I spent many summers at Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, which is where the idea of Sloan’s Ice Cream first originated. During the warm summer days, I found ice cream to be a cool, refreshing treat that my friends and I could all enjoy. I dreamed of a place where candy and toys lined the walls, ice cream flavors were uniquely delicious, and scents of fresh baked cookies and waffle cones wafted through the air. After years of refining my culinary skills at London’s Le Cordon Bleu culinary school, combined with the help of my parents who assisted in the design and artwork creation, my vision became a reality.
Sloan’s Ice Cream, known for its toy-covered walls, colorful décor and delicious sweets, first opened in 1999 in South Florida. As a brand, we began franchising in 2012, and since that time, we’ve grown to eight locations in the United States and recently signed two development deals in the Middle East. These signings will bring the company’s international presence to 10 locations in the next five years. The first Kuwait shop opened in spring 2016, and a Dubai location is being planned as well, set to open its doors to the public summer 2016.
Currently, the enterprise has corporate and franchise shops throughout South Florida and California, which have quickly developed into hot spots for tourists and locals with a sweet tooth. When thinking of how to strategically grow the brand, our team decided to explore international franchise opportunities. After researching available opportunities in the Middle East, the UAE and Kuwait quickly stood out for us as attractive markets.
Many people ask why we decided on the Middle East for our first international expansion. My response: the concept fits the market. Throughout this process, I have learned the importance of figuring out where our model will work best to determine future growth plans. As we launch our presence in Kuwait, here are a few key takeaways I’ve learned from introducing a franchise concept into a foreign market for the first time.
1. THE CONCEPT MUST FIT INTO THE MARKET
It’s extremely important to research potential growth markets, especially new international markets, to ensure the environment and culture is ripe for the concept. For example, restaurant brands need to consider menu item ingredients and availability, interior and exterior architecture and design, operating hours, etc. While researching the Kuwait market, a few things jumped out at us that symbolized that it was the right market for Sloan’s Ice Cream. One component was the central role dessert plays in the dining scene. Similar to the United States, people enjoy gathering with friends and family to indulge in a sweet treat after dinner. Additionally, we found that many stay out late into the night. After the sun goes down, locals take advantage of the cool temperatures that are absent during the high heat days. Seeing that these are peak business hours, we’ve shifted our focus to offer our treats late into the evening hours.
2. STRATEGICALLY CHOOSE FRANCHISE PARTNERS
Often times, numbers bog down franchisors and their development team; they want to grow a certain percentage each year. With this mindset, many franchisors sign franchise partners who may not be a good fit. This approach has shown to play a role in the lack of franchisee satisfaction and eventual turnover rate in the years following. It has always been a priority of ours to vet prospective franchise partners that have values, behaviors and attitudes that mirror ours. As a franchisor, it’s extremely important that I have people in the system that I can work with and who will be compatible with the corporate team. This becomes even more important when searching for franchise partners overseas. It’s much more difficult and expensive to check in on or visit a franchise location in a different country, which is why it’s important to choose a partner that understands the franchise model and has both the desire and skills necessary to replicate it. When opening a concept in an unfamiliar market, we have found that it’s wise to choose a partner who is experienced. Finding one that has established relationships with vendors in the area will make the site selection, design and construction phases much easier.
3. CONSIDER WHAT CHANGES HAVE TO BE MADE TO THE BRAND
Very few concepts can go from one country to another without making any changes. As each market has different cultural norms, it’s important for concepts to identify items that need to be changed in order to make the concept fit the culture. For example, we have a few ice cream flavors that contain alcohol, but since it is prohibited in Kuwait, we have adjusted the ingredient list to not include the same. Another change we have made is adjusting the hours of business. As I touched on above, Kuwait has a latenight culture and we want to make sure the shop is open while the majority of people are still out on the town. Though some of the necessary changes may seem minor, it’s vital for brands to do their due diligence as they venture into launching their business in an international market. For those looking to grow their business internationally it’s important to remember these three main points: take the time to research the market to make sure it’s the right fit, thoroughly vet franchise partner leads, and be open to making changes that will allow the brand to be a welcomed addition to the country.