Mandy Calara needed a break and got it with Forever Yogurt

Mandy Calara was tired of opening businesses and having them shut down by ordinance or legislation.

It was making it too difficult to build any entrepreneurial momentum.

“I ran a vacation rental company in Scottsdale, Arizona and Chicago,” Calara says. “And then before that, I owned a referral website for online gambling and poker. Chicago passed an ordinance that banned vacation rentals and the online gambling business got shut down as well.”

So Calara turned to the cool, sweet and relatively safe world of frozen yogurt.

“Nobody can bar you from selling frozen yogurt,” Calara says.

The flagship store of Forever Yogurt opened in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood in June 2010. A couple more stores opened over the next 12 to 18 months and Calara started franchising in March 2012.

“You’ve got to put yourself in the shoes of the consumer and try to follow and watch consumer trends,” says Calara, the company’s founder and CEO. “People were starting to see frozen yogurt again and probably now more than ever, there is a very health-conscious trend in what consumers are looking for. We actually started to worry that frozen yogurt might not even be healthy enough for the consumer.”

It doesn’t appear that’s something Calara has to worry about. Forever Yogurt had 21 open units entering 2014 and expected to open 20 more by years end. The company has grown to 15 corporate employees and 300 to 400 franchise employees.

“Right now we’re at around 30 units with stores in China and Panama,” said Calara, when Smart Business spoke with him last fall. “We’re expecting stores in India to open and we sold the rights for the Gulf Cooperative Council, which includes Saudi Arabia, Dubai and Egypt.”

Be mindful of your surroundings

One thing you’ll notice that’s different about Forever Yogurt is that despite being a franchise, each store is not identical.

“Consumers are choosing local and craft offerings,” Calara says. “Craft beer, craft sandwiches and stores that are kind of minimal in design and somewhat unique. That has yet to be successfully done by many franchise organizations. A franchise concept by design is something you want to make that is easy to replicate and has low cost for replication. But it’s flawed by design.”

Calara says there is too much to be gained from incorporating the flavor and personality of his franchisees, as well as the community in which that location does business, for him to put too many limits on what they can do.

“The product is the base of your business, so that has to be good,” Calara says. “But on top of that, people appreciate certain types of design styles and businesses that are mindful of the environments and neighborhoods they are put into.”

Still, there are some things that need to stay the same as customers do have expectations about what they’re going to get from a franchise location.

“The food is consistent, we still operate as a franchise company with our product,” Calara says. “We don’t deviate from the places we feel we can purchase the highest quality ingredients. But as far as the local design of these stores, during the design phase, we ask the franchisee to do some of their own due diligence about the neighborhood. It still goes through a Forever Yogurt filter, but we also get a lot of ideas from the franchisees.”

Don’t try to be a hero

Calara has built a solid business, but it wasn’t always easy.

If he could do it over again, Calara says he would have been more open to seeking help.

“You have so much love and pride for the system that you have created, you almost don’t want to share it with others or bring in consultants or pay brokers,” Calara says. “There are so many people to pay along the way and early on, it feels unnecessary to bring on suppliers and partners. But I see this in a whole new light now.”

When you’re building a new business, you need to tap into the experience of others who you can trust to help you avoid some of the mistakes they made in the past.

“We founding entrepreneurs get really prideful over what we’ve created,” Calara says. “But it’s a quickly evolving marketplace. You really can’t snooze when you’re onto something that could potentially grow. There is so much competition and the landscape changes so quickly if you’re not able to move on your idea.”

In terms of finding those people you can trust, Calara says he relies on a system in which people are given a trial period to show him what they can do.

“A lot of people start out with a big fire and they seem like they can get a lot done, and then things start to slow down over time,” Calara says. “You have to make sure they are independently motivated. I don’t like to micromanage anybody and it takes a lot of time to do that. You want people who love what they are doing and love the brand.” ●

How to reach: Forever Yogurt, (312) 878-7597 or www.foreveryogurt.com