Snacks and Treats
Franchisees like Bahama Buck’s fun island vibe and say it helps the brand stand out from others in the frozen treat space.
Winner: Bahama Buck’s
Finalists: Smoothie King, Philly Pretzel Factory, Dunkin’ Donuts
There will always be a market for indulgences, and brands that can back up their consumer messaging with strong franchise operations and performance will stand out. That’s the case for Bahama Buck’s, which climbed to the top of our list as a top franchise to buy in the Snacks & Treats category. A comprehensive Item 19, coupled with few closures (just five from 2015-2017) and consistent openings, are among the indicators of which we took note. That Item 19 notes an average unit volume of $414,615, and for the 24 stores in the top 25 percent the AUV increased to $616,723.
But it’s not as simple as opening the doors and the sales will automatically come, notes franchisee Mauricio Carrillo. “It took four years to open my second because there wasn’t an immediate return—but I was prepared for that,” says Carrillo, who now has four Bahama Buck’s shops in the El Paso, Texas, area and is in the process of opening two more. “I had the benefit of being in sales for 15 years before, so my stomach was built to withstand gains and losses … I never got scared away.”
Franchisees must prepare for inevitable sales fluctuations, be able to forecast those highs and lows, and not stray from the established systems.
“I strongly believe in not reinventing the wheel,” says Carrillo. “I like taking a plan that’s already developed and executing it.”
A “cold desserts” enthusiast, Carrillo looked into Häagen-Dazs, Baskin-Robbins and Smoothie King but says Bahama Buck’s products, along with notable validation from existing franchisees, ultimately drew him to the Lubbock, Texas-based concept. He also points out execs were quick to answer phone calls, texts and emails, while other brands “would take weeks to respond.”
Initially very hands-on when he opened in 2008—“I would work full time and then go to the restaurant and stay there until midnight.”—Carrillo has since installed managers at each shop and has a general manager who oversees all four locations, allowing him to focus on future development. While some ‘zees spend 40-60 hours in their stores, he says that’s not feasible for him with four units but stresses he’s still an active owner.
“To this day, if I walk into a shop and I see something is broken, I’ll stop what I’m doing and get out my toolbox and fix it,” he says.
Carrillo’s two most seasoned shops are “doing extremely well” in sales and he relies on citywide marketing efforts and a heavy dose of promotions to continually drive sales. Spotlighting Bahama Buck’s catering options has proved profitable, particularly for corporate events, and Carrillo is also seeing positive results from online ordering.
An expansion of healthy alternatives is one aspect Carrillo wants his franchisor to focus on to in turn help him drive sales.
“I would like to see them spend more time on those items or maybe add to that some healthy smoothies, some alternatives like that,” says Carrillo. “We do dessert really well, kids love us, young people love us, but for a little older demographic, this would increase our appeal.”
For Andrew Packer, enhanced and continuous training from Bahama Buck’s corporate would help him improve store-level operations, particularly because he’s dealing with teenaged employees who need clear direction and because “it’s tough with turnover, when they leave for college.”
“I’m really, really big on continuing to develop leadership skills for our employees,” says Packer, who’s created his own shop-specific training. “So I’d always love to see more training, more materials.”
The franchisee of five stores in Mesa, Tempe, Ahwatukee and Queen Creek, Arizona, Packer also points out the importance of maintaining high standards across the system, an area in which he’d like to see more enforcement.
“I’ve been into shops that don’t operate with the same level of care, so it’s frustrating from a brand perspective that corporate isn’t as tough on correcting franchisee misbehavior,” says Packer, calling attention to outdated media and other branding issues at some units. “I would like to see more tightening up and not be so lax in some areas.”
A former shift lead who worked for another franchisee before opening his first location in 2006, Packer has a 17-year history with Bahama Buck’s and was intimately familiar with the brand before he signed that first franchise agreement. Still, he considered a half dozen other restaurant brands before deciding on tropical shaved ice and says the founder-led culture (Blake Buchanan launched the concept in 1990 and is still CEO) means there’s plenty of support.
“The brand has so much power, so if you don’t buy into the culture, you won’t be successful in that system,” says Packer of choosing a franchise. “It doesn’t matter how profitable a franchise is if your culture doesn’t mesh with the company culture.”
The formation four years ago of the Sno Advisory Council, of which Packer is outgoing president, serves to further strengthen the relationship between franchisees and the franchisor, with ideas such as the Paradise Party Pack, a do-it-yourself catering option, originating at the council level.
Packer credits his engaged ownership, along with empowered managers, for keeping his shops profitable, though he acknowledges there’s been a dip in sales at some locations. “We’re still profitable, but not as much as we’d like to be,” he says, noting his worst performing shop had sales of $279,000 in 2018 while his best did $751,000.
Packer is optimistic, calling Bahama Buck’s a forward-looking brand, a trait that continues to stand out versus “some archaic thing that’s just looking to hold on.”
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