From the August 1999 issue of Startups

In 1995, restaurateur and nightclub owner Martin Sprock decided he'd had enough of the night-life scene. While he'd found financial success, the blood, sweat and tears had taken quite a toll on Sprock. Seeking more reasonable working hours--and bigger profits--he decided to take a chance on a fresh and fruity concept and launched Atlanta-based Planet Smoothie in 1995.

Today, the company's centerpiece product, the ever-popular fruit smoothie, has fueled growth of more than 70 franchise locations from Oregon to Florida, as well as in parts of the United Kingdom. These frosty cold beverages are a blend of fruit and yogurt (or fruit and ice, for the calorie-conscious). Considered a meal replacement by some and a snack by others, Planet Smoothie's drinks sport names such as Rasmanian Devil, Count Coconut and Spazz, and are served in an energy-pumping, high-adrenaline atmosphere with optional nutritional supplements such as the company's trademarked Orbit Boosters.

The smoothies appeal not only to fitness freaks who wouldn't dream of eating junk food, but also to those "fighting back the guilt from eating pizza the night before," says Sprock, 34. Rounding out Planet Smoothie's menu are low-fat snacks and Round-A-Bouts, a selection of wrap-like sandwiches shipped to franchisees' locations from the corporate commissary.

Aiming for ease of use, Sprock sought to make the Planet Smoothie franchise concept as simple as its signature product. "We try to make sure [operating procedures] aren't complicated, so franchisees can spend more of their time doing neighborhood marketing," says Sprock. Schmoozing at community events is encouraged. "Each of our franchisees ought to be the `mayor of his or her village.' "

Perhaps the biggest beneficiaries of Planet Smoothie's streamlined operations are its patrons. "Customers like [our approach]," says Sprock, "because it reduces the time they're in the store."

Start-up costs begin at $60,000; the company is seeking franchisees in most major U.S. cities.

Fast Lane

Looking back, Dealer Specialties franchisee John Walters knows he was in the right place at the right time. In 1992, the Raleigh, North Carolina, resident certainly wasn't looking to leave the automobile industry--he'd worked in auto servicing, then sales, for years. But when franchisor Dealer Specialties approached him with a lucrative prospect--helping dealers sell used cars via an innovative marketing concept based on state-of-the-art software--it was an offer the soon-to-be-entrepreneur couldn't refuse.

The Monroe, Ohio-based franchisor creates customized window stickers that give a professional presentation of used vehicles for sale. Similar to the window stickers that list the specs on new cars, the stickers provide detailed data such as make, model and options.

Before Walters signed on the dotted line, he presented the concept to four local dealerships. When they all jumped on the idea, Walters got a personal loan to cover the $25,000 start-up costs, traded in his convertible for a minivan and hit the road.

Doubling his previous salary in the first year alone, Walters brought in 1992 sales topping $80,000. He began hiring employees to work on site so he could focus on his marketing efforts.

Today, his technicians drive to client dealerships once or twice every week. "We sit down in each car with a laptop and list all the equipment and anything special about the vehicle," says Walters, 35. Stickers are then printed and affixed on the spot.

Dealer Specialties' latest innovation? Digital color photos of vehicles for marketing on the Web. "The evolution of the Internet has really driven our business over the past couple of years," says Walters.

Today, Walters' franchise boasts a staff of 18 and a full-time CPA to help him maintain more than 200 accounts in four states. His 1998 sales hit $700,000, and he's poised for sales of $1 million this year.

Dealer Specialties has franchises in 48 states and is seeking new franchisees nationwide. Start-up costs are $25,000.

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