Zaxby's Restaurant in Barnesville, GA
How Smart Planning Kept the Doors Open during COVID-19
The restaurant industry took one of the hardest hits during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. With dining rooms closed and traffic halted, restaurant owners found themselves forced to make quick decisions to keep their businesses afloat and their teams employed. The Butts County Chicken franchisee group, which owns and operates two Zaxby’s restaurants in the United Bank footprint, took action fast and made changes that ultimately had positive effects within their stores, teams and guests’ experiences.
Butts County Chicken was founded by four franchisee investors: brothers Jon and Mike Windham, Shawn Goelz and Curtis Weaver. The Windham brothers, who are Griffin natives, have more than 20 years of experience in the industry, and Goelz has 16 years of restaurant experience with several different brands. Curtis Weaver, who joined the group seven years ago as a fourth franchisee, brings experience in emergency management from previous careers in the Army and the Centers for Disease Control.
“Our group of four started talking about what might happen with COVID in February, and we made the decision to go to drive-thru-only operations days before the government mandated the 14-day shut down,” said Curtis. “A few days doesn’t sound like much, but it makes a world of difference when you are dealing with an emergency. We were proactive, instituted curbside pick-up procedures along with our drive thru, and had time to work out the kinks of the transition, which was very helpful.”
Both stores experienced an initial drop in business, but the four franchisees made a few key changes that helped them finish the year ahead of where they were in 2019.
Line Busting Technology
“Shawn already had plans in place to invest in ‘line-busting’ technology so we expedited those plans when COVID hit,” Curtis explained. “With drive thru sales as the bulk of our business, we felt like we needed to make that process as easy and fast as possible for both our employees and our guests.”
Line-busting puts employees outdoors in the drive thru lines with tablets in hand. They take the orders early, which helps to speed up the line as well as order fulfillment inside the restaurant.
“With line-busting in the works, we had to order all new equipment, secure our WiFi outside, and change our procedures inside the building,” said Curtis. “Investments like these during times of adversity can pay off – this one did for us in many ways. Our capacity for drive-thru traffic increased significantly and we took 30 seconds off of our drive thru time on the first day, which kept our guests happy.”
Curtis and his team also followed CDC and Zaxby’s corporate guidelines to put new safety precautions in place for team members, including mask mandates, an A/B team shift structure, prescreening procedures, new sanitizing regimens and materials, and the installation of plexiglass screens that Jon designed and produced. The franchisees also got creative with their approach to masks and curbside pick-up.
“In the beginning, masks were difficult to get so Mike’s wife started making them for us. She also made many for our first responder guests. It may sound small but logoed masks for our team members gave them a little more confidence and our guests knew we were doing our part to protect them, too,” said Curtis.
“We made new signs for curbside delivery with funny slogans to keep things upbeat like ‘Z Marks The Spot.’ We also put signs in the windows of our stores from our team members thanking our first responders, letting our guests know we missed them and encouraging them to be safe – so as they waited in line, they could read the signs and know we cared,” he continued.
In the Trenches with Staff
The Butts County Chicken franchisee group stayed in the trenches with their team members, doing everything possible to keep employees from losing hours on the job.
“Our employees are young and many had moms and dads who were experiencing job loss or furloughs from work, so we tried to help everyone keep their hours at Zaxby’s,” said Curtis. “We also made a commitment to feed our employees and their families one meal a day until they didn’t need the help – several took us up on that offer."
Some of the changes the team made during COVID have become permanent fixtures in the way they now do business including line-busting, increased online ordering through the Zaxby’s app, discounted family meals and pre-shift health screenings. They also increased the employee hourly rate across the board and raised the employee starting pay.
“We believe in an owner-operator model,” said Curtis. “Shawn and I are in the four walls of the stores every day. We know our team and they know we are on their side. The four of us are longtime friends and partners. We believe in working together to deliver exceptional experiences for our guests and, we do everything we can to foster that culture.”
Employees are the Heroes
When asked what surprised him most about his employees during COVID, Curtis commented, “They were really the heroes of our operation during the shutdown. They put their trust in us and worked hard to keep things moving along. In turn, we did everything we could to keep them safe and employed. The kind of bond formed out of difficult situations like these is very strong, and I am grateful for that.”
The Butts County Chicken franchisee group is now in the process of expanding. Curtis, Jon, Mike and Shawn hope to open two more stores by the end of the year, and they are working with United Bank as they move forward with their plans.
“United Bank has been a critical partner this past year as they helped us navigate emergency relief legislation. That help was key for us,” said Curtis. “They are committed to making communities better and willing to go the extra mile. Like our Zaxby’s stores this year, United Bank has managed to not only survive but to also support the businesses that make our communities so great. We look to hold on to the bonds we made during COVID and continue to be mindful of what’s most important as we grow.”
Let us know if we can help you with your small business loan. Contact us at 770-567-7211 to connect with one of our lenders.