TCBY, The Country’s Best Yogurt, found its sweet spot in the chain’s infancy. The Salt Lake City-based frozen yogurt concept rocketed out of the chute — from a single Little Rock, Ark., store in 1981 to several hundred units in five years — based on a platform that Americans wanted a healthy alternative to ice cream.
The chain charged forward with purpose, reaching 3,000 units worldwide and $1.6 billion in revenue before the challenges that come with rapid expansion began to unravel the yogurt giant. A nine-year string of flat earnings during the 1990s culminated in swirling sale rumors and an acquisition by Mrs. Fields Famous Brands in 2000.
Ownership change, mounting losses and store closures, and a groundswell around super-premium ice cream negatively impacted the company and saw what once was a 3,000-unit chain dwindle into the hundreds. TCBY currently operates 406 units in the United States and 188 internationally; all but two stores are franchises.
But, in 2010, the company developed a prototype that operated under a different business model. Instead of customers ordering and being served in a traditional fashion, they serve themselves using any combination of available yogurt flavors, add their own mix of toppings and pay by the ounce. The innovative self-service concept, coupled with a frozen yogurt comeback, has breathed new life into a struggling chain.
Since the opening of the first TCBY self-serve model in Charlotte, N.C., another 15 or so have opened, and 20 are in the pipeline for the first quarter of 2011.
“Almost all new stores to open will be under the self-serve model going forward,” said Rob Streett, VP franchise development for TCBY. “We will still do traditional stores when the venue or the real estate calls for it, but most will be self-serve.”
The typical footprint for a self-serve store is 1,300 sq. ft. to 1,400 sq. ft., larger than the average 1,000- sq.-ft. to 1,200-sq.-ft. full-service unit. The increased footage accommodates the topping bar, added equipment and amenities such as soft seating and flat-panel televisions. “The new prototype is intended, like a Starbucks, to promote socialization,” Streett said.
Site criteria haven’t changed much with the self-serve model. The TCBY demographic is a $70,000+ average income and a population base of 50,000 or more. Desirable anch