Planet Smoothie Franchise Review: Q&A with Heidi Bedell
Learn why a U.S. Naval Academy graduate with an MBA from Harvard chose Planet Smoothie
Heidi Bedell was one of many Americans who took a monetary blow after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Following an education in the Naval Academy and at Harvard, where she earned her MBA, Heidi was destined for a big banking career at Merrill Lynch. She was hired Sept. 5, 2001, only to lose her job two months later.
A newfound career in hospitality brought her to the Orlando area two months after getting laid off. There in Orlando, she eventually met her husband and stumbled across a Planet Smoothie franchise.
Heidi now plans on retiring early as she winds down her successful career in hotel management. She already opened her Planet Smoothie franchise and says that it’s been a big hit in the community.
What were you doing before?
Until March I’ll still be working with Starwood Hotels & Resorts. I have oversight of the Sheraton, Westin, W Hotels, St. Regis and the Meridian Hotels. I work in their vacation ownership division here in Orlando and manage the resort development group. I have architects and builders, and I oversee projects all over the States and in Mexico.
I will keep my manager running day-to-day Planet Smoothie franchise operations. Planet Smoothie will help me make the transition between work and retirement more easily. I’ve been with Starwood Hotels for 14 years, and I am ready to retire from the corporate phase of my life. I’m taking a year off, enjoying early retirement, focusing on strategy with Planet Smoothie, and growing the business. I’m confident that it will bring me some steady income.
I was originally in the Navy and went to the US Naval Academy in Annapolis. I served six years after graduation. After my service I transitioned to business school. I got my MBA at Harvard, and I was going to have a big banking career. I started a job at Merrill Lynch on Sept. 5, 2001. Six days later, 9/11 derailed that plan. I had $100,000 in debt from Harvard, and two months later I was let go along with most of my peers. I had to get creative with opportunities. Someone told me about ownership for a timeshare company in Orlando.
I started the interview process and the next thing I knew I was living in Orlando and working for Starwood. It ended up being the best thing that ever happened to me. I love Florida, the company and the job. I’ve had a Navy career, a world-class education and Wall Street training. I’m a corporate VP with Starwood. And now with my franchise opportunity I can take all those skills — finance, marketing, HR, sales, operations, process improvement — and apply them on a smaller scale. All those things I love and completely own.
How did you first learn about Planet Smoothie?
We were living in Hunter’s Creek, about 30 minutes from where we currently live, and were fans of the product. When I knew we were moving to Lake Nona I asked if there was a Planet Smoothie there. There wasn’t. That’s how I got the idea in my head.
As a customer, I am a massive multitasker and I love being able to eat on the run and in my car. I also have a massive sweet tooth. A Planet Smoothie product tastes good, and it’s a bonus that it is good for you. You can call it in, pick it up and go. Now, as an owner, I have one or two smoothies a day. I have lost five pounds since I owned my store.
Do you have a business partner or someone who is critical to helping you run your business?
My manager is strictly an employee, but she is almost like a business partner in that she is extraordinarily overqualified. She has 10 years of experience in the business and a degree from Penn State. She is extremely bright and incredible with the employees. We have this understanding that she would eventually like to open her own business, so I treat her like a business partner and she treats me the same way.
My husband, Darren Bedell, is also critical in my business. We joke that he is my handyman. He is largely a silent partner, but he’ll dress up as a mascot from time to time. His day job is rocket science for NASA.
How was the opening process?
I was very fortunate to have Jason Mann, a phenomenal Area Developer, who held my hand from day one. He has a lot of experience and such a strong network. I felt I had such strong backing. The corporate team, a small, but very mighty team, helped me a lot, too. It went pretty darn smoothly.
For me, personally, it was tough having a day job. My manager didn’t come onboard immediately. If I had to do it over again, I probably would have brought her on earlier. During the three months before opening, I probably got four hours of sleep a night. The actual opening was a dream, though. The business model took over. It was phenomenally successful. I think we were all shocked over how strong the market was. Lake Nona is a new and thin market. A lot of franchise companies are afraid to open there right now. It’s an up-and-coming market. We expected it to be slow for the first year or two, but it was incredibly busy on the first day. The whole community has been so welcoming.
October, November and December are the cold, dark months. We have seen a drop in volume, but relative to everybody else, we are still doing very well. I’m very optimistic. We are profitable.
Were there any hurdles you had to overcome?
There were some things I found myself doing at midnight the week before opening and wondering why I was doing this so late in the process. It was largely out of ignorance that I didn’t do such things earlier. There was no reason to crush myself in the last couple weeks. Do things as early in advance as possible.
What sets Planet Smoothie apart from other smoothie companies?
I have worked with enough other teams and businesses to know Planet Smoothie has the right talent and chemistry. At the end of the day, it is all about the people and talent and how effectively they work together. The people I have interacted with — Peter, Deidra, Donna, Kurt, Jade and Jason — when I think of how effectively they work together, I am impressed and grateful. Planet Smoothie has a phenomenal culture, and it comes from how unified they are. That is what I think their competitive advantage is — how well they work together as a team. It inspires confidence. And they are professional, but they seem to have fun. That sets a tone for everyone.
What do you like most about owning and operating a Planet Smoothie?
I surprised myself because I am a natural introvert, but when I’m in the store I really enjoy interacting with guests, and it feels natural. I enjoy interacting with the staff and mentoring the younger generations.
I think a lot of people have a romantic notion of owning their own business. This has fulfilled that notion for me, and it is every bit as wonderful as I had hoped it would be. The other aspect I have found enjoyable is interacting with the other owners.
The camaraderie, respect and mutual support have been great. In the three months I have been open, I have met with the leadership team, but I have also interacted quite a bit via email and phone calls. They are very accessible.
What kind of customers do your Planet Smoothie stores draw?
Lake Nona for a long time was a sleepy neighborhood and not very densely populated, but with the establishment of a medical complex, a children’s hospital, a Veterans Administration complex, a college of medicine and a research institute — there’s been a wave of development. And the United States Tennis Association moved from New York to Lake Nona. The area is now up and coming and going gangbusters.
The customers come from different demographics. Orlando tends to bring in a lot of snowbirds. There are seniors with money, and plenty of families with kids. We’re very popular with high schoolers, as well as parents with young children. The potential is there. Firemen, policemen, teachers, bikers and runners were all here on opening day.