The candy veteran loves building relationships with franchisees.
If you’re thinking of franchising with River Street Sweets - Savannah’s Candy Kitchen, its owners will practically roll out the red carpet for you to visit one of their stores and taste the free samples they give out.
“We give out free samples in all of our stores and the taste is like nothing you’ve ever tried — nothing beats warm praline — so if you’re anywhere near one of our locations, come on it and give it a try,” said Jennifer Strickland, River Street Sweets - Savannah’s Candy Kitchen’s co-owner and vice president.
It took a while for Strickland and her brother, who were running River Street Sweets together, to franchise the business, but the pair had been considering the opportunity for years.
River Street Sweets was originally started by Strickland’s parents. In 1990, after her parents divorced, Strickland’s father started a new enterprise called Savannah’s Candy Kitchen.
One day, while having a conversation with their dad, Strickland and her brother learned that their father was considering franchising his business, and the trio realized they could combine forces.
“We had been talking about it for many, many years and finally decided that we were ready, and when we found out that we were both interested in doing it at the same time, rather than going in competition with each other, we were like ‘Let’s do this together, and we’ll do a better job.’ And so that’s how we ended up doing it,” Strickland said.
They started getting ready to franchise in 2013, and the first franchise location, which debuted under the joint name of River Street Sweets - Savannah’s Candy Kitchen, opened in 2015. All franchise locations are under this name, which Strickland admits is “a mouthful.”
Today, three franchises are currently open, and more are in the works, as are a couple of corporate-owned stores. One of those corporate-owned River Street Sweets - Savannah’s Candy Kitchen stores will be located in San Antonio, Texas, which Strickland said they are all very excited about.
“It’s a neat market,” she said of San Antonio. “And they know what pecans are there, so that’s pretty cool. We’re not starting from scratch.”
What Strickland has loved the most about franchising is the opportunity to build relationships with the individual franchisees.
“I think the thing that I really love about it, and I’ve been by surprised by how much I love it, is getting to know the new franchisees when they make the commitment,” Strickland said. “You really get to know those people very intimately and they become people that you have a really strong relationship with, especially in our case because even though we’ve been around for a long time, we’re relatively new to franchising.” She added that “Getting to know them as people, getting to know what excites them, what challenges them” and what their strengths are is inspiring.
While legal hoops are certainly a challenge in franchising, getting the company name out there and letting people know you actually do plan to franchise may be the toughest part of the business, Strickland said.
“I think really just getting the word out that you’re an interesting new franchise is difficult,” Strickland said. “And I wish that were easier to do it.”
The biggest change in franchising Strickland and her team has seen is a switch from individual franchise owners to multi-unit operators.
“I would say that the biggest change that we’ve seen is a huge shift towards multi-unit owners,” she said. “When we got into this we really felt like our best franchisees would be people who either wanted to make a change or were entrepreneurial in spirit, and it seems like many, many franchises now are really pursuing those multi-unit regions and that sort of thing, so we’ve definitely noticed that change.”
As far as selling a River Street Sweets - Savannah’s Candy Kitchen franchise goes, it all comes back to experiencing it for one’s self and loving the brand. Candy is made on-site and in front of guests, which is crucial from both a customer service and a franchisee standpoint. Indeed, this guest experience can be the deciding factor for a franchisee.
“I really think that emotional impact that candy in general has on people, in addition to the way that we make it in front of people and interact with our guests, is just very, very unique and authentic,” Strickland said.