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Planet Smoothie Franchise Review: Q&A with Karen Hendrix and Kristin Scott

Owners of Planet Smoothie franchise in Suwanee, Georgia, share their story

Kristin Scott and Karen Hendrix

Kristin Scott and Karen Hendrix.

Karen Hendrix and Kristin Scott opened their Planet Smoothie franchise in Suwanee, Georgia, in 2010. The couple wanted to start a business that united their love of the community with their passion for healthy lifestyles. “I wanted to do something that would be good for the community, and for kids,” says Karen, a former teacher. Kristin is a former teacher, too.

This is their story.

What were you doing before you started your Planet Smoothie?
Karen: I had been a high school math teacher years ago, but I quit teaching to raise my kids. I had done a lot of community volunteering and managed some rental property I owned, but I hadn’t been in the business world in quite some time. I could have gone back into teaching, but I wanted to do something completely different that would still benefit the community. Kristin was a kindergarten teacher in Suwanee at the time, and I twisted her arm to make a go of it together.

How did you settle on becoming Planet Smoothie owners?
Karen: I wanted to do something health-oriented. That was my first priority. We both like working out at the gym, and we both love smoothies — so we narrowed it down to gym franchises or food businesses. We liked that a smoothie franchise required a minimal investment and could be really rewarding in the end. We went to an information meeting for potential Planet Smoothie franchise owners in the Atlanta area, and I was very impressed with the leadership and the natural approach to ingredients. Planet Smoothie has the perfect balance of “healthy” and “great-tasting.” I also met other Planet Smoothie owners and liked what I heard.
Kristin: We liked that a smoothie store seemed more low-key and easier to manage than a full-service restaurant.

Are you and Kristin both active in the business?
Karen: Yes. Kristin took a year of absence from her teaching job when we launched the business, and by the end of that year, we could see that the business was going to be successful, so she has been active in the business the whole time.
Kristin: I was fortunate that my school system would hold my position for a year. It was a nice safety net to know that I still had a job if I wanted to go back to it.

So the business has performed the way you hoped?
Kristin: Yes. We have had growth every single year, and this year we have seen significant growth every single month. We are established in the community. I think our business will increase the longer we are here. We stay really involved in all of the schools in the community. We get to know families, and we take smoothies to schools for kids to try. We also give the schools reward certificates that they can give the kids for free smoothies. When you have kids who taste smoothies for the first time, they go home and tell their parents about us, and they wind up coming back to the store with whole family. We also sponsor school teams by providing smoothies for banquets or for after practice at big discounts. Once they try our smoothies, we become the place people want to come. We love that, and parents love it because it is so much healthier than other options.

So health trends affect your business?
Karen: They do. For the past few years, the trends are for people to get more greens into their diets. The trend toward healthier eating, combined with our community efforts, have helped our sales increase. We go to health fairs and hand out smoothie samples. We go to a lot of 5Ks and 10Ks near our store and give samples to people after the race is over. We market ourselves to people who are already trying to be fit.

Do you feel like Planet Smoothie keeps up with trends?
Kristin: They do a really good job of that.

What value do you get by being part of the Planet Smoothie franchise?
Karen: There are a lot of good things about franchising. If you don’t know about starting a business in a particular industry, the franchisor can train you, let you know how to train employees and give you systems to run your business. Beyond that, you have help in terms of buying power. They negotiate prices nationwide, so we have much lower prices for our goods. Our franchisor is extremely good about using marketing dollars to help us get the word out about Planet Smoothie in the community and nationwide. I’ve heard of people in other franchise systems, and I know that it isn’t always as good as what we have. Our team does everything they can to help us be more successful.

Planet Smoothie received new leadership in late 2011. How has the franchise changed?
Kristin: It is better. We are seeing a lot more of our royalty dollars being put to good use. They have helped us cut costs in a lot of ways, and they have also helped us advertise — not just nationwide, but locally, too. We’ve been invited to opt in to local newspaper advertisements, and the franchisees who opted in have seen significant growth during the weeks the advertisements were available.

The communication is much better, too. Those have been really positive changes. They are also very, very interested in what the franchisees have to say. Recently we participated in a flavor camp where we worked on the flavors we would offer for the next year as quarterly promotions. We turned in the recipes we wanted to test, and they put together recommendations. It’s nice to know your opinion is very important to them.

What do you like about the business?
Karen: You are working for yourself, and you get to see the results from your hard work. And it’s a really, really positive environment. When you are serving smoothies, your customers are coming in for a treat that is healthy, and they are in a good mood. You get to know your customers, and you just feel like you are making people’s lives a little bit better. It’s hard to be in a bad mood when you are around smiling people and you’re helping them do good for themselves! It’s easier to talk to people and be cheerful, and you are helping people do good for themselves.

Also, you can be flexible when you own your own business. When you need to take off, you can take off.

What is a normal day like for you?
Karen: We generally are both here from 8 a.m. to 3 or 4 p.m. The store is open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Typically one of us will open the store, then the other will be in an hour later. I may open a few days a week, and she may open a few days a week.

Kristin is very organized and schedules employees. I tend to work on the books. There are other things we are pretty evenly split on, whether it is ordering or doing work in the back of the shop. We can both do pretty much anything for the business. We both really enjoy talking to customers. That part is easy. We spend equal amounts of time getting to know and talking to people.

When we’re not at the store, we love going on hikes, traveling and hanging out with family.

How many employees do you have?
Karen: Eight during the summer — all part-time, then we cut back after September.

Who do you look for?
Kristin: Students who can carry on a great conversation, who are friendly and who are flexible with their time and willing to stay a little later if it is really busy. We always get compliments that all of our girls are so sweet.

Karen, do any of your kids work in the store?
Karen: My youngest works in the store with us, and I have a son who worked with us and is now in college. It’s really good, because we can teach them about responsibility and customer service for their jobs.

What makes for a successful Planet Smoothie franchisee?
Karen: I think it would have to be someone with a great personality who loves interacting with other people, and who is driven. You can’t just hope people will come into your store, you have to get out there and be active in the community.

Were there any hurdles you had to overcome to open your store or after opening?
We built our store. We’re in Town Center, which has a big amphitheatre, a park, city hall, businesses and neighborhoods. It’s a community gathering space with festivals and a lot of traffic. It’s connected to a greenway. It’s lovely and perfect for our store.

We knew we needed to be there, and Planet Smoothie had a building supervisor who worked with us very closely on the buildout. We had a great builder who was able to get us in the spot by May, which is when a lot of events start happening in the park — radio station concerts, arts and crafts festivals, movie nights and Braves nights (when Atlanta Braves games are shown on a movie screen in the park). It stays pretty busy.

What was the biggest challenge?
Karen: One of the biggest challenges was figuring out how many employees we needed and how much time we needed to spend in the store. The first summer we had too many employees, and we had to figure out how to balance our staffing and our own time commitment so that the store’s numbers were where we wanted them to be. We also had to work out how to help employees become more efficient. You can’t just hire a lot of employees, walk away and just check on the store occasionally. You need to be the person who sets the example for your employees. And your customers want to see you in there, too.

What kind of customers does your Planet Smoothie stores draw?
Kristin: We have a pretty wide range. We get a lot of moms and kids, but also a pretty good weekday business clientele that pops in for lunch. We get people stopping in after a run or after working out at a nearby gym. Thanks to all of the events in the park, we have a busy weekend crowd, too.

What has owning a Planet Smoothie allowed you to do with your life? Has it helped meet your financial goals or given you more flexibility?
Karen: It does give you more flexibility. Financially, how much you get out depends on how much you put in, because the more you are willing to work, the more you can keep labor costs down. It was a little bit tight for us starting out, but we have learned how to manage things really well, and we have definitely seen financial benefits.

Would you recommend Planet Smoothie to someone thinking about starting a business?
Karen: I really would. Planet Smoothie has come a long way, even in just the four years I have been involved. I see the industry continuing to grow, and Planet Smoothie as a franchise is doing a great job of staying on top of the demand and growing the franchise. The more they grow, the more name recognition we have, which is great for everyone.