Cox took Shoeman on a tour in Long Beach of his unique coffee houses, which offer a more relaxing atmosphere than hectic competitors. They talked about opportunities for franchising, and by the end of the day, the two decided to partner to form IAG Coffee Franchise LLC.
Coffee drinkers welcomed the change in atmosphere the coffee houses offered, and that’s reflected in the company’s growth It’s A Grind has nearly doubled in size each year for the past three years. It has 75 locations today, and Shoeman, CEO, expects that in five years, the company will have nearly 600 stores across the United States.
Smart Business spoke with Shoeman about the challenges of running a fast-growing franchise company and the importance of It’s A Grind’s core ideology.
What challenges accompany the fast growth of a franchise company, and how have you faced them?
Naturally, it’s always finding the right people as we grow so quickly more particularly from an operational standpoint because we need to be able to support the franchisees through their training, through their opening and through ongoing support.
That has been a challenge of ours. I think we have done a good job, but it’s something that we think of every day of every week as we grow.
We like to be six months ahead of the curve. With a franchise company ... stores don’t open for about 12 to 18 months from the time the franchisee signs the agreement. We can plan out how many stores we are going to have open and we can adjust accordingly as far as hires in the real estate department, the development department and the operational department.
The other challenge we have as we grow is we try to make a rapidly growing company feel small, personal and connected, and align behind what our core ideology is creating exceptional experiences that enrich the lives of everyone we meet. It’s really important that as we get new franchisees and new employees that everyone is in philosophical alignment behind our core ideology.
How do you find new franchisees as you grow?
As we open stores in new markets, a lot of customers come in and are interested in becoming It’s A Grind franchisees. We also have some collateral material and put little brochures in the stores about franchises and direct them to our Web site if they want to get more information.
We also advertise on some Internet sites that are franchise related. I get a lot of inquiries from there.
And then we have an association with some franchise broker networks throughout the United States that send us qualified candidates that sort of fit our philosophical alignment as to what kind of individual we want as a franchisee.
What are some of your strategies for getting employees and franchisees to buy into you core ideology?
Prior to even hiring anyone, we have a personality survey that everyone takes. We use this not just for employees, but also for franchisees. We have put together over the years what our model franchisee would be, as well as what our model employees would be for the specific job that we are hiring.
Then in the interviewing process we stress that and try to get a feel of what the individual is like and where their passions lie. We are in the hospitality business so it is all about helping others and pleasing others. We want to make sure that we have like-minded people.
Then we also do that once we’ve hired the individual. When they come onboard and have their initial training program its all identified and lay out. It’s reinforced throughout the whole training program and really on a daily basis with us at corporate.
What makes It’s A Grind Coffee Houses stand out from the competition, such as Starbucks?
Some of the differences are purely aesthetic. We have a blues and jazz motif. We have high wingback chairs. So the ambiance is a little different. We like to say that our stores are a little bit more inviting and a little bit more comfortable.
Aside from that, one of the big differences is that we have franchisees in the store, where a lot of the other coffee houses have a manager in the store, for instance Starbucks.
We like to think the franchisee has a vested interest in the franchise. They live in the community, they grew up in the community and it is their store. They spend more time there and put a little more effort and energy into it.
We are very heavily involved in each community that our franchise stores are in. Each franchisee does a lot of charitable work in their community in their own neighborhood.
We would really like to see it be known as the local neighborhood coffee house. We have franchise owners who have a vested interest and really get involved in the community. They know the customers on a first name basis. They serve coffee at the PTA, at the chamber of commerce, at kids’ soccer games and they do a lot of charitable events at churches and other organizations.
HOW TO REACH: It’s A Grind, www.itsagrind.com