Bearing fruit Featured

8:00pm EDT October 26, 2009

Dan Kim believes in the power of a brand.

As founder, president and CEO of Red Mango Inc., he says you have to have a strong brand, and you can’t deviate it from that if you want to be successful in business.

“If you constantly change who you want to become, the strength of your brand goes away,” he says. “If you try to do too much and address too many things, you stretch yourself too thin and really can’t accomplish anything.”

Kim says you have to know who you are as a brand, and then you have to keep your ideas and people focused on that. This helps him keep his 800 people across 55 frozen yogurt stores moving the company forward.

“It’s discipline, it’s focus, and it’s appreciating the brand at all times and understanding that the success of the company is not going to be determined by short-term wins but really how well we position ourselves as a brand,” he says.

Know yourself

What do you want to be when you grow up? It’s not just a question for a young child or a student entering his or her college years. Instead, it’s a question that Kim says you should be asking yourself about your business.

“We always start with, ‘Who do we want to be when we grow up and who are we as a brand?’” he says. “We always keep that top of mind in terms of everything we do.”

Kim wants Red Mango to be the leading retailer of healthy and delicious treats, using frozen yogurt as the first platform to do that.

“So now you know what you want to become,” Kim says. “How are you going to get there? What are the values that are important to us? What are the values that are important to our customers?”

Identifying your company’s values may seem like a tedious process, but it boils down to what you believe in.

“It really depends on who you are and what’s important to you and your company and your managers and your founders as a team,” he says.

For example, if you’re in the computer industry, maybe being environmentally friendly is important to you or maybe it’s building the smallest computer. Neither one is wrong.

“But if you start wavering between the two, you start losing your own focus and start losing the focus of your management team and your resources,” Kim says. “Most importantly, your consumers get confused as to who you are.”

Identify what you’re most passionate about so that you stick with those values.

“Make sure you’re passionate about them, and the reason why you want to be passionate about them is actually so you don’t waver back and forth between the different passions,” he says. “When you’re passionate about something, that keeps you on track.”

Kim created a brand trifecta that says that Red Mango is a convergence of health, taste and style, so anything Kim does should support those things. He also created a “MangoFesto,” which is a two-page document that outlines what the company stands for, its values, objectives and goals. He’s taken that document and made it into a poster for each store so that the employees know what the goals are and to make sure that every decision is consistent with that brand philosophy.

This may sound all well and good, but how do you create your own version of the MangoFesto?

“Writing one is very important, but I guess the question is how to go about writing one,” he says. “For me, it’s keeping it very simple. Some people will have 10 or 15 objectives — we have three.”

His three objectives are get people to try the product, get them to know it’s good for them and give them a great in-store experience. He could have added other things like make sure your floors are clean or make sure you train people properly, but instead, he looked at the bigger picture.

“At the end of the day, kind of boil it down to what are the three most important things that you need to do that will enable everything else that you want to do and make those possible,” Kim says.

Then the objectives you come up with will naturally encompass the other things you want to accomplish. For example, if you make sure your floors are clean, it’s going to help the customer have a good in-store experience.

“The thing that you can do that’s not cool is you write it once, and you never come back to it, and it gets lost,” Kim says. “You have to make that part of the cultural fabric of your organization.”

Keep ideas focused

When a franchisee wanted to sell frozen yogurt cones at his store, Kim had to do some evaluating based on what he’s established the company to be.

“Once the idea comes to me, I’ll have them explain why they need it, why they think it will work or help improve their store, and then why they’re so passionate about it,” he says.

In this case, the owner said he wanted to be able to sell to more people and operate at a lower price point and give people a reason to come to his store instead of places like McDonald’s.

With some reasoning behind the idea, then Kim and his team assess it using a few guides.

“One, does it make sense to the brand and will it not deteriorate what the brand stands for?” he says. “No. 2, if I were to do this and the test was successful, could I really roll it out nationally or regionally because consistency and repeatability are important to us? Then I look at the variables, like cost. How much is this going to cost to execute and promote?”

By putting the cone idea through these filters, he concluded that it wasn’t a good idea and said no.

“We’re not ice cream, and we don’t want to do anything that reminds people that we’re ice cream, …” he says. “We don’t compete with McDonald’s. You’re not going to make incremental revenue by selling cones, because you’re selling them at a lower price point, and it doesn’t promote the core product.”

But on the opposite end, when an owner in Hawaii proposed serving papaya at his store as a topping, Kim ran the same filters and came to a different conclusion than the cone idea and told him to go for it.

“Papaya is really cheap in Hawaii,” Kim says. “Hawaiians love papaya like strawberries are to the rest of the country, and it fit with the brand — papayas are healthy, delicious fruit that can be served fresh and went well with our yogurt.”

It all goes back to evaluating ideas based on what’s important to you and your company.

“It goes back to analyzing it with regard to our brand trifecta and making sure that it makes sense for the brand and makes sense from an economic perspective and make sure it makes sense for the business,” he says.

Having a process like this helps you maintain your focus and not get distracted by ideas that seem great but in reality aren’t.

“I’m a big believer in brands and the power of brands,” he says. “The way I exercise my leadership is to constantly stay dedicated to not redefining who we are for the wrong reasons — especially if it has to deal with short-term ways to overcome obstacles.”

This can’t be a once-a-quarter or once-a-year thing either — instead it should be constant.

“When new things come up that you haven’t thought of or it wasn’t there last week or it gets proposed to you, always go back and assess it,” Kim says. “ … Make sure that resonates well.”

Keep people focused

What are your company’s blue chips — the things that are most important to your business?

“You can have all the chips in the world, but you want to keep the blue ones,” he says.

To stay focused on the blue chips, Kim has a mandatory weekly Wednesday meeting for him and his top 10 people. All 10 staff members prepare a report that addresses the following: What they’re working on this week, things they’ll be working on next week, things that are on the back burner, and things that they wish they were working on but don’t have time for.

“It kind of annoys them because they have to do it every week, but I find it very, very effective in helping them manage their time and helping me understand what they’re working on and helping other people understand what their colleagues are working on,” he says.

This also helps him know if his team is working on the best things to move Red Mango forward.

“There are two levels of decision-making,” he says. “If you break it down to the micro level of an individual — what are the things that I as a CEO want him working on? It’s a delicate balance — are the things that he’s working on consistent with what the company as a whole needs to do, and then do we have the money or the budget to execute that?”

This is helpful in knowing both your time limits and monetary limits.

“A lot of times when you work with a lot of ambitious people, they want to do more than they can,” he says. “That’s the first filter I put it through — does it align with the company, does it have the right resources to do what he needs to be doing and is he doing too much?”

Knowing these answers helps you say no to others who may want you to do more. For example, if Kim says that he’s going to open up X number of stores, with an average unit volume of Y and he’s going to recruit Z number of franchisees, everyone knows those are his top goals. Then when someone asks him to do something else, he can say he’s not able to because the money and people need to be used on the first three goals instead of the fourth, fifth or sixth thing they want done.

“It’s really having a budget in place and a well-thought-out plan that gets you to where you need to get to because if you don’t have that, and you have a lot of outsiders or board members or executive managers who don’t understand how the strategy is executed in regards to having the right resources, then you’re in a situation where you just constantly want to do more and more things without people understanding why you can’t do them,” he says.

You may have everyone else on track and moving forward, but lastly, you have to keep yourself focused, as well.

“Every week you’re doing something,” he says. “Assess what you’re doing against those goals or your brand mission.”

Do this for everything you have on your schedule, and you’ll keep yourself — and ultimately your business — on track.

“Even if I’m traveling to Seattle to meet with a customer or going to New York to meet with a supplier — is that meeting in and of itself consistent with the brand mission and brand values?” Kim says. “Always ask yourself that because if you don’t, you’re just going to get caught up in a very busy schedule doing stuff that you think is important. Again, people’s time and money are limited, so you have to constantly assess.”

How to reach: Red Mango Inc., (214) 302-5910 or