be affected by it, we can all be affected by it.” The good news is that the issues are minor and haven’t changed business in any material way.
It’s a cliché, but Eckles truly believes “the sky’s the limit” for his brand in 2021. Clean Juice is continuing to answer the call for menu diversity by testing new categories like toasted sandwiches and super sides, not to mention the "incredible brand partnerships" that are forthcoming. He’s confident 2021 will be Clean Juice’s best year on record, and he’s willing to bet 2022 will be even greater.
“We just want to keep giving guests what they want,” Eckles says. “We want to give you a great experience. We want to give them the type of food they want, all around being healthy and organic, which is our mission. We feel like if we can do that and partner with great franchises along the way and put them in awesome locations that Clean Juice is definitely going to continue to build that national presence that we're building.”