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Sweet Franchise Opportunities: Interview with Tim Casey, CEO of TCBY and Mrs. Fields Cookies

What is it like to lead an international franchise business in hotly-trending industries? FranchiseHelp interviewed Tim Casey,CEO of Mrs. Fields Famous Brands, LLC, which owns TCBY and Mrs. Fields. He discusses recent trends in the frozen yogurt franchise industry, new developments for TCBY and Mrs. Fields, and his plans for expansion. Read on to see how a decades-old franchisor adapts to new tastes but keeps its title as one of the largest retailers of fresh-baked cookies and the top retailer of soft-serve frozen yogurt.

FranchiseHelp: How has the growth of the frozen yogurt space impacted TCBY? What are your plans to compete?

Tim Casey: TCBY is continually evolving to always be relevant and compelling to customers. The growth in the frozen yogurt industry reflects the demand from customers and indicates a growing marketplace for healthier frozen treat options, which is very positive for TCBY.

Because we have 30 years of experience as the largest frozen yogurt concept, our size allows us to provide services to franchisees that smaller brands don’t have the resources to provide. We are only as successful as each of our individual franchises are, so it is of utmost importance that we offer a service model, economic model and brand model that are appealing and profit generating for our franchisees.

FH:With consumers being more health-conscious, how have both brands (Mrs. Fields and TCBY) been able to keep up growth?

TC: TCBY is very committed to health and wellness, which is why we have a doctor of dairy science in house. He is able to stay on top of consumer trends and develops our products to reflect the needs of the consumer. Our product development is very proprietary in nature. In 2010 we launched our new frozen yogurt classification called “Super Fro-Yo,” which is the healthiest frozen yogurt product available in the market. We will soon be introducing other category advances, including a self-serve Greek yogurt.

With Mrs. Fields we are always evaluating our core recipe to ensure we stay true and pure to Debbi’s recipe. (Debbi Fields is the Founder of Mrs. Fields.) Our key product distinguishers are high quality, gourmet taste and natural ingredients. We are continually innovating and exploring other product offerings, such as gluten free, ancient grains and organic.

FH: With Mrs. Fields being very mall-focused, and considering the decline in mall traffic with the growth of online shopping, are you considering expanding into new locations or settings?

TC: We are actually seeing positive gains in mall traffic again. Malls are constantly working to keep consumers interested. While our mall model is still a big part of our business, we are also working on an evolution of the Mrs. Fields brand that will allow us to develop in a more traditional retail setting.

FH: What do you see in the near future for the ice cream/frozen yogurt industry and for the baked goods area (cookies, cupcakes)?

TC: For TCBY, we are capitalizing on the fastest-growing yogurt trend — Greek yogurt. TCBY is the first national yogurt train to develop a frozen Greek yogurt that will maintain the heritage of flavor and health aspects of our Super Fro-Yo. Another trend in the frozen yogurt category is products for consumers who are lactose intolerant, which we are addressing by developing a frozen yogurt product that has a coconut or almond milk base. Overall, we are continuing to innovate and to specifically develop ways to further fortify our Super Fro-Yo, which is completely unique in the marketplace.

We still see a tremendous and growing market for more indulgent sweet treats. Our Mrs. Fields brand continues to evolve to meet the consumer demand.

FH: How and how often do you get ideas for new products/offerings/flavors from franchisees or customer demand? What's the time frame for a new product from development to franchisee roll-out?

TC: TCBY is completely tapped into the culinary world to ensure we are offering flavors and products that are on trend and in demand. Our franchise team and branding expert work closely with our in-house development team led by our dairy scientist to update our proprietary formula and to pursue new product offerings in the marketplace. Since we have our own working development lab, we have the ability to heavily involve our franchisees in the process to make certain our products will be successful in the stores.

FH: What are some of the most important skills or traits that successful franchisees need? What professional or other backgrounds do you find most common in your franchisees?

TC: We are very fortunate to have a network of franchisees who share our same core values and business acumen. Our relationship with our franchisees is a partnership, and we approach it that way. We believe the most important traits for our franchisees to possess are business experience and success, financial stability, a philosophy centered on customer service and quality, and a passion for the brand. A majority of our franchisees have a breadth of entrepreneurial experience, which has helped them develop the skills necessary to run their own franchise.

FH: What are your growth plans for TCBY and Mrs. Fields?

TC: TCBY continues to experience solid growth. With our new self-serve model and branding introduced last year, we have experienced a tremendous influx of new stores opening and we see even bigger opportunities in 2012. We offer our franchisees an economic model that is compelling and profitable and that keeps us in the position of leading the industry. Through our ongoing communication with our customers, we have a level of insight that empowers us to deliver what is in demand. Our plans are to continue to build on our successes. For example, we are currently in a growth spurt in one of our key markets — Texas. In 2011, we announced a strategic 200-store expansion in the great state that will occur during the next 10 years. This expansion alone represents more than double the total locations of most frozen yogurt competitors, adding to TCBY’s more than 380 locations.

We are working on an evolution of Mrs. Fields to offer more options for our customers and franchisees. We are developing an off-mall strategy to develop our locations in more traditional pieces of real estate. This will enable the brand to extend its reach and to increase accessibility for customers.

FH: As an international franchise, what are some of your best tips and advice for other franchisors looking to grow into a global system?

TC: One is make sure you have your distribution strategy solved and refined to best support your internal franchisee system. This is one of the most critical operational issues for your business, as it is at the core of managing your cost of goods. My second piece of advice is to make certain that your franchisees provide their vision of brand as it relates to their specific marketplace. Since more and more businesses are internationally based, it is strategically smart to ensure your brand is as relevant across the world as it is in America. It is crucial for any brand to be sensitive to the local customers and to embrace the cultural differences in the various territories.

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