Burger Urge appoints new CEO to realise $100m international business goal

By Sarah Stowe | 28 Sep 2020 View comments

Burger Urge appoints Shawn Kerr as new CEO and co-founder Sean Carthew steps back from day-to-day management to focus on strategic growth and a mega $100m target.

Burger Urge was founded by brothers Sean and Colby Carthew in 2007 with a single shopfront on Brunswick Street in New Farm and currently operates 29 restaurants across Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Northern Territory, including two new sites in Cairns and Darwin. 

“Sean and Colby Carthew are less concerned about growth and bottom line and more interested in making a positive contribution to the world, which is very appealing to me and a vision I can really get behind and help drive forward,” Kerr said. 

Carthew emphasised the approach to growth is not about business size. 

“It’s not about being the biggest company in the universe – we’ve already achieved enough to have a happy life. So, rather than obsessing with growth and world domination, we want to grow in a way that creates actual positive change (and not just say we are). When we look back in 20 years we want to be proud of our contribution.”

3 questions for new Burger Urge CEO Shawn Kerr

Shawn Kerr spoke to Inside Franchise Business Executive about the new role, the business plan and doing the right thing.

Kerr’s CV includes 32 years’ experience at big brand food retail companies including McDonald’s Australia and Coca-Cola Amatil. He most recently introduced Zambrero, Carl’s Jr. and Cinnabon to the Australian market in leadership start-up roles.

He’s now back in what he regards as his natural home – food franchising – after a year as GM at Battery World.

1. What insights into franchising and retail did you gain at Battery World?

“Battery World is such a strong brand, that is why it is a great product, and consumers want more locally owned and manufactured products.

“That’s the same with Burger Urge. Market research shows consumers want an association back to home, that’s closer to their roots.”

But whether it’s batteries or food, it’s a product, says Kerr, and the key is to make it sexy.

“You fall in love with the product. But behind it there are hundreds of families that make it come together. If you don’t fall in love with it and become passionate about the product there are a lot of people affected.”

2. What are the first steps of the plan to grow the Burger Urge business to a $100m international business within the next five years?

The initial focus will be to reinforce the current structure at Burger Urge and to provide guidance, support and leadership towards the establishment of achieving the group’s strategic direction. 

“Our strategic direction is about setting yourself apart from the competition. It’s not a matter of being better at what you do – it’s a matter of being different at what you do,” said Kerr.

The first 90 days will be about identifying challenges, and the guidelines for the next six to nine months.

“Growth is already planned, now we are putting structure and accountability in place. Our goal is to have 70 stores by 2025, that’s 10 a year. We’ll start international growth in 2022-23.”

Next year will be all about researching the possibilities, and then in 2022 testing the waters, he said. 

“It’s important not to overburden finances, to go in for six months then burn your costs. Right now growth is domestic, we don’t want the distraction of overseas. It’s a measured approach.

“The business’s organisational structure has been reviewed and planned for the various stages of growth over the next five year period. The company is currently appropriately resourced to achieve our strategic plan, and this will be a review periodically to align with our growth targets and commercial results,”  he said.. 

“Additionally, our suppliers and distribution partners are being briefed towards our expansion plans and play an integral role in our success.”

3. How does this mega goal sit with the other five-year plan to reimagine food retail with a focus on environmental sustainability, health and wellbeing, animal welfare and energy consumption?

“Burger Urge is aligned with the Good Food Revolution where together we want to create a new ‘norm’, a way of life that aims to eliminate negative impacts towards our world. We want our new ‘normal’ to consist of processes and practices of living that positively impact our environment, animal welfare and human health. 

“The Good Food Revolution, through education to all, support to food businesses, as well as advocacy for governmental change, commits to eliminating negative impacts towards the environment, all aspects of animal food production and human health.”

At Burger Urge this will translate into appropriate ways to support the environment looking at elements such as plastic gloves, biodegradable ramekins, the recycling journey, free range chicken, food miles.

The business is investigating ways to make sites energy efficient, talking to landlords about adding solar panels if appropriate to the building.

“We want to ensure we are doing things ethically, to make it closer and local.”

Changes will be phased in over a number of years, and as the business grows internationally.

“It makes it more expensive to do business but that’s part of our ethical position. If more businesses get on board with the big decisions, corporate franchisees, retail, it makes it a lot cheaper.

“Sean thinks up high, he’s looking for the business to be different. My role is to get out-of-the-box thinking translated into results. The Good Food Revolution is about doing the right thing by people and the environment. It’s time we take a view on how we manage our lives and businesses. Sean’s ethos for the planet, certainly resonated with me.”