IN FOCUS: Small Business – Chilly treat

Posted on Jun 3, 2013 :: Small Business Spotlight
Sharon Verbeten
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Tony Brault is general manager of Orange Leaf in Ashwaubenon, the venue backed by investors and Green Bay Packers Mason Crosby and Jordy Nelson. Many frozen yogurt shops like Orange Leaf are both profitable and charitable, giving back a portion of the profits to the community.

It’s a pretty simple recipe, really.

Take some healthful frozen yogurt (in dozens of flavors), add tasty toppings and bold vibrant décor, and sprinkle with a generous dose of educational fundraising. Mix well, and serve up the latest entrepreneurial success stories in Northeast Wisconsin: Self-serve frozen yogurt bars.

In the last 11/2 years, no fewer than four frozen yogurt franchises, many with several locations, have launched in Northeast Wisconsin, bringing the chilly, customizable treat previously pervasive only in the South and other perpetually warm-weather regions.

“The new option is it’s your option,” says Tony Brault, general manager of Orange Leaf in Ashwaubenon. The shop also has an Appleton venue. “You are the artist.” He believes the ability for customers to select their serving size, flavors and toppings has made frozen yogurt shops so popular. “I think that is the best part of the concept.”

That concept isn’t lost on the many kids and teens flocking for the sweet treats. But the stores’ owners, managers and adult patrons are pleased with the altruistic reasons behind the businesses.


More moo-la for schools

Giving back to the community, especially by helping budget-strapped schools, is at the heart of many of the shops’ missions. Almost all the franchises host spirit days, in which a part of the proceeds benefit area schools. For Orange Leaf in Ashwaubenon, a venture financed, in part, by Green Bay Packers Mason Crosby and Jordy Nelson, it’s about building visibility and being part of the community. That shop opened last winter and had a tough first season due to weather, but Brault anticipates increased visibility and a warm spring will bring revenues back.

Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame fullback William Henderson, who owns four Sweet Frog frozen yogurt shops in Wisconsin, including one recently opened in De Pere, also bought the franchise as a way to “give back to Wisconsin.”

Henderson works with a lot of charities, and he sees this shop not only as a transition into the business world, but as a “conduit for charities that need support. I saw this as a need and a want.”

Likewise, Smart Cow – which was the first frozen yogurt shop to open in the Green Bay area, in April 2012 – offers similar programs. In fact, the company (which now has two locations in Green Bay and two in Colorado) notes that it was founded for just that reason – to become “the yogurt shop that gives back to schools.” According to co-owner Robyn Kulhmann, the company’s four stores have given more than $50,000 to schools.

Profit margins tend to be pretty good with these shops, with more reasonable labor costs since the shops are self-serve, Brault says. “I think the reason we can give back (to the community) is the profit margin,” he adds.

He also notes that some owners tend to purchase several franchises, which can add to revenue. He says one owner gave him the advice, “If you’re going to open a yogurt shop, open 10.” Franchises range from about $15,000 to $25,000 per shop.

Jason Madsen took that advice, purchasing seven Cherryberry franchises; two are planned for Green Bay. The store also has locations in Sheboygan, Oshkosh and Appleton. His Appleton store, opened in 2012, was the city’s first, he says. “That area hadn’t seen any franchises,” he notes. “If you can be the first one there, it’s always a plus.”

And while frozen yogurt shops are now proliferating, Madsen says, “people weren’t really taking a lot of chances because of the short summer we have.” Even with slower winters, he notes, “It’s still worth it for us.”

With so many shops open or poised to open in Northeast Wisconsin, will the area hit a saturation point? While Madsen says that “once there’s a couple that have opened up in an area…it starts tapering off,” it appears that hungry customers are welcome for the change – especially as the weather, and taste buds, warm up.


What’s a boba?

Fro-yo fanatics love their toppings – everything from gummy bears and chocolate chips to mini marshmallows and fresh fruit. But one topping generating a big following has been fairly unfamiliar in the area, until now. Enter the bobas!

The tiny gummy spheres are really no more than encapsulated juice balls; when you bite them, a burst of fruity flavor escapes. In flavors like passion fruit, mango and orange, this confectionary “caviar” has become a favorite topper for frozen yogurt.

“It’s kind of a unique concept,” says Jason Madsen, owner of several Cherryberry franchises. While bobas have long been added to Asian teas, the colorful beads are now omnipresent on most frozen yogurt shop topping bars as well.

You really have to taste them to understand the addiction. Some customers love them so much, says Tony Brault, general manager of Orange Leaf in Ashwaubenon, he has even seen people fill a cup with them, without frozen yogurt, just to eat.

“I haven’t done that yet,” says Green Bay resident and bobas fan Jessica Pyrek, “but I’m tempted!”