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Politics aside, two brands see promise in Mexico


Students in an Abrakadoodle class in Mexico show off their work.

Tense political relations between the United States and Mexico under the Trump administration continue to put strain on issues from trade to migration, and how this turmoil will impact U.S. franchise brands is up for debate. What it isn’t doing, at least so far, is deterring franchises from expanding into the country, one where “the American brand sells.”

“The fact that we’re an American brand is important and so we’ll always want to preserve our identity,” says Rosemarie Hartnett, president and co-founder of art education franchise Abrakadoodle. “In terms of franchising, Mexico has always been very strong. I’m thankful that I haven’t seen that change.”

Abrakadoodle recently opened its first studio in Mexico City after signing a master franchise agreement in November with Mariana Igartua and Jose Andres Ferraez Quintanilla. It wasn’t a turnoff to the wife-and-husband business partners that Abrakadoodle is an American brand, but Hartnett says she did talk with them about the political situation and internally at the company “it’s something that gave us pause and it’s certainly something we’ve talked about but at the end of the day this is about educating our children.”

For Igartua, the ultimate goal is to build a business that’s inspiring to children and helps them cultivate their creativity.  “With all the violence and other bad things going on in the world, this is a place for the kids to come and be happy,” she says.

Laura Marcin

Teacher Laura Marcin, left, with Mariana Igartua, Abrakadoodle’s master franchisee in the country.

Abrakadoodle’s being an American brand is part of what attracted the former marketing executive to the concept, as U.S. education programs enjoy a strong reputation in Mexico and Igartua was sold on Abrakadoodle’s comprehensive curriculum that combines art classes, camps and parties. It’s being a franchise was another plus, says Igartua, who was already familiar with the franchise model after having brought the Lush Cosmetics brand to Mexico.   

“There’s nothing like Abrakadoodle” in Mexico City, says Igartua. “There are a few art schools, but there’s no awareness of what they do. It’s a big opportunity and if we communicate it right I think parents will embrace us. Mothers want these classes for their kids, it’s a need.”

While Abrakadoodle in the U.S. operates mainly as a mobile model, with franchisees bringing the program to schools and community centers, in Mexico and the company’s other international markets, franchisees start by opening a studio.

“They have a different mentality and they want to see a retail space,” says Hartnett of consumers in Mexico and in Abrakadoodle’s other markets abroad such as China and Singapore. “The art studio creates a visual of the concept, we have big grand openings.” The addition of mobile classes comes later, and in the case of Igartua, she and her husband plan to operate their studio for about a year and then use it to showcase the concept as they seek to sign sub-franchisees.

Abrakadoodle has hundreds of international locations, mainly in Asia, and Hartnett views Mexico as a market “ripe for this kind of program.”

“They don’t have a strong arts program in the schools, there’s not much competition to the way Abrakadoodle is structured—there’s a very open field,” says Hartnett. “There are educated parents who are looking for this. I think it’s going to meet a hunger in the market.”

More Melting Pot in Mexico

With the largest development agreement in the brand’s history, The Melting Pot will open additional fondue restaurants in Mexico with GINgroup, which purchased three existing franchise restaurants in Mexico City and signed a deal to develop 17 more throughout the country over the next seven years.

The Melting Pot has been operating in Mexico since 2010, and “we’re fortunate our presence and reach in Mexico preempted the politics,” says Dan Stone, chief business and people development officer at Front Burner, the management company of The Melting Pot.

The deal with GINgroup was announced in July of last year and Stone acknowledges that when he was in Mexico he “definitely heard comments about Trump’s rhetoric, the wall, and it wasn’t favorable.”

Melting Pot crew

The crew at The Melting Pot in the upscale Polanco neighborhood of Mexico City.

“I would not have predicted this type of deal would have happened at the time it did,” says Stone. “But GINgroup has a passion for the brand and a view that this too shall pass.

“So much is built on relationships and that’s bigger than the noise of what’s going on in D.C.,” continues Stone.

A massive human capital management company based in Naucalpan, northwest of Mexico City, GINgroup has more than 50 offices throughout Mexico and more than 30 subsidiaries in the education, legal, industrial, financial and restaurant sectors. The company’s restaurant group is comprised of 58 restaurants, including franchise brands Carl’s Jr., Texas Ribs and Rustic Kitchen.

The Melting Pot, says Stone, is a concept based on “celebrating life and life’s moments, with family and friends gathering around that fondue pot. A lot of other cultures place high value on gathering around the table, so the idea of what Melting Pot represents translates quite nicely to other cultures.”

Raul Beyruti Sanchez, GINgroup’s CEO, was a frequent customer at Melting Pot’s existing restaurants in Mexico City, Stone explains, and “he appreciated the uniqueness and saw high interest from the younger generation.”

In identifying international partners, Melting Pot wants those with the resources to commit to at least three restaurants, along with strong internal infrastructure “and a high level of expertise in operations.” GINgroup, says Stone, checks all those boxes.

“This is a serious company, its divisions represent more than 500 businesses,” says Stone. “They have a good mix of franchised restaurants and restaurants they’ve
incubated and launched themselves, ranging from fast casual to fine dining.”

Stone notes The Melting Pot sees plenty of opportunity for growth outside the U.S., where it has about 120 restaurants, but he says the company is mindful of the time, money, patience and resilience required because in international development “an overnight payoff is not guaranteed.”

“Anybody that tells you international is all upside is kidding you.”

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