Cold Stone Franchise Owner Review: Meet Shawn Williams
In 2015, Shawn Williams decided to opt out of his 10-year franchise agreement with a family entertainment franchise he’d been an owner and operator of for nine years. Williams sought a compelling opportunity that emphasized quality over quantity, growth potential and had large, open territories. After six months of doing his due diligence, Williams had found his perfect fit: Cold Stone Creamery.
“I researched about 50 businesses in various industries,” Williams recalls. “Cold Stone Creamery, in my opinion, is the best ice cream in the country, so we represent a high-quality product. Additionally, there was only one franchisee in my market of Omaha, Nebraska, which meant I could take over the market and ensure that we were operating as we should with all of the best practices. Finally, there was plenty of room for growth.”
Founded more than three decades ago, Cold Stone Creamery has captured millions of hearts and has grown to nearly 1,000 locations in the United States. The reason for our longevity is quite simple: you simply cannot get an experience like Cold Stone Creamery anywhere else. Not only can our business model be simple to operate and easy to scale, but also our franchise owners have the robust support of Kahala Brands™ — one of the world’s fastest-growing franchising companies with a portfolio of more than 28 QSR restaurant concepts.
Williams purchased three existing Cold Stone Creamery franchises in 2016, and had new stores built in 2017 and 2019. Four years later, as a franchise owner of the iconic ice creamery, Williams says that this is only the beginning. In this interview, he shares everything from why the franchise model is more attractive than ever to what can make Cold Stone a best-bet investment.
How does Cold Stone differ from other brands in the industry?
Williams: We make all of our ice cream fresh, in store. So it’s not only fresh, but we can also control the quality. That is something that our competitors don’t do. They either make their ice cream in a factory or have it shipped to their store where they place it in the display case, which really limits their quality control.
What makes being part of a franchise system like Cold Stone Creamery advantageous?
Williams: I’ve always heard people say that ‘you’re in business for yourself, but not by yourself.’ I agree with that 100%. We know that life happens, right? So things can change in an instant. As a business owner, it’s nice to have world-class support behind you whether the economic climate is good or bad. You will always need someone to turn to for answers to the questions that are keeping you up at night, marketing, best practices, helping to manage the supply chain and more.
The other beauty about being part of a franchise system is that you have peers you can rely on as well. As a Cold Stone Creamery franchisee, I have access to and can converse with peers all over the world. I’ve even developed great relationships with franchisees in North Carolina and California. It truly is a collaborative culture as we bounce ideas off of each other. Ultimately, it’s good to have that network to share ideas as well as an ear if you need someone to listen.
What skills do you need to succeed in this business?
Williams: That’s a great question. You have to be flexible because every day is different. For instance, my day may not go as planned, but I have to roll with the punches — you will have to do the same. Having organizational skills is paramount. For example, there’s a process to make our ice cream and it takes several hours to freeze it to ensure it’s in the right condition. So it’s important that you are organized otherwise you’ll have operational issues, which will take away from the exceptional customer experience we are known for. Moreover, you also have to be positive and provide good leadership, which keeps the morale of your crew high.
What are you most proud of about your experience as a Cold Stone franchise owner?
Williams: I’m proud of the growth I’ve had. I set out with that intention and I’ve done just that. I’m also proud of the low turnover I have with my team. With five locations, I can’t be in all of those places at one time, so I have a general manager in each store. They are responsible for the day-to-day operations of their respective location. They only call me if something’s on fire, so if I’m getting called, there’s a problem. I continuously train my crew and believe in cultivating a positive culture in all of my stores so that they feel empowered to make decisions and run the store efficiently.
I equate our success with low employee turnover, which I believe starts with setting clear expectations. I worked in a corporate setting years ago and I always had key performance indicators (KPIs). I now use that same methodology at Cold Stone — whether it’s sales, customer service or food costs — to ensure we’re sending a clear expectation of where we should be for each of those things. And if we are not where we need to be, why is that? All of my general managers know what these KPIs are and the expectations for each, which is then funneled to their shift leaders and crew. As a result, there are no surprises and everyone is headed in the same direction.
What are your hopes for the future?
Williams: My short term goal is to prosper through this time of uncertainty and get back to whatever new normal that we will have. After that, I want to continue growing. If I can build more stores that means more opportunity for my team. For instance, if I open a new location, I can promote an assistant manager to general manager. Or I can promote one of my general managers to a district manager. So there’s not only a career path there, but it also harkens back to a culture of teamwork, unity and loyal employees. We all work together for the greater good.
Why can now be a good time to invest in a Cold Stone Creamery franchise?
Williams: It’s always a good time to invest in a Cold Stone Creamery. Believe it or not, ice cream is a comfort food. Having a tasty, refreshing ice cream is good for the soul, especially when all you hear is negativity and bad news. I wouldn’t say that we’re recession-proof, but we have survived economic uncertainties pretty well. Moreover, our parent company Kahala Brands™ is exceptional. They are an exceptional franchisor and provide us with the support of a world-class team, industry-leading marketing from site selection to the grand opening and robust ongoing support from there on.
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