Meet Longtime Cold Stone Creamery Multi-Franchise Owner Karen Harmon

Being ready to jump in, keeping an eye out for good locations and engaging with corporate teams have helped this owner grow her store footprint

Many Cold Stone Creamery® ice cream shop franchise owners say they always wanted to run their own business. Karen Harmon, who currently has two franchises in North Carolina and has had as many as six in operation, wasn’t one of those people. Learn how a human resources executive left the corporate world, grew an ice cream franchise chain and still finds time to help the brand evolve.

When and how did you become a Cold Stone Creamery franchise owner?

I went to college to study industrial psychology, which is now better known as HR. I ran offices in the corporate world, and was working a regular job, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., behind a desk. I was at one of my sons’ basketball games and was sitting with our pastor and his wife. They asked if I was happy at my job, and I really wasn’t, so they asked my husband and I if we wanted to be partners in a Cold Stone Creamery ice cream franchise they had just bought in our area. Even though we’ve never had any restaurant experience, other than sitting down and ordering, we decided to go in blind and give it a shot. That was in late 2001, and we opened our first store in 2002.

Why Cold Stone Creamery?

Our partners had been into the only one in North Carolina at that point, in Greensboro, and it was wintertime. There was a line to the door. We thought if people were willing to eat ice cream when it was really cold, then it’d be great in warm weather.

Where are your locations?

Right now, we are in Wilmington and Fayetteville. We opened two in 2002, two more in 2003, another in 2004 and then one more in 2005.

What’s a major lesson you’ve learned?

Believe in your brand. I happen to think we have a great brand and great product, and that is critical for me. I knew nothing about restaurants when I got into this, and over time Cold Stone Creamery has changed a lot, but because we have been given good tools, we have been successful. I would add that — use the tools you are given; follow the processes you’re supposed to. For me, having guidelines in place kept me on the right path.

How is Kahala Brands™ to work with as a franchise partner?

I am a very hands-on owner and they seem to be good with that. I’m not in the store every day at this point, but I do talk to those managers every day: I get the emails, I give them instructions, I make sure they have all that they need for that day from me. Kahala takes the same approach, and they asked me to serve on the national advisory board for the brand. That’s a good tool as well. I like being able to know other owners, and the corporate team, because that keeps me engaged. I am not that owner who never fills out the survey or opens the emails. They know they will hear from me.

Any advice for new franchise owners?

Pay attention to how to train and develop staff. We employ a lot of younger people and they can be challenging because they are learning what it is to have a job. Kahala is working on updating the training materials, and I have been pushing for that.

What traits does someone need to have to do well as a Cold Stone Creamery franchise owner?

You have to be willing to work. You have to work hard at this. I’ve cleaned every toilet in every store I’ve owned. I’ve made and scooped ice cream, I’ve made waffle cones. I’m not as hands-on now, but I also don’t just sit back and expect my stores to make money on their own. You have to keep yourselves involved.

What’s the best part of your day?

I like being in a managerial role. I’m behind the counter if I need to be, and I do like being there and interacting with customers, but I’d rather be making sure my staff has what they need to run the stores well. I am able to do all that on my own time frame, and I do really enjoy not being tied to a desk all day.

What do you think keeps Cold Stone Creamery fresh?

This brand is willing to evolve. Sometimes that’s a struggle; we have some lively discussions on the national advisory board, most certainly. You’ve got a certain faction that says, ‘We made it on these flavors alone, and we must never change,’ and you have others who are really willing to throw something new out there so we can be competitive. You can do both, even when in so doing you can’t please everybody. For the most part, we manage to come out of those sessions with good ideas, though.

What’s your favorite flavor?

I am a coffee lover, so I like coffee ice cream with Heath bar and brownie pieces in it. We also have wonderful banana ice cream and that’s good with chocolate in it. And the first ice cream I ever ate at a Cold Stone Creamery was the founder’s favorite, good old sweet cream. That’ll always be a favorite of mine as well.

Open a popular Cold Stone Creamery franchise

Cold Stone Creamery franchise now has approximately 1,000 stores in the United States and a presence in nearly 30 international markets. We still have optimal territory available for new franchise expansion and development. Based in Scottsdale, Arizona, Cold Stone Creamery is owned by parent company Kahala Brands™, one of the world’s fastest-growing franchising companies with a portfolio of 28 quick-service restaurant concepts.

Bring an ice cream store to your community that’s likely to become a go-to destination for customers. Find out more by requesting a copy of our free Franchise Information Report or exploring the research pages on our franchise website.

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