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CREAM helps son, dad expand horizons


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David Farkas

What do Distributive Education, Australia, and ice cream sandwiches have in common? Armando Martinez Jr., for one thing. And multi-unit franchising, for another.

Last year Armando’s international business project placed first in a statewide DE competition in Florida. The high-school junior got the idea for franchising ice-cream sandwich outposts in the land down under after traveling to Palo Alto, California, with his dad, Armando Sr., a business consultant.

While there, they witnessed customers lining up outside CREAM, a small shop in which customers picked premium ice cream and freshly baked cookies to be sandwiched together.

The Millbrae, California-based chain had only launched its franchise program in 2012. The concept itself, founded by Jimmy Shamieh, was a single unit just two years earlier in Berkeley. Only a handful of franchise agreements had been signed by the time the Martinezes discovered it.

The bright high-school student nonetheless landed an interview (and a copy of the franchise disclosure document) with Shamieh on his second trip to California. “We sat for two hours in a coffee shop next to a CREAM,” recalled Armando, who came armed with 25 questions. “I was able to get exactly what I needed about the brand. That was one of the things that put my paper over the top.”

His dad meanwhile was wondering if opportunity was knocking. “We didn’t know we were getting an FDD,” Martinez told me in early November. “I’d never seen one.”

Martinez, a Venezuelan émigré with a Ph.D, had already figured CREAM was onto something with an ice cream sandwich. Armando Sr. and a small group of active investors agreed earlier to develop 30 of the shops in south Florida over the next seven years. All but three units will be sub-franchised to operators who agree to open three or more units, each of which costs between $190,000 and $535,000 to open.

Martinez acknowledged it has taken nearly a year for the franchisor to source local ice cream and cookie manufacturers and to register in Florida. The first unit, belonging to the investors, is scheduled to open by June in Fort Lauderdale.

Postscript: Armando Jr. later entered his CREAM project in DE’s national competition and just missed earning an award in the international business category, he said.

FirstLight care

If you’re looking for work taking care of seniors in their homes, lucky you. Job prospects for personal care aides are excellent. says the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

If, on the other hand, you’re searching for such workers, good luck: “The low pay and high emotional demands cause many workers to leave the occupation, and they will have to be replaced,” the bureau ominously adds.

FirstLight HomeCare franchisee Steve Rattner is in a slightly different situation. “We’re hiring pretty much on a weekly basis to keep up with growth. Once we start developing the third territory there will definitely be a need for maybe an additional 20 full- or part-time employees,” he explained.

Rattner’s existing territories are in Florida’s Pinellas County. Unlike getting into foodservice, home-care franchises are relatively inexpensive. It takes from $87,181 to $131,459 (including the $39,500 franchise fee), for example, to get a FirstLight off the ground.

Overhead can be significant, however, because these businesses employ several full-time support staff in addition to hourly-paid aides. Insurance premiums are high. Rattner charges clients about $20 an hour for non-medical personal care.

A New York native, Rattner moved to South Florida to attend to his ailing grandmother while going to college. After graduating, he sold pharmaceuticals. Laid off in 2012, he began researching home-care businesses; two years later he inked a franchise agreement with FirstLight.  

Coincidentally, Rattner has franchise experience. While in his 20s he bought a yogurt franchise in South Florida, selling back to the franchisor 18 months later after the franchisor was acquired. The episode taught him to look more keenly at terms and conditions of franchise agreements.

“Royalty fees can go up in the future, for instance, and other potential fees can significantly impact your revenues,” he noted.

A current issue, he added, centered on the possible launch of a national advertising fund. FirstLight currently doesn’t impose a fee. “I’m all for it,” Rattner declared. “When I see competitors’ commercials on TV, I’m envious. I want to be that guy.”

Wok Box this way

There’s nothing like being an owner and watching your piece of the pie getting bigger the more your talents add value to the enterprise. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to happen.

Brandon Zimmerman is hoping his first stab as a partner and owner — of an area development company sub-franchising Wok Box Fresh Asian Kitchen — works out like that. “I figured the way best way was to do it yourself,” he said.

The fast-casual brand, owned by a Canadian franchisor, features the cuisines of Korea, China, Thailand, Japan, India, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia and Mongolia.

Zimmerman’s deal calls for opening 50 units over the next nine years, in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. He’s no stranger to chain restaurants, having most recently overseen operations for a master franchisee of Subway on the East Coast. He has also managed Arby’s, Golden Corral and Red Robin restaurants.

“I have more experience on the operations side,” Zimmerman confessed, adding his development skills were honed recently at Subway. Still, he maintained,

“When I was at Red Robin, the franchisee had 22 units, and they’re one of the top-performing franchises. I got a lot of great experience there.”

David Farkas has covered the restaurant business for 25 years as a reporter and food writer, and writes about development deals in The Pipeline in each issue. Send your franchise’s development agreements to him at dfarkas99@gmail.com.

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