Seacrets Aims To Franchise

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

When Leighton Moore opened Seacrets 23 years ago, he wanted to bring Jamaica to the United States. The business model has worked well; the vacation entertainment complex is one of the most popular spots in Ocean City, brings in millions in revenue each year and employs about 500 people.

Now, Moore wants to take the Jamaican attitude and food all over the country, and is looking to do so by franchising his business. So far, 70 prospective franchisees have sought information about opening a franchise in places like eastern Long Island, N.Y., Florida, Myrtle Beach, S.C., Baltimore and Virginia, among others.

"It's always been one of my goals, but it was a matter of getting the right team and timing together, and now I feel like we're able to split some of our ranks and actually help with managing franchises so they're able to go along with the style we prefer at Seacrets," Moore, owner and CEO, said in an interview.

There are certain requirements and qualifications potential franchisees must meet to be considered, including a waterfront location with a decent amount of acquirable land surrounding it, according to Gary Figgs, Seacrets' vice president and chief financial officer.

Moore and Figgs are fine with establishments starting out small like Seacrets did in 1988, as long as they have a futuristic plan and the wherewithal to eventually expand. When Seacrets opened, it had a capacity of 200. Now, it can handle up to 4,600 customers at a time.

"I wouldn't be adverse to doing the same thing I did (with a franchisee) as long as they have the right demographic, work ethic and land and space," Moore said.

The company is still awaiting approval from Maryland's Office of the Attorney General to be able to franchise the concept in the state, Figgs said, something he hopes will happen soon. Fourteen states have a similar requirement, including New York and Virginia, where Moore said Seacrets has already obtained franchising approval.

Moore is also looking for new locations where mass transit is available, and owners willing to eventually incorporate a hotel into building plans. He doesn't want people to have to worry about driving, something he thinks helps contribute to a laidback, Jamaicanesque experience.

Franchising a homegrown OC business has been done before, by some of Moore's peers. The Greene Turtle Sports Bar & Grille originated in Ocean City, and now has 31 locations throughout the East Coast, some of which are franchises. The company started franchising about five years ago -- in April, it awarded its first franchise in Pennsylvania -- and has been successful so far, according to Steve Pappas, an owner and one of the chain's founders.

Greene Turtles' original owners had been opening new locations on their own for years before they decided to franchise, a decision they made because they didn't have the money to expand as broadly and quickly as they wanted to, according to Pappas.

"The important thing (when you're franchising) is to make sure you keep your same brand, and I think we've done a pretty good job with that," said Pappas. "The places aren't always going to be the same, but we're able to keep the same atmosphere and food, and we still have the same mugs and peanuts and some of the other things we started with here in Ocean City." Pappas pointed out that Seacrets' attempt at franchising could be much different, since it's a larger place with a location that's more difficult to replicate.

"We can put a Greene Turtle pretty much anywhere, but they have to have water and a more complex theme," he said.

"This isn't something we're going to rush," Moore said, adding that he and the rest of his group would do their due diligence when looking into possible locations. "We're looking for quality right now, and then quantity can come later." Prospective franchisees will have to shell out an initial investment of $1.6 million-$3.1 million, plus a $45,000 franchise fee. Seacrets will take 6 percent in royalties and 10 percent from complexes with hotel operations. The company directs hopeful investors to for more information.

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117 West 49th Street
Ocean City, MD

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