When new franchisee Don Heyne was warned by corporate that owning a Ritter's Frozen Custard franchise would be the toughest thing he'd ever do, he dismissed the warning with a chuckle. He had worked on his family's chicken farm, and he doubted anything could be more difficult than that. But Heyne soon understood what they meant: When his manager quit two weeks after being trained, plans for a hassle-free opening of his frozen-treats franchise started melting away.
With no time to hire another manager, Heyne and his wife, Susan, who had a full-time job, armed themselves with scoopers and officially opened the doors during high season in June 2001. "We crawled into bed for basically three to four hours a night for five months straight," says Heyne, who lost 25 pounds as a result. "It was an endurance test."
Although Heyne, 51, can still be found in his Kettering, Ohio, store seven days a week, the once-rocky road has become much smoother. In 2003, he was recognized as Ritter's franchisee of the year. He has found a reliable manager and perfected the operations so the store runs efficiently. And Heyne has not only sweetened the lives of his customers--he has also affected the franchise at large. He was the first franchisee in the four-seasons part of the country to stay open year-round, as well as one of the first to add a drive-up window. Many franchisees have followed his lead. With sales expected to exceed $500,000 in 2006, this kind of influence is just the cherry on top of a great business.