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Operator Snaps Up uBreakiFix Stores, Seeks More


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Christine Ricci

Christine Ricci and her team were operating 10 uBreakiFix mobile device repair stores in a 180-mile radius around Kansas City, Missouri. Right before the Covid-19 outbreak, her firm, formerly under the name Phone Medic, acquired five new markets from existing franchisees, in Arkansas, Oklahoma and southern Missouri, taking on six more stores total.

Was that a challenge? "Gosh, I'm telling you girl," she said with a laugh. "We are a high-growth company. We love growth opportunities, new markets, things like that. You're trying to get five new markets up and running, which definitely has its own challenges.

"And then having the pandemic on top of it, leadership-wise it definitely challenged me in ways I've never been challenged before," she said. "It really helps kind of flesh out who the champions are, folks that stepped up and used the pressure as a means to better their game.

Everybody was challenged to the core, but it really turned some folks into rock stars that I'd never seen as rock stars before."

Ricci decided to double down on uBreakiFix after the franchise was purchased by Asurion last year. "It just took us to a whole new level and gave us access to new services," such as an all-inclusive protective plan covering multiple devices in the home.

"But also, just the talent internally, within Asurion, is just unprecedented. For the last two weeks I've had Asurion sales enablement team in my store," she said when reached in late May. "These are really seasoned veterans at customer experience, salesmanship, and they're in my stores every single day, helping to develop my talent."

Ricci and partners self-fund their acquisitions out of profits and without debt, she said, and she is not done growing. "We are looking at additional markets, like two weeks ago I was in a new market scoping out locations. I think the biggest thing will be, growth is still out there, but it's still making sure you build with agility, but also with flexibility, meaning you can't invest heavily in a lot of infrastructure, so should something change, you now have this overhead you now cannot pay for.

"There's always uncertainty, right? But I think the uncertainty in this case is the customer experience and how will demand look different?" she said.

"The technology is always going to be there and the need for technology repairs, but as we grow, we just have to make sure we're not investing so much in just one way of doing business, so if there should be a shift in market, you're sunk, you're lost."

BRIEFS

This month's deals range from a one-shop Cousins Subs purchase to a $2.5-billion initial public offering for Peet's Coffee. Plus, Krystal emerges from bankruptcy court and Four Foods Group pivots to launch Savory.

TMart Operations purchased the Cousins Subs location in Lodi, Wisconsin, from Kim and Cindy Reeve and Roland and Cristi Maier after nearly 20 years in business. Jeremy Alsaker, TMart company president, and his wife, Sarah, also own 37 Dunkin’ Donuts franchises, and are beginning to open Baskin-Robbins alongside their Dunkin’ Donuts locations. “We’re excited. This provides us a new opportunity to have a different concept we could pair with Dunkin’ in buildings or integrate with what we already do well,” Alsaker said. They started working on the deal in September 2019, and many steps were accomplished prior to COVID-19 shutdowns, which allowed them to successfully close—though they were delayed roughly five weeks. “Whenever we open a new store or transition a business, we focus on operations first and ensure we’re taking care of employees and customers and have got the right training in place,” Alsaker said.

Inspire Brands Asia purchased Anytime Fitness Asia in an acquisition late May. Inspire Brands Asia is a combination of top submaster franchisees in Malaysia, Philippines and Singapore; lead investor Exacta Capital Partners; and co-investor Aura Group. The acquisition includes the master franchisee license in Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Taiwan, Vietnam, Hong Kong and Macau. Their owned gyms and gym management businesses were also merged into the group, which operate more than 30 percent of the brand's footprint in Asia. In the last four years, Anytime Fitness Asia recorded compound annual growth rates of 49 percent in franchise sales and 55 percent in gym openings.

JAB Holding Co., the German investor behind Panera Bread, merged Peet’s Coffee and Jacobs Douwe Egberts into a single coffee and tea company in December 2019. Now, they’ve succeeded with plans to seek an initial public offering and begin trading on the stock market. The combined Netherlands-based company, JDE Peet’s, is selling about 71.4 million shares, or about 14 percent of the coffee and tea business for a total of $2.5 billion. JAB Holding, which bought an additional $340 million worth of stock in the IPO, remains the company’s controlling shareholder. JDE Peet’s reported $1.9 billion in first-quarter revenue, up 3 percent from a year earlier, and expects a rise in sales which excludes the impact of acquisitions for 2020’s first half, according to its IPO filing.

Hard Rock International (HRI) purchased all rights to the Hard Rock brand and trademarks in Las Vegas from Juniper Capital, a Houston-based private equity firm that purchased Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Las Vegas in 2018 from Brookfield Asset Management. HRI has 262 locations in 76 countries, and this deal allows HRI exclusive full rights to all signage, merchandise, memorabilia and intellectual property rights for affiliated restaurant and entertainment trademarks and website domain names.

Opes Acquisition Corp. and BurgerFi have entered into a non-binding letter of intent to combine businesses. This would result in BurgerFi, a fast-growing burger concept, becoming a publicly traded company. Under the current terms, Opes and BurgerFi would become a combined entity and BurgerFi’s shareholders would roll over a majority of equity in the combined public company. BurgerFi, established in 2011, has 125 locations spanning 23 states and two countries.

The founder and former CEO of franchise operation Four Foods Group has sold off the franchise business and joined Mercato Partners to create the new, operations-focused Savory Fund. Andrew Smith, who operated Kneaders and Little Caesars, brings a 50-person “value-add team” to the Utah-based private equity firm and the new $90-million fund. “If you think about all the different PE firms out there, none of them are doing it like this," Smith said. "They're the money. They might have an old Taco Bell COO that helps them advise. We do it with the brand every step of the way." He said how the fund will put money to work is different as well. “We don’t go into a brand and buy in and then put in $10- to $20 million on the balance sheet day one. We make investments incrementally, we put in money as needed because we're operating partners in the business, there’s no pressure of balance-sheet cash so we don’t feel like we have to open stores or else,” said Smith. 

Krystal announced May 22 it is under new ownership and new management, a week after a bankruptcy court approved a deal with senior lender Fortress Investment Group. Atlanta-based Fortress, which served as the 88-year-old company’s senior lender prior to bankruptcy, took control of the company with a $27-million credit deal and assumed liabilities of $21.5 million from its own affiliate, DB KRST Investors. The company, which was acquired by SoftBank in 2017, is joined by Golden Child Holdings, another Atlanta-based restaurant investment firm that focuses on recapitalizations, “special situations,” mature companies, distressed loans and underperforming assets—all of which apply to Krystal. 

 

—Dealmakers briefs by Callie Evergreen and Nicholas Upton. Send details of your franchise M&A deal to cevergreen@franchisetimes.com.

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The latest news, opinions and commentary on what's happening in the franchise arena that could affect your business.

Laura MichaelsLaura Michaels is editor of Franchise Times. She can be reached at 612.767.3210, or send story ideas to lmichaels@franchisetimes.com.
 
Beth EwenBeth Ewen is senior editor of Franchise Times. She can be reached at 612.767.3212, or send story ideas to bewen@franchisetimes.com.
 
Nicholas UptonNicholas Upton is restaurants editor at Franchise Times. He can be reached at 612.767.3226, or send story ideas to nupton@franchisetimes.com.
 
Mary Jo LarsonMary Jo Larson is the publisher of Franchise Times Magazine and the Restaurant Finance Monitor.  You can find her on Twitter at
 twitter.com/mlarson1011.
 

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