Getting ahead of the curve, as Schulze explains, helped Nékter grow its online order mix from 27 percent pre-COVID to currently 47.8 percent.
“It's an extremely exciting time for us, and I think that a lot of it has to do with just having a good team, and we've been doing it for a long time,” Schulze says.
Now that online ordering is bigger, Nékter has access to a lot of data that helps it understand labor metrics—how many people it needs, how long it takes to make a drink, peak times, and much more. So while labor costs are increasing quickly across the country, Nékter has been able to reduce its costs, even though California’s minimum wage grew from $8 per hour when the chain first opened to $15 per hour this year.
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Meanwhile, franchisees in other states are at $8, $9, or $10 per hour, and undergoing increases, but Nékter’s corporate footprint has been able to pass along knowledge of how to adjust. A major piece is Nékter Nation, a comprehensive training platform that features hundreds of instructional videos, interactive quizzes, and a virtual reality component.
“I think if you combine a number of things like that, with sales able to accelerate, we were able to do a lot of other things that I don't think many people were able to do in the industry, which I think has been a very exciting time for us,” Schulze says. “It's been a very difficult, unfortunate time for us, but at the same time there's a lot of lessons taken away from this.”
One of those “things” Schulze is referring to is rapid development. In the early years of franchising, Nékter refused to build out a market until it was entirely certain that it had proof of concept. Schulze says he turned down hundreds of franchise applicants in areas in which the brand hadn’t proven itself. The strategy created a stable growth pattern and a strong foundation of stores, to the point that Nékter is now penetrating markets it wasn’t willing to do before.
The chain recently signed a major development deal in Chicago, and struck other agreements in places like Florida, Texas, Montana, Colorado, Arizona, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. Nékter has opened 15 locations so far in 2021, and another 21 are scheduled to open in the next six months. It also helps that Nékter signed a $50 million contract with foodservice distributor Sysco to create more buying power.