Vice President of Operations of the iconic ice creamery franchise explains why owning a Cold Stone Creamery can be a smart move
In uncertain times, Americans turn to the things that bring them the most comfort and joy. During the recent pandemic, as many Americans rediscovered the simple pleasures of family life, ice cream and our Cold Stone franchise gave millions a reason to get together and be happy at home.
What changed is how consumers bought their ice cream and where they enjoyed it. For iconic brands like Cold Stone Creamery®, the ability to respond to the changes is one of the reasons why our franchise owners were able to continue running their business. In December, Cold Stone Creamery launched a state-of-the-art mobile order platform that allows customers full access to the entire menu, as well as the endless customization they love. We quickly established curb-side service platforms, and implemented safety measures to keep our customers and employees safe and healthy.
For Blake Borwick, Vice President of Operations for Cold Stone Creamery, the recent crisis reflects the true value proposition of franchising: entrepreneurs will not be in business by themselves, and in good times and bad, they will receive the support they need to excel in business. In this wide-ranging interview, Borwick shares everything from how our ice creamery’s business model is designed to help our franchise owners maximize profitability, to why franchising is more attractive than ever, and what makes Cold Stone an option for your investment.
What was the experience like for franchisees and how did Cold Stone Creamery mobilize the resources of its entire support platform to help them through the crisis?
Borwick: Our franchisees were certainly impacted, but we were very fortunate because we had launched online ordering for our full menu in January — and that was a life saver for us.
When the pandemic hit, our franchisees had to make a lot of adjustments very quickly, but fortunately they handled it well. First, our customers transitioned how they ordered from us, where we saw the majority of sales go from walk-in to digital either through our online website or delivery. So we were able to capture a good amount of sales we know we wouldn’t have otherwise if that platform wasn’t in place.
Secondly, on the franchisor side, communication has been paramount to us. We really ramped up our communications with our franchise system exponentially — through webinars, emails and phone calls — to ensure they had all of the necessary resources they needed from operating in this new normal with digital orders, information regarding financial resources that both the federal government and their respective states provided, as well as new innovative marketing strategies.
This unfortunate time has proved challenging for independent business owners across the nation. What makes the franchising model more attractive than it was before the pandemic?
Borwick: It’s incredibly helpful to be part of a franchise system that can provide robust support, timely information on necessary resources, and also help you through changes in operations. As a former Cold Stone Creamery franchisee, I always enjoyed that I was able to manage my business and crew without trying to figure everything else out. For instance, I didn’t have to come up with new flavors and concepts, or marketing ideas. I simply implemented what the R&D team at Cold Stone Creamery, the experts, asked us to roll out. So being a part of a franchise is the best of both worlds — you get to own a business that makes customers happy, but you can also rely on your franchisor to help you with the operations, marketing and more.
One of the things that happened during the pandemic is that people kept ordering their favorite foods, especially comfort foods. Cold Stone Creamery fits right in that category because if you’re stressed out, there’s nothing better than ice cream. Would you agree?
Borwick: Definitely, comfort food is always key. One of the shifts we saw in our ordering was customers buying larger sizes of ice cream like pints, quarts and more. So instead of coming in store once or twice a week for a single serve, customers were buying the larger sizes to put in their freezers at home. In the last three months, we’ve sold more of those larger sizes than we ever had in the history of the brand, as well as cakes, which took off for the same reason. We even rolled out new menu items for families to take home and have fun with while they enjoy their ice cream. One of the products is a cupcake kit that allows you to decorate your dessert, which has been a big hit. It comes with ice cream, little cupcake shells, and the tools and toppings of your choice to decorate your cupcake however you want.
Now that restaurants are reopening and summer is here, are you finding that more people are coming back to the stores as well?
Borwick: Yes, we are definitely seeing more people in store as states loosen their restrictions. Things certainly took a very quick turn when the pandemic hit, but things have picked up and we are basically back to normal — a new normal. As I mentioned previously, consumer behaviors have changed, so more orders are coming in through delivery and online ordering. Again, we were very fortunate with the timing of the launch because it was key for us. And as a result, we are seeing a significantly higher percentage online and digital than in any previous summertime.
Moreover, as things return to normal, I think having our full menu available online will be a great asset for our franchisees moving forward, coupled with people coming in store. For instance, if I’m a customer and it’s Friday night, I know that it might be a 20 to 30 minute wait. However, if I place my order online before I leave my house, I can walk in and bypass the line. So it’s a great service to provide customers who prefer convenience, don’t want to wait in line, and be on their way.
Why is now a good time for investors to own a Cold Stone Creamery franchise?
Borwick: Cold Stone Creamery has been around for more than 30 years, so entrepreneurs will join an established brand. Not only do we sell delicious ice cream and other treats, but also customers come in to have a reward for their day or celebrate an occasion — all of which we get to be a part of. Additionally, Cold Stone’s business model is easy to scale, works to maximize profitability and provides ongoing support and training over the long-term. Additionally, our franchisees benefit from the support of both the Cold Stone Creamery and Kahala Brands™ leadership teams. And you can even co-brand with one of the other 27 brands in our franchise family. So as we’re coming out of this pandemic, being able to deliver a product that brings people together and makes people happy is a huge benefit along with the support we provide.
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