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Sweet Success: Starting Up in a Downturn One Candy Bouquet franchisee defies the downturn by doing her homework first

By Mike Werling

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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Thirteen years ago, Mary Jane Allen and her husband, Earnest, decided to sell their trio of nursing care facilities and--though already almost 60 years old--to do something different. But they weren't sure what.

Then a copy of Entrepreneur landed on Allen's kitchen table, courtesy of her son. That issue mentioned a franchise called Candy Bouquet International. Allen was intrigued.

Allen visited a Candy Bouquet franchisee in Mountain Home, Ark., about an hour from her home in Mountain View, spent a few weeks in training and found a storefront on the town square. A few weeks later, she opened her franchise.

One factor that attracted Allen to Candy Bouquet--and one she says applies to franchisees in big cities and small towns alike--is that the stores can look unique, according to an individual owner's desire. "Your store can adapt to the personality of your town," she says. "In urban areas, the personality of the store is different than in Mountain View."

Plus, franchisees have the freedom to have more than candy in their stores. While the mostly custom bouquets provide the "wow" factor, gift boxes and souvenirs are popular items.

A big part of Allen's success over the past few years is due to the "comfort factor" candy offers, and to the fact that it's relatively inexpensive.

The sales figures of a store in Mountain View (pop. 8,000) won't impress a potential franchisee in Los Angeles or Chicago, so Allen presents her numbers this way: Sales have increased every month since she moved to a larger location half a block away three years ago.

"We're in lean economic times," Allen says. "Visitors may not buy jewelry or clothes, but people who come to Mountain View will come to the candy store."

To demonstrate sweets' universal appeal, Allen's sign-in book included names from all 50 states within six months of opening. Since then, shoppers from 40 countries have joined the club. The area's larger-than-expected tourist base helps.

Yet success is not as simple as building it and expecting them to come. Is there a similar store in the area? If so, can you compete? Can you find a location that suits your expected customer base? Allen says if her store were somewhere in town with less foot traffic, she might have struggled to gain traction.

Are you determined to succeed? Do you have enough capital to sustain the business through lean times?

All are good questions to ask before diving into any franchise, even a concept that seems destined for sweet rewards. With more than 440 franchisees worldwide, clearly it's working for many Candy Bouquet owners. "If you treat it with respect and work with determination," Allen says, "it's an excellent way to make a living."

Mike Werling, the managing editor of Sea Magazine, has written for Entrepreneur.com, Senior Market Advisor, Boomer Market Advisor and Broadmoor magazines.

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