As a company, Spoon Me bucks all sorts of conventions. Its unique name reflects the youthful and vibrant atmosphere its founders, one of which is CEO Ryan Combe, have created in its frozen yogurt restaurants. Combe and his team are not just aiming for a healthy bottom line but a healthy planet and healthy communities. The company’s ultimate goal is to create a more personal way of doing business that the fast food industry as a whole has rejected.
“It all comes back to our three-fold mission statement: to love the body we live in, the people we live with, and the earth we live on,” said Combe. “Everything we do pushes that mission forward, and that’s why Spoon Me is leading the explosive growth in the frozen yogurt industry.”
Explosive aptly describes Spoon Me’s growth. Founded in October of 2007 by Combe, former VP of Lehman Brothers in California David Jaynes, and Utah orthopedic surgeon Wayne Mortensen, the chain currently has eight franchises operating in Utah and Arizona. Three more are slated to open in the fall in Idaho and Calgary, Canada, and an additional 28 have been sold to franchisees. Combe estimates that in the next year, Spoon Me will be in 12 states and scattered throughout Western Canada.
According to Combe, there is no better time to start a frozen yogurt franchise, despite a chilly credit market and shrinking disposable incomes across the country.
Part of the reason is Americans are eating healthier, and though they may not want to give up dessert, they are eager to try less fattening or sugary options. Spoon Me yogurt is fat-free, low-calorie, and has no artificial flavoring, colors, sweeteners, or table sugar. It does have, however, live active cultures, vitamins, and minerals and is high in calcium. Combe said he, his team, and food chemists spent nearly six months tasting current frozen yogurt options and tinkering with just the right balance of creamy and sweet to develop a winning recipe.
The best part is Spoon Me yogurts retail at between $4.00 and $6.00. Combe said people may opt for a pasta dinner at home, but things have to get really bad before they cut back on a $5.00 dessert.
“We also target the 16- to 30-year-old demographic,” he added. “These are high school and college-aged kids with limited disposable incomes but no mortgages and no mouths to feed, and they are looking for a hip, healthy, new place to hang out.”
The company maintains a low price point despite the use of more expensive biodegradable spoons, cups, straws, napkins, and more by using innovative and efficient shipping and storage processes and shrewd negotiations with distributors. In addition to hurting for more business, Combe said all the vendors the company works with are sold on its mission and eager to invest in its future success.
That isn’t to say Spoon Me hasn’t seen its share of challenges. In a highly competitive industry, the company decided to pursue franchising to grow quickly, but Combe and his team had little experience in that process. So, they partnered with Franchise Foundry, a strategic investment partner for franchise concepts, in February. The firm’s streamlined process weeded out the curious from the highly motivated and guided the company through the sales process.
“The biggest challenge we’ve dealt with has been the lack of franchisees; people are scared to start a venture in this economic climate, and there isn’t a lot of capital to support them,” said Combe. “Franchise Foundry has been an invaluable partner in attracting and retaining franchise partners.”
He added that the company announced a six-month royalty vacation for all new franchise owners, which Combe said are immediately part of the Spoon Me family. “We believe in our concept, and we will do everything we can to support our partners and make them successful.”
So as Spoon Me’s start popping up across the country, Combe and his team are developing new ways to trim back costs and drive up revenues. He said social media marketing has been a big part of the company’s strategy. Spoon Me has Twitter and Facebook accounts, a company blog, and T-shirts and other merchandise featuring tongue-in-cheek adaptations of the company name.
Additionally, from the beginning, Combe and his team developed a unique corporate atmosphere to set Spoon Me apart at the highest level. There are no TVs in any location because Combe said they want to foster a social setting. The first thing associates say to customers when they walk in isn’t the typical fast food greeting “What can I get for you” but rather “What’s up dude.” The music playing in each location is also carefully selected, as are the color schemes and designs for the stores.
Because of the effort from the top, Spoon Me stores have hundreds of applications from young people eager to be a part of that culture, and it’s easy to pick the cream of the crop and plug them into this model, according to Combe. “It’s very easy to make a frozen yogurt dessert; I would say 95% of our training for associates deals with building relationships with the customer. And even that doesn’t require very much because that comes naturally when you put a high-performer in this atmosphere,” he said.
Combe said the most important reason for successful creation of the culture at Spoon Me is how everything has been tied into a bigger purpose from the beginning. Rather than taking tips, each location has jars labeled “Keep the Change,” and the money collected is donated to a different local charity each month. So far, Spoon Me stores have raised in excess of $30,000, and Combe expects to shatter that record in the coming year.
“We aim to succeed financially, but we don’t consider ourselves truly successful unless we are showing the customers how much we appreciate their business by giving back to the communities that give to us,” Combe concluded.