The Big Chill

Chill Out

In addition to co-branding, another fresh trend in the smoothie industry is decreasing in-store square footage or implementing kiosk and cart concepts. For 17 years, Maui Wowi Marketing Inc., based in Englewood, Colorado, has offered tropical-themed, maintenance-free kiosks that can be rolled into any special event, festival or venue. "We provide everything you need to make a go of this," says Michael Haith, 37, president and CEO of Maui Wowi. "We teach the business from the ground up, like how to deal with all the administration, and we connect you with the people who will help you locally."

Maui Wowi franchisees have taken their carts up and down the sun-drenched coasts of Australia, selling smoothies on the beaches; college students have set them up in their student unions, operating the kiosks with friends. The idea is to go where people gather. Using the Internet as its main marketing tool, Maui Wowi is slowly expanding nationwide, offering entry-level investments (one cart, unprotected location) as low as $12,950 and standard franchises (three carts, protected territory and events) at $54,450. The franchise fee and equipment add to the cost of an initial start-up.

Kris Nieb in Denver discovered Maui Wowi while working for a catering company at an event where one of the kiosks was located. Nieb's boss was so impressed with the concept, he became part owner of Maui Wowi, and Nieb began working at one of the kiosks. He found it so fun and easy, he wanted to do it on his own. In 1998, with personal savings and some financial assistance from Maui Wowi, Nieb purchased his own kiosk.

Now with three carts, Nieb travels nationwide, working weekends and spending his weekdays being a 21-year-old kid. Without a suit and tie or a 9-to-5 routine, Nieb generated $75,000 in sales last year. "I've always told myself that if I could have a job wearing shorts and Birkenstocks, I'd be happy," says Nieb. He had no business background, but Maui Wowi taught Nieb the ins and outs of operations, from finding good locations and produce managers to finding the best bananas for the best price.

In the new millennium, do smoothies have a place on the upper echelon of the fast-food ladder? You betcha. "Consumers want a place they can swing by and get a product that's convenient, healthy and great-tasting," says Martin Sprock, 34, president and CEO of franchisor Planet Smoothie Inc. in Atlanta. And that demand has thus far been fulfilled only by the smoothie--a fulfillment that will surely alter future dictionary editions, solidifying a proper term for the much-loved blended fruit beverage.

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This article was originally published in the March 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: The Big Chill.

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