Posted on Apr 28, 2011
How Two Sisters Started a Frozen Yogurt Franchise in the Midst of a Personal Crisis
The Yogurtini frozen yogurt franchise system is a fast-growing frozen yogurt chain inspired by entrepreneurial siblings Natasha and Chelsey Nelson. Based in Tempe, Arizona, Yogurtini employs an innovative self-serve model featuring real yogurt, creative flavors, and unique toppings -- a combination drawing generous attention from frozen yogurt lovers and media outlets alike. In fact, the franchise was a recent nominee for “Best Frozen Yogurt” by the Phoenix Times.
The Yogurtini system has 8 locations today, with 30 new franchised units under contract. We interviewed co-founder Natasha Nelson to learn more about her personal journey and to better understand the Yogurtini frozen yogurt franchise opportunity.
In one sentence, what is the Yogurtini franchise concept all about?
Creating a fun and different experience every time a customer comes through the door to create their own favorite self- serve frozen yogurt concoction, just like you would your favorite martini.
There are endless options when it comes to choosing a franchise category. What inspired you to enter the highly competitive food category, and what did you believe was lacking in the frozen yogurt segment in particular?
When my sister and I came to our hometown of Tempe, AZ in 2007 and couldn’t find ANY self-serve concepts, we saw a niche in the market not being filled. Yogurtini was the first frozen yogurt franchise concept in the entire Phoenix area. We also felt there were a lot of flavors and toppings lacking. My sister Chelsey is the flavor innovator. We were the first store to create the Acai Berry frozen yogurt (a very common flavor now). We try to stay ahead of the trend. Frozen yogurt has also changed so much in the last ten years. All yogurt is not created equal: Yogurtini yogurt is held at a high standard and is real yogurt; the live cultures and healthy bacteria exceed the National Yogurt Association’s standards.
When did you realize the Yogurtini concept was likely to be a success?
The day we opened. My sister and I looked at the register and we had already passed our personal goals mid-day on day one.
Why did you decide to expand the Yogurtini footprint through franchising?
When we had an overwhelming response by customers who wanted to buy a Yogurtini franchise. Many people didn’t believe my sister and I had created the design and concept; they thought we had bought a franchise. We knew there was demand for a self-serve concept with a little bit of our style and design and a top quality product.
What types of professionals (franchise lawyers, accountants, sales executives, etc.) did you consult in the creation of your franchise program?
We started with a consultant group out of Irvine, CA. They led us in the right direction for planning our budgets, preparing our timelines and getting us in touch with the right people to build a team with. We put together an amazing team of franchise lawyers, general counsel, accountants, sales and operations execs who had long histories of franchising experience.
What are some signs that indicate a candidate could be a great franchisee for the Yogurtini system?
Someone who is as passionate about our brand and product as we are. Even if you have never been in the food service industry, our franchise system doesn’t have a lot of moving parts. I think it is a great first entry into your own business.
What are some red flags that suggest a potential franchisee may be a poor fit for the Yogurtini system?
Little financial backing. We do try to lead those who are interested in the right direction to obtain franchise financing.
You experienced a personal crisis just as you were launching your business, but pushed forward anyway, juggling both professional and personal commitments for quite some time. What made you switch gears and realize that you had to delegate some of your responsibilities?
After my sister and I started Yogurtini we found out our mom was diagnosed with a terminal illness. The doctors prepared us to expect to watch her go through a long and painful time. My sister and I made a pact, we were in it to win it, and our mom wouldn’t have it any other way. Because my sister Chelsey and I do spend a lot of time care giving for our mother we have built an amazing team around us and have forced ourselves to delegate responsibilities. There is no micro managing at Yogurtini.
For someone else in your shoes - that is, someone hoping to go into business for themselves but with things less than perfect in their personal life - what advice would you offer?
Honestly, it wasn’t easy and there were times I doubted myself. If you know yourself well enough that you know you can make it through it, even if everyday you are not at 100%, go for it. Also, have a support team. The people in my life who I didn’t expect to help me came out of the woodworks and really did help! Helping me with making meals for my mom, calling me frequently with support and encouragement -- my friends made a big difference. I also wouldn’t have been able to do it without the support of my sister and father behind me as well.
For entrepreneurs who feel they don’t have people to whom they can delegate many responsibilities during a crisis, what approach would you suggest for balancing the competing demands of work and life?
I can tend to get a little ADD in my work. I make myself change locations to concentrate on work when I need to. I have to separate my personal and work life as much as possible. For example, I can’t respond to e-mails while I am spending time with my mom.
As a minority, did you encounter any particular challenges or barriers to the success of your franchise concept? If so can you describe those challenges and how you overcame them?
It may have been a challenge but we didn’t know it. Being a minority never really crossed our minds as a barrier. I think many times those barriers can exist in our head if we let them. I think people in the industry were more shocked by our young age. If anything was a barrier it was that, but I think we overcame that as soon as we had the chance to talk about our company, our experience, our ideas and the fact that we were not letting anyone stop us from doing this business.
If Yogurtini continues at this impressive pace, we may have a new candidate to include in our next list of the best franchises for women!
This interview was conducted by FranchiseHelp.com contributor Christy Harvey. Christy earned her B.A. in Political Science from Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Alabama, and recently completed her MBA studies. A world traveler and avid blogger always on the lookout for new experiences, Christy has worked for BET, as a contract federal investigator, as a social media consultant, and as a contributor for examiner.com, the triond network, and Demand Studios.
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