Tropical Smoothie Cafe targets 1,500 units by 2025

Kerry Pipes | Franchise Update Media | Read the full article here.

Charles Watson

You might think of Charles Watson as a Tropical Smoothie Cafe Renaissance man. Hired in 2010 to serve as vice president of franchise development, he went on to serve as the brand’s chief development officer, interim CEO, and in 2018 was named CEO. He’s one of the most tenured employees at the company and played a key role in launching the brand’s development and franchise sales team a decade ago. Today, his role as CEO finds him responsible for the brand’s strategic vision and overall performance.

Under his leadership the fast-casual cafe concept has grown to more than 900 locations in more than 40 states. Also known as TSC, the company not only weathered the pandemic in 2020, it turned in a record-breaking year in terms of franchise sales, signing 250 new agreements, 70%
of them to existing franchisees; opened 98 new cafes; and has a full pipeline going into 2021. TSC also hit a major milestone by opening its 900th location in November.

Coming up through the TSC system, Watson says he was fortunate to have built strong relationships with both the franchisees and corporate team. That’s important, he says, because one of the brand’s core values is: Relationships Rule. “I consistently work to incorporate that into my leadership style. The best conversations and, ultimately, decisions are driven by trusting and personal relationships. We are all in this together and our success is built on our relationships.”

As a first-time CEO, Watson says he’s had to learn to view the business from a thinking versus a doing perspective. “It was not possible for me to get involved in every project, so I had to learn to let go and delegate,” he says. “We are a better company when I let leaders lead and when we make decisions as an aligned group.” What’s next for Watson as he guides TSC in 2021? “Our goal as a brand is to reach 1,500 cafes in the next 5 years with franchisees who average $1 million in sales,” he says. With the collaboration of the TSC corporate team and the franchisees, whom he calls the heart of the brand, Watson thinks it can be sooner than that.

“Those franchisees help my team and me identify the right path forward for the brand and then we execute, or chop wood as I call it, day in and day out. If you do that long enough, success is inevitable.”

LEADERSHIP

What is your role as CEO? I was named permanent CEO of Tropical Smoothie Cafe in December 2018 after being interim CEO for 6 months, but I had been with TSC for more than a decade at the time. As one of the most tenured employees, I helped launch the brand’s development and franchise sales team more than 10 years ago. Now, as CEO, I’m responsible for the brand’s strategic vision and overall franchise performance.

Describe your leadership style. At a high level, the roles I focus on in my position are brand strategy/direction and people—call it Chief Strategy Officer and Chief People Officer—for both TSC employees and franchisees. As I mentioned, Relationships Rule is a core value for our brand that I
consistently work to incorporate into my leadership style. The best conversations and, ultimately, decisions are driven by trusting and personal relationships. To me, this allows us to know one another not just as colleagues or business associates, but as people. Once that foundation is built,
amazing things can happen. I am available to all franchisees at any time. They have my email and cell phone number. We are all in this together and our success is built on our relationships.


What has inspired your leadership style? Like many others, I’m a big proponent of Patrick Lencioni’s 5 Dysfunctions of a Team. And like him, I firmly believe that trust is the most important element of a successful brand, so much so that it’s the foundation of our culture. We use TRUST as an acronym: Transparent, Responsible, Unique, Service-oriented, Tenacious. Each of these words
represents what we, as individuals, should bring to our brand every day. TRUST is at the core of what we do. I am also a history buff and look to George Washington, Ulysses S. Grant, and Winston Churchill for inspiration, especially given the myriad challenges they came through to lead under
incredible duress.

What is your biggest leadership challenge? As a first-time CEO, learning to view the business from a thinking versus a doing mentality was a challenge. The success of our brand is about the talent and drive of our executives and support center team. It was not possible for me to get involved in every project, so I had to learn to let go and delegate. Again, it’s trust in the team and giving them the autonomy they need to lead our brand. We are a better company when I let leaders lead, and when we make decisions as an aligned group.

How do you transmit your culture from your office to front-line employees? At TSC, all but one of our cafes are franchisee-owned, so the success of the brand is 99.9% driven by the franchisees. With one corporate-owned location, we have to rely on our relationships with our franchisees and our communication channels to get a great sense of unit-level issues. To do that efficiently and effectively we have set up a system of committees across the business led by a franchisee council. I am eternally grateful for this franchisee involvement and commitment to the brand. It gives me the feedback I need daily to make decisions in the best interests of the brand in its entirety. Driving our culture to the crew members and franchisees is done through co-op meetings, system webinars, our convention, and frequent communications, just to name a few.

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