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Planet Smoothie Franchise Review: Q&A with Mark Yurco

Longtime Planet Smoothie franchise owner Mark Yurco says that he and his customers are living healthier lifestyles with all-natural ingredients and satisfying meal replacements.

Mark Yurco didn’t have restaurant or retail experience before owning a smoothie franchise. Instead, he was in construction. His brother, however, had plenty of good things to say as a Planet Smoothie franchisee, and after doing his homework, Mark decided to join Planet Smoothie, too, 15 years ago.

PS / Mark Yurco

Mark’s two stores are a family affair. His 12-year-old daughter joins him behind the counter and is already learning entrepreneurial skills! Plus, Mark says, at the end of the day, you get to smell like strawberries instead of fry grease.

Mark couldn’t be happier with his choice. Instead of hanging off of houses and installing gutters, he operates two Planet Smoothie franchises near Atlanta in Athens, Georgia. He is also living proof of the health benefits that Planet Smoothie offers. In only 90 days, the smoothie franchise owner says he lost 60 pounds by making his own products a big part of his meal plans.

This is his story.

What did you do before owning a Planet Smoothie?

I was in the construction business for four years.

How did you first learn about Planet Smoothie?

From my brother. He had purchased a Planet Smoothie years ago. I bought the two Planet Smoothies I own now from my brother and corporate. The one I bought from my brother is in the same location today; the other one I moved to a new location about two years ago.

What made you want to open a Planet Smoothie?

When I researched the company, it piqued my interest. The quality of the product was much better than competitors’. We focus on whole fruit and natural products, instead of syrup and sugar. It was the health content of the product that attracted me. Also, I didn’t have to climb 40-foot ladders all day anymore.

Do you have a business partner or someone who is crucial to helping you run your business?

No, and I had absolutely no restaurant or retail experience before this. I took a step back and figured, “Hey, if someone else can do this, I can, too.” Don’t get me wrong, there were quite a few late nights, and I worked a lot of hours learning the business. Now it’s second nature.

How do health trends affect your business?

It has a fair impact. We have a good product. Ninety-five percent of our customer base here in Athens uses it as a meal replacement.

Do you feel that Planet Smoothie keeps up with trends?

Yes, the company that bought us in 2011 is good about that. (The Planet Smoothie franchise system was purchased and added a new management team in 2011.) They’re pretty quick. With a lot of this stuff, I think they’re ahead of the trends. The direction they are taking us is something I’ve never seen before.

For example, on Dec. 29, we opened a line of cleansing smoothies called Revive, Recharge, and Rebuild. These new smoothies, offered for a limited time, are Lemon Cayenne Kick, Cucumber Cooler and Berry Builder. That’s something we have never done before. They’ve also introduced Greek yogurt smoothies — a lot of companies haven’t been doing that. They started using a product called LeanLeaf, which uses stevia and agave as opposed to sugar or artificial sweetener. This is a botanical, natural sweetener.

Another way they have been ahead of the trend is their top-notch marketing. It’s modern and vibrant.

Planet Smoothie franchisees tap into an experienced corporate marketing team that researches trends, helps develop new limited-time products and also provides graphic design templates franchisees can use for local marketing. / Mark Yurco

Planet Smoothie franchisees tap into an experienced corporate marketing team that researches trends, helps develop new limited-time products and also provides graphic design templates franchisees can use for local marketing.

What sets Planet Smoothie apart?

We made our holiday smoothies with pure, 100 percent pumpkin. We try to find natural ingredients. Even if it’s at a higher cost to us, we want to make sure we have the most natural product.

People really do notice; they’re reading more labels every day, and that’s something we encourage. Probably once or twice a week, I’ll invite a customer to come behind the counter and see what we really put into our smoothies. You make it right in front of them.

We started putting leafy greens into our smoothies. I started making them for myself. You can put spinach into any smoothie. It doesn’t change the taste, but it adds nutritional value. The CEO (Peter Holt) came to my store and said it was a great thing to encourage nationwide.

What makes for a successful Planet Smoothie franchisee?

That candidate must be someone who has a passion for selling a healthy, wholesome product. You go to bed knowing that you did something good for somebody, instead of selling them a sugary drink.

You want to be involved in your business and be behind the counter for awhile. It makes a big difference. I’m pretty much in my store every day. The nice thing about our business is that you go home at the end of the day smelling like strawberries, rather than having that greasy, French fry smell.

Were there any hurdles you had to overcome to open your store or after opening?

One of the biggest hurdles was introducing what our product actually was to our customers — that they were getting whole fruit and not just sugar. This differentiates us from any other smoothie place in our area. You have to educate people on the difference.

Getting out in the community is a hurdle. You have to make the time to do it. It’s such a fun, upbeat environment when you get out. We’re in a college town. The biggest thing we tend to do is contact fraternities and sororities that do events or 5k runs. You don’t have to seek events, they come to us. It’s amazing what word of mouth does. We end up turning a lot of event managers away; we can’t do them all. But that’s good because we get to pick and choose which events work best for us.

Sometimes, we go to local banks or even door-to-door with samples. Having people sample your product is more cost effective. Putting a sample — instead of a coupon — in someone’s hand works a lot better.

What do you like most about owning and operating a Planet Smoothie?

Our customers are great. We have an upscale customer base, and it’s rewarding to know that we’re selling a good product.

It’s also made a huge difference in my life. I drink three smoothies every day. I substituted my meals for protein smoothies, and I lost 60 pounds in 90 days. It was a healthy weight loss. I wasn’t feeling drained or tired. Our employees are allowed to have a free smoothie during a shift. They always drink it. They know the good nutrition they’re getting out of it.

Screen Shot 2015-02-02 at 12.16.37 PM / mark yurco

Mark Yurco incorporated Planet Smoothie protein smoothies in his successful weight loss efforts.

The income is also pretty good.

What are the biggest challenges?

I can’t think of a challenge. It’s such an easy concept. If you have stress in this business, then you’re doing something wrong.

What kind of customers do you draw?

People who read labels and want to know what they’re putting into their bodies. There are some people who are overweight and are looking at it as a way to lose some pounds. A lot of that has to do with our Blast products, which are supplements you can add to the smoothies.

What has owning a Planet Smoothie allowed you to do with your life?

It has helped me with my financial goals now that I have it down to a science. I’m still in my stores every day, but I spend more time with my family now. Sometimes I have my family with me at work. It’s a great opportunity for kids to learn a business and have it as their first job. Your kids learn how to work a business and earn some money, instead of simply being handed money.

Would you recommend Planet Smoothie to someone thinking about starting a business?

I would because of the income potential and because of the opportunity to serve healthy products. That’s what people are looking for with the obesity epidemic in America. If you’re looking for something easy to learn, I can’t think of anything better.

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