Long John Silver’s Makes Big Progress on Refreshed Identity 

Long John Silver’s is seeing favorable adoption rates for its new loyalty program. 

Long John Silver’s president Nate Fowler knows it isn’t a secret he and his team took on a turnaround opportunity when he joined a year and a half ago. 

As the roughly 500-unit brand approaches its 55th anniversary in August, it continues to explore strategies to elevate an “old-line brand that had some image issues,” the executive says. Three main priorities have been improving assets, upgrading technology, and transforming unit economics for franchisees. All of Long John Silver’s decisions today are about making it an attractive concept in the marketplace, Fowler says, particularly since it still holds the distinction as one of the biggest seafood players in the U.S. 

“Our marketing guy always says, in a sea of sameness with a bunch of chicken and burgers and tacos, we’re the differentiated product,” Fowler says. “So we are excited about it. We have a loyal following and we are constantly hit with people saying, ‘Hey, bring Long John back to our market.’ And so we have a lot of work to get there.” 

The company has spent much time working on core menu items. Long John Silver’s introduced several product improvements last year, including a thicker fish option and a revamped marination process for its chicken to make it juicier and more flavorful. Key side products are scheduled to be enhanced later this summer. To address the value proposition, Long John Silver’s has consistently offered budget-friendly deals, such as the $6 shrimp, chicken, and fish baskets. These deals have been a staple for the brand, particularly in the seafood sector.  

Another value proposition is Long John Silver’s new mobile app and loyalty program, the Seacret Society. Members earn coins for every dollar spent, which can be redeemed for rewards, like free food items and exclusive discounts. Users will also have access to member-only specials and offers. Fowler acknowledges that Long John Silver’s was previously behind in digital growth. He strongly advocated for developing an app to enable mobile ordering so the chain could connect with a broader customer base. The president adds that the loyalty program is designed to reward the company’s loyal customers while also attracting new guests. The brand partnered with specialized service providers for customer relations, loyalty programs, app design, and mobile ordering to bring the technological advancements to life.  

Additionally, Long John Silver’s is in the process of rolling out self-service kiosks in its restaurants. The innovation should be available by fall. Digital menu boards are being installed in new and renovated locations as well. The company also paired its new app with a revamped website that streamlines the user experience and maintains a consistent brand image across all digital platforms. The uniformity extends to the self-service kiosks, which will mirror online and app interfaces.  

“We’ve seen great adoption success [with the loyalty program],” Fowler says. “I think that we’re at our goals that we set out to achieve early on, and we’ll be looking at ways to acquire new customers in the fall. … We’ve got some things planned—contests and games and those kind of things—to acquire new customers.” 

Long John Silver’s is also focused on creating better restaurants, which involves building new locations and making proper maintenance improvements to existing ones. The chain’s latest prototype emphasizes a clean, brighter, and modern aesthetic. Fowler says there is a notable pipeline for these updated locations, and that the main focus is to transform the customer experience by moving away from the traditional “fish shack” look.  

Two of the newest rebuilt restaurants in Flint, Michigan, and Temple, Texas, achieved record sales in 2023, including the highest volume week in company history. Fowler says there was no “secret sauce” behind the success. The food and location remained the same; it was simply that the improved appearance and modernized facilities attracted a strong fan base. These triumphs have become the foundation of Long John Silver’s new development strategy, which is to expedite construction of similar prototypes with the hopes of repeatable results.  

“It snowballs downhill. You go build a new building where the employees are fired up to come and work in a new setting and they create a better customer experience. The customer appreciates the food offering,” Fowler says.  

Long John Silver’s operated solely within the U.S. until 1983 when the brand expanded into Singapore. The current owner has nearly 25 units in the country. The chain has now built momentum in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand—trade areas where seafood is quite popular. Indonesia signed a master franchise agreement in 2021. After COVID delays, the market opened its first location in May 2023, which features localized designs and the first 3D statute of Long John Silver’s namesake mascot. It’s also the brand’s first two-story location and comes with a drive-thru and 170 seats in the dining room. The long-term goal is to open 50 restaurants in the country.  

In September and November of last year, Long John Silver’s inked deals in Thailand and Malaysia, respectively. Although Fowler couldn’t disclose specifics yet, he notes the brand has heard inquiries from a handful of other countries in East Asia and other parts of the world. At the company’s Franchisee Association Conference in late 2023, there was a specific international table for the first time.  

Fowler says there’s enthusiasm among franchisees regarding the brand’s recent changes. Developments have sparked considerable interest from potential investors, and the brand is optimistic about these opportunities.  

“I think part of what we had to accomplish coming in here is we had to rebuild or build trust with the franchisee community,” Fowler says. “And we’re seeing the results of that. We had to prove that we could go execute on a plan and it took a while; that obviously doesn’t happen overnight. But what we’re seeing is a ton of energy and excitement.” 

Source: QSR Magazine 

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