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Juice it up, license to drive

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.

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