One of the most commonly asked questions we get is whether we are planning on franchising at Steel City Pops. We have discovered that there are vast numbers of people who are excited about the business and wanting to help spread the concept. We have valued the feedback from business professionals and potential entrepreneurs that have contacted us.
However, after looking at all of the core values of our company and examining our future, we have determined that Steel City Pops will not be franchising, but rather new stores will continue to be company owned. This will allow us to keep our core values in tact and not compromise the aspects that make Steel City Pops unique.
There are four primary driving forces behind our business that make franchising an undesirable choice for us.
As we have grown, customer service has always been the most important aspect of our business. We feel one of the primary reasons for this is that our management teams are hired from within our company. All of our managers have spent a season working within a store prior to managing their own location. Our shop is not something they have invested money in…it is something they have actually invested their time and energy into, so when they take the lead in their own shop, they have a passion money can’t buy. We believe this time spent daily interacting with customers and learning the culture of our company is invaluable. We feel there is no better way to pass along our commitment to serving people well than to do this one-on-one.
Our product is fresh and our process of making pops in small batches, by hand, is an expensive way to operate a food shop. We pay a premium for the finest ingredients we can buy and we do not take shortcuts that would compromise the flavor of our pops. In our shop, you are likely eating a pop made with ingredients harvested within the previous 7 days. This commitment to quality is not possible with a franchise because a shop needs to have margins to pay franchise fees, thus a smaller amount of money spent on quality ingredients (it’s the same reason we can’t sell our product wholesale). A franchise concept would depend too heavily on a large factory to mass produce the quantity and variety of flavors needed. We have even heard of pop shops offering 40 or even more flavors, and that is doable for a factory, but not for a business as committed to quality and freshness as we are. We have heard time and time again that our customers taste the difference. Charging $3 for something mass-produced…we just couldn’t, in good faith, do this.
LOCAL, LOCAL, LOCAL
We also place a high value on the ability to connect with local growers and artisans wherever we open shops. This is one of my favorite parts of owning Steel City Pops. I remember this past year being able to purchase Lasseter Farms entire crop of blueberries….on so many levels this is a huge win. Our customers get the freshest ingredients possible, our local growers are ensuring their crops will be purchased—this is why we do what we do. Additionally, as we expand into new markets, we are able to find locally available ingredients which we can then share with people in other markets…it connects all of our shops with one another and all of our customers with the best ingredients we can find anywhere. This connectivity really goes against the grain of franchise ownership.
As I have said from the beginning of our business, the most important thing we sell in our stores is bottled water. Why? Because $1.30 from each bottle sold (100% of the profit) goes to build clean water wells in India and Africa. In a franchise model, this type of aggressive approach to charitable giving would not be possible, due to profit sharing initiatives we would have with our franchisees. It is important to us to continue donating the maximum amount of resources we can.
In closing, while I know there are many entrepreneurial folks out there who have asked me about franchising our business, I wanted to take the time to share with you why it isn’t a good fit for our company. Yes, a franchise-led business would be very profitable, but for me as a business owner, money is not the most important thing. Sure, it is nice to have some success, but the most rewarding thing about Steel City Pops for my family, and our employees, is that it is a happy place where you can get great food. Each one of our stores shares the things we value the most…we love what we do and love passing that along to our customers everywhere…at the end of the day, that satisfaction and joy is the ultimate win.