With stores, siblings in different states, success requires talking
The Myers siblings draw from military backgrounds for both management style and site selection—all their Smoothie King locations are on bases. Communicating ‘early and often’ is one key, as brother Fred says.
When Alexandra Myers and brother Fred make high-level decisions affecting their seven Smoothie King locations, they opt for practicality and plenty of communication.
“We’re pretty aware and logical of when something is going to affect the company on a bigger level,” says Alexandra, calling out decisions on hiring and employee compensation as just two instances where she and Fred will consult with one another before moving forward. “We base those things on our own logic and rely on our MBAs and work experience.”
Smoothie King franchisees Alexandra and Fred Myers
And that’s not all. In order to manage their seven stores spread across five states, Alexandra points out there are systems and procedures in place for every aspect of the business, be it human resources, inventory or marketing. “It would be impossible to manage seven disparate locations otherwise,” she adds.
It’s a business model that works well for a brother and sister close in age—Fred is 33, Alexandra 32—and similar in thinking. And though running stores in different states may not be the approach FranChoice consultant Meg Schmitz recommends, she does advise putting specific management processes in place, especially when working with family.
“Don’t make assumptions about what you think the other partner will do and how you’ll handle those business decisions,” says Schmitz, who advises her franchise clients to work with a lawyer to devise a partnership agreement and “get honest real quick” about the nitty-gritty financial details and divvying up of responsibilities.
Who has the authority to fire a manager? Who can authorize a raise? These answers should be in writing, Schmitz urges, and family members need to challenge themselves in a conversation about what will really work for them and what they want their life and the business to look like five years down the road.
Franchisees such as Alexandra and Fred—who also live 2,500 miles apart—are unique, Schmitz acknowledges, mainly because of their joint military backgrounds. Both attended the U.S. Naval Academy to earn their undergraduate degrees and served in the U.S. Navy before going on to business school.
“They’ve got that ‘I’ve got your back’ mentality that’s just ingrained in their mindset,” says Schmitz. “They bring a whole different skill set to the table and have that shared experience to draw from.” Though Alexandra and Fred have that symbiotic relationship that allows them to run their franchise from different home bases, New Orleans and Seattle, respectively, that’s not the norm, Schmitz says, and franchisees need to keep geography in mind when considering opportunities.
“But if it works for them, bless their hearts,” she adds.
And it has been working for the Myers siblings, who draw from their military experience not just in their management style but also in their site selection. Each of their Smoothie King stores sits on a military base, a business strategy that’s been in place since opening their first location on Florida’s Hurlburt Field Air Force Base in 2005.
“The food options on military bases just weren’t all that exciting. And not very healthy either,” says Fred of why he and Alexandra targeted that market. “And the level of competition is not too high.”
Fred and Alexandra are the only Smoothie King franchisees operating on military bases and they must go through the government procurement process to open new locations. Theirs is a growth plan based on the retail space available at a particular base and they also analyze the type of personnel living there, if it’s a training facility or if servicemen and women live on base for extended periods of time. Since opening that first Smoothie King, they’ve added another Florida location, on Eglin Air Force Base, along with two stores in Louisiana and one each in Georgia, Kentucky and Ohio.
Alexandra’s and Fred’s roles have evolved with their franchise, which they named Smoothie Sailing, with Alexandra now serving full time as CEO while Fred works as CFO while also running an investment advisory firm. Communicating “early and often” is crucial to their success, Fred says, as is, according to Alexandra, being “painfully honest” when it comes to any disagreements.
Bill Kundinger, operations manager, and staffer Shara Tomol.
“You definitely go into it knowing each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and you don’t really have another option other than working it out,” Alexandra says. “Our goals for the business are aligned.”
“You don’t want to be attacking the person, you want to be attacking the problem,” Fred adds, noting it took awhile to develop a hiring and screening process that allows them to focus on building the business rather than dealing with high turnover.
Fred also acknowledges trying to be passive owners is “easier said than done.”
“You really need to know all aspects of the business,” he says. “We were both surprised how much hands-on work is involved at each of the stores.”
“I’m thinking one of us should have worked in a retail business first,” says Alexandra, thinking back on some of the challenges that went along with learning the complex register system, handling cash and monitoring inventory. “Just that general retail knowledge would have been helpful.”