You can be on Entrepreneur’s cover!

How the CEO of Smoothie King Went From Small-Business Owner to Wearing the Crown Under his leadership, Smoothie King plans to open an additional 125 locations and bring its global storefront tally to 950 in 2017.

By Lydia Belanger

entrepreneur daily

This story appears in the September 2017 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Smoothie King

For most college students, healthy eating goes out the window the minute freshman orientation gets under way. Wan Kim was no exception. He came to the U.S. from South Korea to study and became quickly alarmed at how many calories he was taking in. So Kim started replacing greasy meals with nutrient-rich drinks from Smoothie King and developed a love of the brand's health-focused product. After graduation, Kim returned to South Korea and took his newfound passion with him. In 2003, he opened that country's first-ever Smoothie King, a full 30 years after the brand launched in the U.S. Then he kept opening them. By 2010, he owned more than 100 locations -- but he still wanted more. So he approached founder and then-CEO Steve Kuhnau and made an offer to buy the company.

Related: Prioritizing Health Can Help You and Your Business

They sealed the deal in 2012. Kim took over with a focus on rapid growth, and he hasn't let up: This year, Smoothie King plans to open an additional 125 locations and bring its global storefront tally to 950.

How did you first approach Kuhnau about buying his brand?

I wasn't rude, but I told him, "I really love your mission, and I strongly believe that I'm the one who can carry it through and make it bigger for you." He saw what I had accomplished in Korea. A lot of franchisees, when they first open their businesses, want to change the brand, sell something new, really update the menu. I was very good at understanding and selling the brand's health-driven mission, even though I was in Korea. I think Steve really respected that.

Related: Why I Sold My Subway Shops to Open a Smoothie Franchise

What was the toughest part of transitioning from franchisee to owner?

Making sure execution at every location follows our vision. We want to be an integral part of every customer's health-and-fitness plans and goals. It's critical, and very difficult. People's nutritional needs and wants are different today than they were 20 years ago. We have to deliver what our guests are really looking for, even if the process is hard. Recently, we updated one of our product recipes to make it healthier -- low-calorie, low-sugar. Some of our team and our franchisees were afraid because the taste changed a little, and some customers did react negatively at first. Change is always hard, but when you really believe in the mission, you know what's the right thing to do.

How have you maintained the brand's founding values while pushing the company forward?

We have kept a lot of loyal, longtime employees on our team. In order for us to deliver consistency, we need team members who care about the brand. We're 44 years old. Some people started as part-timers at Smoothie King locations when they were kids, and now they work in training, R&D or operations.

Related: How to Compete in a Crowded Marketplace

The smoothie market keeps getting more crowded. How do you stay competitive?

Juicing companies and other smoothie concepts will come out with a new, exotic fruit smoothie, but we no longer want to compete with just fruit smoothies. That's not our mission. Our founder invented all his smoothies with a purpose in mind, and that's what we're really communicating to stand out. Today, if you look at our menu, we've identified four big purposes and categories: Fitness, Slim, Wellness and Take a Break. Some people want to get leaner, some want to lose weight, some want to maintain their weight. We are coming up with the products that can help them all meet their nutritional goals.

Lydia Belanger is a former associate editor at Entrepreneur. Follow her on Twitter: @LydiaBelanger.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Business News

Walmart Shoppers May Be Eligible for $500 After Settlement

Walmart shoppers who purchased weighted goods or bagged citrus in the U.S. or Puerto Rico from late 2018 through early 2024 might be eligible for a share of a $45 million settlement.

Business News

Total Solar Eclipse 2024 Live Feed: Where, When and How to Watch the 2024 Eclipse

Here's what to know about the total eclipse 2024 and a live stream from NASA.

Business News

Elon Musk Reveals When Tesla Will Release Its First Robotaxi

Tesla's CEO says the fully autonomous Tesla taxi is arriving soon — in 122 days.

Business News

A Look Inside the Company That Is Making $500 Million a Year Serving Italian Beef Sandwiches Made Famous by 'The Bear'

Portillo's CEO Michael Osanloo shares his secret to keeping hungry customers coming back again and again. (Hint: It requires a lot of napkins.)


Use This Simple Strategy to Push Through Limitations in Your Life

On this episode of "The Jeff Fenster Show," guests Chris and Lori Harder share tactics that can help anyone overcome personal and career obstacles.

Celebrity Entrepreneurs

5 Out of This World Songs That Inspire Elon Musk

Fly Musk to the moon. Let him play among the stars.