Hardee's hits mark

Hardee's hits mark

September 28th, 2010 by Brittany Cofer in Business Around the Region

Staff photo by Dan Henry/Chattanooga Times Free Press - Sheila Smith, left, (black shirt) Clarissa Baker, center, and Megan Smith, right, prepare orders and serve breakfast to customers on September 22, 2010 at the Browns Ferry Road Hardee's restaurant. Hardee's is currently celebrating it's 50th anniversary.

Going into its 44th year of business, the Chattanooga area's largest Hardee's franchisee is boasting sales "higher than they've ever been," said the company's president and chief operating officer.

"We're really doing better right now than we have been," said Julia Scoggins, who operates J&S Restaurants Inc. with her brother, Mark Johnson. "There are so many new products that have helped us, like the new chicken tenders, and sales are continuing to increase."

The brother and sister pair have been overseeing day-to-day operations of 42 Hardee's restaurants in Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia under the J&S name since their father's death in 1996. Scoggins and Johnson credit their father's conservative management style as the reason they've been able to prosper through tough economic times.

"For us, we're pretty much stronger than we've ever been," Scoggins said. "Our debt is low and sales are good."

But things haven't always been that way.

George R. Johnson opened his first Hardee's in Athens, Tenn., in 1966 - just five years after franchising of the restaurant began - to an uncertain market.

"The first one wasn't even really doing very well and he went ahead and built his second one in Cleveland, [Tenn.], and he just continuously kept building them up until he died," Mark Johnson said.

In 1990, Scoggins and the younger Johnson formed J&S and ran several restaurants while the others were still under their father's company, Franco Inc., which dissolved after his death.

William Peeler, now vice president of operations for J&S, joined the team after working for the elder Johnson for 13 years. He said the company's biggest hurdle in recent years has been retaining employees.

"There's so much more turnover today than there used to be," Peeler said. "When you had a crew back when I started, if you were good you could stick with that crew. Now, it's just turnover after turnover."

Scoggins said turnover in the restaurant industry is typically high, but it is sometimes tough to keep the company's 1,000-plus employees trained with people coming in and out each day.

Looking to the future, Scoggins said she hopes to be able to continue to expand the business and build on the foundation her father created.

"The problem is it's really hard to find property," she said. "The market is really saturated with our competitors. It's hard to find good locations where it will pay off, but we're constantly looking."

Contact Brittany Cofer at bcofer@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/brittanycofer