In 2017, SoBol opened 13 new franchise locations and signed development contracts for nearly 50 more, an impressive feat for an emerging brand in its first year of franchising. In 2018, the acai bowl brand is looking to leverage their early success for even more growth in new markets.
1851 Franchise sat down with Jason Mazzarone, SoBol’s president and CEO, to learn how the brand has been able to grow so quickly. According to Mazzarone, organic growth is the name of the game, and the brand has seen lots of it by tapping into consumer excitement and franchisee satisfaction.
Here are 5 reasons why consumers and franchisees have made SoBol one of the fastest growing brands in franchising.
1. An awesome concept
Acai bowls have a lot going for them. The palm-berry snack is healthy, tasty, photogenic (an invaluable feature for millennial consumers) and most of all, different. There’s little else like acai in the quick service restaurant segment or anywhere else, and consumers are eager to get a taste.
“I think it’s an exciting time to be a healthy option in the QSR segment,” Mazzarone said. “Consumers are more conscious about what they are eating now than ever before. Acai bowls really fit in perfectly with modern consumer trends. They are fast, fun, delicious and healthy. We feel like we introduced the concept at just the right time, and we’re excited to be the brand leader in acai going into 2018.”
2. Happy owners
SoBol’s first batch of owners may have been the brand’s greatest marketing asset in its first year. SoBol’s development team was inundated with franchisee referrals in 2017, and initial franchisees were clamoring for additional units. Mazzarone says franchisee satisfaction is useful not only to attract new owners but also as a barometer of how well the brand is meeting its own standards.
“There’s no better indication of how you are doing as a franchise than referrals from franchisees,” Mazzarone said. “When we are talking to a prospective owner, we give them a list of all of our current franchisees, and we say, ‘go see any of them, ask how they’re doing.’ Across the board, they all have great things to say. We work hard to keep our franchisees happy, and we’re very conscious of walking the walk and practicing what we preach both in the corporate office and in our stores. Happy franchisees tells us that our store owners feel the same way about the brand that we do. If that alignment ever starts to waiver, then we’ll know we need to make some adjustments.”
3. Streamlined operations
One of the reasons SoBol franchisees have so quickly found success with the brand is the franchise’s simple operational model. Even SoBol owners who have little or no food service or franchising experience have been able to hit the ground running with their SoBol stores, and many are already opening their second or third locations.
“Our operations manual has been designed and refined to allow franchisees from all different backgrounds to run the business,” Mazzarone said. “Everything is streamlined. If you follow the model, you can’t go wrong. The simplicity of our model also makes staffing much easier than at other food service restaurants. That makes it easier for owners to find strong leadership for their stores so they can quickly and confidently step back from daily operation and open multiple units. There’s a huge benefit to multi-unit ownership, and we’re proud to have built a system that lets franchisees achieve that quickly.”
4. Strong branding
Of all of the advantages that franchising offers over independent ownership, branding may be the most valuable. Consumer interest in acai is expanding rapidly, and the SoBol brand is all but synonymous with the product. That means that SoBol owners have a growing base of enthusiastic customers before they even open the doors to their store. Mazzarone says the franchise has worked hard to make sure their brand is crystal clear, universally appealing and completely consistent.
“SoBol’s branding goes far beyond the signage,” Mazzarone said. “Our product is identical from store to store. That’s not easy for a lot of brands to do, and it’s something we’re very proud of. Our acai bowls are the best around, and we know that we can prove that at every single one of our stores.
“We’ve also styled the brand with a really comfortable, inviting aesthetic. We hear all the time from customers and prospective franchisees that they learned about SoBol by stopping in to a store because they saw it from the street and wanted to check it out. A big part of that is location selection, which we have been laser-focused on. Visibility is a huge part of spreading our brand, and we’ve been careful to find the best possible locations for each of our stores.
“Crucially, our branding also extends to an attitude shared by all of our staff. I can’t give enough credit to our staff on both the corporate and store levels for providing the friendly and enthusiastic attitude that really draws customers to the brand. Our corporate staff sets the tone for what it means to be a SoBol employee, and the store owners and staff really do live that. A big part of maintaining that attitude is picking the right franchisees to represent the brand. We’re always very careful to look for people who love our culture. Our initial franchisees have done a great job of repping the SoBol brand and attracting new, like-minded franchisees.”
5. A focus on people
Mazzarone says that ultimately, all of the strengths that have allowed the SoBol franchise to flourish in their first year come down to the brand’s commitment to putting people first. That’s not just a nice thing to say, according to Mazzarone, it’s a business model, and a lucrative one at that.
“We are concerned primarily with the strength of our stores,” Mazzarone said. “It doesn’t serve us in the long term to sell a million units and then leave them all to flounder and fail. To protect our brand, and to make sure that we remain a leader in both acai and the food service space at large, we are dedicated to making sure that we are firing on all cylinders in every corner of our system. That means staying focused on the satisfaction of everyone in our franchise.
“When an entrepreneur invests in SoBol, they are entering a partnership with us. Both parties have responsibilities, and as the franchisor, we know that if we hold up our end of the bargain, that gives the franchisee opportunity to hold up their end. We would not be able to grow at the rate that we have if we didn’t have good people working hard on both sides of the operation and both sides supporting each other.”