Talk to any franchise professional and chances are he or she will tell you that selecting the right real estate is the No. 1 most important part of franchising (after finding the perfect franchisees, of course). But as competition stiffens, traditional locations in popular markets become more and more saturated; brands like Smoothie King are finding new, creative ways to pursue expansion.
In January 2016, Paul McCulloch opened a Smoothie King location in an old First Tennessee bank near Nashville, Tennessee. Utilizing the existing two drive-thru lanes, he converted the large building into a vibrant smoothie spot—he even maintained a bit of the real estate’s history by keeping the bank’s old vault intact. Now, it serves as a space for customers who want to dine in, have a group hangout or hold a business meeting. Today, this unlikely location has proven to be wildly successful, and thanks to the uniqueness of the space, simple word of mouth buzz in the community has contributed to the store’s busy traffic.
Steve Shields pursued a similar opportunity. After visiting location after location in the hunt to open a new Smoothie King, he stumbled upon a large bank on the main thoroughfare outside of New Orleans. Shields was able to look beyond the current state of the building, realizing that this bank had immense potential to be the perfect real estate site for a new Smoothie King. Now, it’s projected to be one of the top five grossing stores in the next year.
“When we look for real estate, there are properties that are being marketed and then there are properties where we create an opportunity That people don’t necessarily see. The bank where Steve Shields set up his location had been unused for years, and most people would have looked at it and only seen a rundown bank. But Steve saw something different—he saw an A+ location with great visibility and great access,” said Tom Schrump, a real estate manager for Smoothie King.
Because Smoothie King is a smaller format store, Schrump explained that the brand isn’t as limited in where it can set up new locations when compared to big-box stores. Smoothie King units only require 800 to 1600 square feet and three to six parking spaces. Co-tenancy, end caps, free-standing and in-line locations can all work for the brand, too—with the only main preference being that a unit should have drive-thru access.
This flexibility means that there are more options for future franchisees on the hunt for the perfect property—they just need to know where to look.
“As real estate managers, we instruct our franchisees that if they’re driving around and see unused office space or vacant green space, to not overlook them. Think outside the box and reach out to learn why the property is empty and get the information you need to acquire it. You never know what potential a location has until you ask,” Schrump said. “Just because there isn’t a sign on the window doesn’t mean you can’t call to figure out what’s going on.”
Schrump added that his team also works with local brokers to help identify those lesser-known areas. They have the expertise needed to identify every opportunity that’s out there.
“New construction is easy to find, and that kind of property has worked well for Smoothie King in the past. But to get the sites we want naturally, we have to create opportunities where they don’t exist. Local brokers have to help and franchisees have to get in their car, drive around and do their research,” Schrump said.
This kind of creativity gives Smoothie King franchisees an extra edge, Schrump believes. In most towns, they’re competing against other major drive-thru chains, such as Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts. But because there’s only so much space available, many brands would have to compete over land and limit themselves. Smoothie King’s unique take on real estate affords it the luxury to pick and choose its turf war battles.
“We don’t have to get into a bidding war with Starbucks over space. This means that our franchisees don’t have to pay more than they need to. Seeking out these kind of unique locations can make it more affordable for owners and can allow us to expand at a swifter pace,” Schrump said. “By creating our own opportunities in real estate, we’re ultimately promoting the growth of the Smoothie King brand.”
To learn more about franchising with Smoothie King, click here.