When Wan Kim decided to buy the entire Smoothie King system, the 700+-location “Smoothies With a Purpose” brand, he saw a giant opportunity – to continue growing an established brand that stood behind a mission he personally believed in: to inspire people to live a healthy and active lifestyle. Now entering his third year at the helm of the brand, Kim has already opened more than 100 new Smoothie King locations, generated an 8.47 percent increase in same store sales in 2014 over the previous year, and earned confidence from established owners, with 65% percent of agreements signed in 2014 by existing franchise owners.
Now, with one-off juice concepts popping up all over the United States, Kim is ready to push the pedal down in 2015 – further educating the consumer about what a nutritional smoothie is, why Smoothie King delivers its product with a purpose, and how Smoothie King is the true originator and innovator of the segment. Smoothie King plans to open two locations every week in 2015 and to grow the $567,578 average gross sales (of the top 25 percent of traditional franchised units in 2013) within the $2 billion industry. Same stores sales in January 2015 showed a 16.1% increase over January 2014, a path the brand expects to follow for the rest of the year.
“We’ve stayed at the forefront of the smoothie and juice segment, instead of watching from the sidelines and scrambling to catch up,” said Kim, CEO of Smoothie King. “Along the way, we’ve maintained our healthy and active lifestyle focus, ensuring that the true purpose of the brand’s creation remained intact.”
Kim is eyeing 1,100 locations domestically by the end of 2017 and the data shows it’s feasible. He plans to grow the brand in a similar way to how, as a franchisee, he grew Smoothie King from an unknown concept in South Korea to the largest multi-unit organization in the system with over 100 locations. The brand expects to hit the 1,100-unit milestone by using a time-tested formula for finding franchisees that truly fit. Kim’s dual role as franchisor and franchisee has helped to instill confidence from other franchisees in the system, as they know he is in the trenches with them.
“When people believe in the brand, there’s always going to be a fire that drives growth,” Kim said. “Even during tough times, that passion never dies and continues to fuel the business. With Smoothie King, franchisees can build their business and at the same time, be proud of the work they are doing, which is a win-win for all.”
When Kim took over the brand, he knew he couldn’t do it alone – especially, at the time, commuting from South Korea to New Orleans (Kim has since relocated his wife and three children to New Orleans). Thus, he recruited President Tom O’Keefe, who formerly represented Smoothie King as outside counsel, to spearhead U.S. growth. O’Keefe’s efforts have solidified Smoothie King’s brand positioning, including the rebuilding of the corporate team with 12 vice presidents and 12 directors to support the brand’s growth.
“Smoothie King is a 42-year old company that in many ways, is just two years old,” O’Keefe said. “Over the past two years, we’ve slowly gained trust from the franchisees and improved internal processes so that we can now focus on growing the business.”
The 42-year-old foundation built by Steve Kuhnau, who founded Smoothie King in 1973, is still the principal vision of the brand – to create a healthy and active brand that offers “smoothies with a purpose.” For example, when one early guest was battling cancer and struggling to put on weight, Kuhnau created a specialized smoothie to solve that challenge. Each of Smoothie King’s innovative products has been created to be the solution for whatever the guest’s needs are – such as weight loss, gain and improved energy.
“When we find the solution, we don’t sacrifice taste,” Kim said. “For instance, we launched a new Ghirardelli® chocolate smoothie that contains 100 percent cocoa. While using 100 percent cocoa comes at a greater expense to us, it also keeps the fat down to 4 grams. This commitment to the guest’s health addresses their purpose while defining ours.”
Smoothie King also recently launched two new product lines: Greek yogurt smoothies, made with 0% Vanilla Chobani® Greek yogurt and vegan smoothies, powered by Sunwarrior and made with superfoods acai and kale. “Our vegan smoothies are 100 percent plant-based, which is greatly appreciated by the vegan community. We listened to their challenges and created a customized solution,” Kim said.
Many Americans don’t know the difference between smoothies that are simply sugary beverages and smoothies that are meal replacement or healthy snack solutions. To better market the nutritional benefits of a Smoothie King smoothie, Kim and his team have invested heavily in consumer education and rebranding. Efforts included a new logo, prototype and statement driving branding moments, like the naming of the Smoothie King Center, home to one of the National Basketball Association’s marquee teams, which has already spurred franchise growth. One new franchisee heard about Smoothie King by watching the NBA All-Star Game and promptly bought a five-store package for Columbia, MO, the first of which opened at the beginning of January.
“He missed the second half of the game because he couldn’t believe Smoothie King had purchased the naming rights and he spent the rest of the evening researching it. He was so impressed that he knew this was the brand he wanted to be associated with,” O’Keefe said. “His story is very similar to many other new franchisees who have entered the system. In my career, including my tenures at Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen and Ruth’s Chris, I haven’t experienced this much energy and enthusiasm for a brand.”