Tropical Smoothie Cafe’s recent momentum isn’t just a snowball rolling downhill—it’s more like a full-on avalanche.
The company, founded in 1997, opened a record-breaking 124 units in 2019 and signed 213 franchise agreements. Over the past three years, the chain has grown by 54.6 percent. Tropical Smoothie has reported same-store sales growth for eight straight years. In the past six years, the company has averaged more than 7 percent comp sales growth. Average-unit volume is at $763,000, the highest in history.
There are over 840 units—all are franchised except for one corporate store—and more than 500 units are in the pipeline. The goal is to reach 1,000 locations by 2021 and 1,500 units and an average unit volume of $1 million in the next five years.
Charles Watson, CEO of Tropical Smoothie Cafe, describes the chain’s culture as franchisee-first, and attributes much of the company’s success to local operators. There are several layers in which the corporate support center conveys its unified message to franchisees. Among these are the franchisee promise (show care, communicate deeply, and drive profitability), the TRUST acronym (Transparent, Responsible, Unique, Service-oriented, and Tenacious), and four core values (fostering relationships, thinking bigger, going all in, and celebrating).
To support franchisees, the brand is working on a learning management system and back-office solution for food and labor costs. Last year, the chain implemented a guest contact center and a tech help desk. There’s also the newly formed Tropical Franchise Council, comprised of 12 of the chain’s most influential franchisees. The council oversees various committees and serves as two-way communication between the corporate support center and franchisees.
“You have to believe in the mission,” Watson says. “You have to believe in the fact that we want to become the most beloved restaurant brand, and we’re going to get there by sharing the fun and craveability of the tropics. If you can’t believe in that, you’re not going to have a great experience with Tropical Smoothie.”
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