By keeping things “over the top,” franchise model has reaped sweet rewards.
Placing a priority on doing things differently, Sweet Monkey, which currently operates three corporate-owned locations, has expanded its offerings to include mobile concessions units and a new wholesale cupcake business, and is in the process of negotiating its very first franchised stores.
The first Sweet Monkey location opened in 2011, and two additional stores have been rolled out since then. While all corporate-owned shops are located in Georgia and expected to remain so, Sweet Monkey plans to expand into other states through franchises.
Sweet Monkey operates with a self-serve weigh-and-pay model, offering about 65 rotating flavors of frozen yogurt. On the floor at any time there are 24 flavors, two of which are usually flavors of the week. Yogurt is sold for 49 cents per ounce, although franchises would be able to adjust the cost depending on location. Pre-made pints with toppings mixed in are also offered for customers to enjoy at home.
Over the top
When it came time to develop the brand for Sweet Monkey, a Georgia-based frozen yogurt company, the most important question the executives asked was: “Is it over the top enough?”
“When we designed our stores initially, we didn’t want the standard yogurt store design with the machine in the back,” Michael Hudson, Sweet Monkey’s CEO, said. “We have 20-foot ceilings in all of our stores and neon lights. Everything that we do we look at it as ‘is it over the top enough?’ It does cost more money to do it that way, but that’s what we wanted to do.”
One of the “over-the-top” aspects is the vast selection of toppings. “If we’re going to be over the top, we have to have more toppings than everyone else,” Hudson says. “We have over 200 toppings at each of our stores. We have a sauce bar with 40 different sauces, we have all the fresh fruit everyone else has, but also have 20 different kinds of cereal, and 100 kinds of candy. We have as much candy as a candy store would have.”
As for demographics, Hudson says that families are the number-one targets. “We play family music in the background all the time, and we sell our own CDs that are kid-friendly. Kids love it and listen to the music and it promotes the brand. We do face painting in the stores and hold a lot of specials that are geared toward families.”
Instead of solely offering frozen yogurt, Sweet Monkey also sells a variety of baked goods, including at least 40 different flavors of cupcakes. “Trying to diversify our product line, we came up with a wonderful line of cupcakes. We bake them all ourselves inside the stores,” Hudson says.
The cupcakes, like everything else the company does, are “over the top,” made in a special jumbo pan that is about two and a half times the size of an average cupcake. Brownies, cookies and cheesecakes also are offered in the stores.
Cupcakes are sold for $3.99, push-up cupcakes (in a plastic sleeve) are $3.89 and cupcakes in a jar are $4.50.
Because of the popularity of the sweets, Sweet Monkey has expanded into the wholesale cupcake business and they are now sold across the United States. “We’re more into the
end-retail chain; we’re in zoos, theme parks, MGM casinos, It’s Sugar and FAO Schwartz, a number of general stores and food stores, restaurants and some other yogurt chains.”
Potential franchisees can contact Sweet Monkey via their website (sweetmonkey.com). “We’ll send them an application; they’d fill it out and submit a Personal Financial Statement. Once we’ve vetted them and they meet the criteria, and we feel they’d be a good fit for our brand, we’d bring them in and show them around our stores and [to] see our operations.”
The discovery day allows new franchisees to meet the team and learn about the brand. “If we feel it’s a good fit on both sides we would get an agreement, they’d pay a deposit and then we move forward.”
Inline stores are available, as are portable units. “We can take portable units to fairs and festivals, or school events, like high school football games,” Hudson says. “You just pull it with a truck and then set it up.” The unit looks like a trailer with the self-serve yogurt machines built into the side.
Sweet Monkey offers both franchises and licensing deals, and they determine which model fits a potential business owner best. Mobile units, for example, are all licensed rather than franchised. “They use our name, we provide them with a product, and help them with marketing, but since the unit is mobile, it’s not a physical location we can visit and make sure their standards are up to ours, and we can’t assign them a territory. Most of the sales are cash, so tracking is much more difficult. In that situation a license works better.”
The cost to open a Sweet Monkey store is between $380,000 and $524,500 and between $100,000 and $125,000 for a mobile unit. The fee varies for licensing-only store deals.
Plans for growth
The company’s goal was to have five corporate locations open before giving a big push to franchising. “However, some things moved faster than we anticipated,” Hudson says. “We never expected to have franchises up before we had five corporate locations, and we’ll probably have a number of them open before we have five. We’d like to have 10 locations total in the next year.”
While Sweet Monkey is taking a look at the mall market, the company is open to all types of locations. “If a mall approaches us, we look at it long and hard and see if it’s a good fit. Demographics and foot traffic play key roles. We’re more about quality than quantity; it’s a measured approach.”
For more information, please visit www.sweetmonkey.com.