Frozen yogurt probably isn’t the first thing most people associate with robots, but American frozen dessert specialists Reis & Irvy’s want that to change as they make their way into the Canadian food service market this year. Since the company’s start in 2016, Reis & Irvy’s has taken off across the United States. The exclusive rights to the Reis & Irvy’s franchise system in Canada were recently purchased by Froyo Vending Canada, a company on a mission to expand rapidly across the country.
Brett Beninger, President of Froyo Vending Canada, says his end goal is to revolutionize the frozen yogurt industry. “We see ourselves as the next step in the evolution of frozen yogurt shops by using our self-service, fully-enclosed machine,” he declares. “We’ve turned a full-service frozen yogurt shop into what we call a robot or a vending machine.”
They’ve already sold more than 30 robot franchises all across the country, in cities such as Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, and Quebec City. “We want to go across the country immediately,” says Beninger.
The machine offers seven different types of frozen dessert, including ice cream, sorbet, Italian ice, custard, and, of course, frozen yogurt – all available with a selection of customizable toppings, such as M&Ms. These units, which can create an order in about 60 seconds, are placed in high-traffic areas like shopping malls. “The great part about our brand is that it’s a destination within a destination,” Beninger points out. “You’re already in the mall when you see the robot.”
A unique model for the Canadian market
Changes for the Canadian market included stickers so that the buttons could include French, and bringing in a Canadian supplier, Foothills Creamery from Calgary, for the frozen treats. “We wanted to make sure that we were using something local and doing something that supported the Canadian economy,” states Beninger, noting the importance of having excellent ingredients so that people are impressed by the quality of the product coming out of the vending machine.
“We tried to create a franchise that can never lose money,” he explains. “What makes us unique is that all of our expenses are based on a percentage of revenue.” This means that the cost that the franchisee pays in supplies, rent, and royalties is based on a percentage of the money that he or she makes. “So if they don’t sell anything, they don’t lose any money,” outlines Beninger. Furthermore, unlike most businesses, if a robot isn’t performing well, they can just pick up the machine and move it to a better location.
According to Beninger, Reis & Irvy’s really stands about from other franchises because of the low amount of labour involved. “Nobody has to be on site to manage the robot during the day,” he points out. “We’ve essentially created a business that eliminates some of the issues that cause businesses to go bankrupt, like labour and high rent.”
There are two types of Reis & Irvy’s franchisees: part and full time. A part-time franchisee is someone who “is looking to make a decent-sized investment in their future, but still wants to keep their full-time job,” explains Beninger. This franchisee would stop by the machines before and after work to make sure that they were fully stocked, clean, and functioning properly. In contrast, a full-time franchisee would invest in a number of robots, and would spend the majority of their time servicing them as part of a full-time business.
Setting franchisees up for success
Franchisees don’t need to have a specific food service or restaurant background, they just have to be passionate and have a good work ethic. “A lot of people want to get into the restaurant game because it’s exciting, but they don’t have that knowhow, so this is a great franchise for them,” says Beninger. “But, at the end of the day, we can train somebody to do this quite easily, they just need to be very hardworking.”
Once a franchisee is recruited, Beninger says, the franchise coordinator makes sure they have everything in order as they set up the business, such as establishing the distribution contract so that they can get the product, and ensuring that they meet all of the required food and safety regulations. Then the locations team finds appropriate locations in their area. Once they sign a lease for the location, “the robot is placed there, and then they are good to go,” he says.
To get up to speed on owning and operating a Reis & Irvy’s franchise, new franchisees participate in an initial three-day training session in Calgary that includes how to take the machine apart, how to clean it, and how to deal with any breakdowns, along with marketing training. “They go through full training with us here, and we have a franchise resources portal and a town hall online, which they can access ongoing,” says Beninger.
When franchisees log into the town hall, they have access to chat boards shared with all of the franchisees across Canada and the United States. “They all have their own franchise coordinator that they can call at any time if they have any questions or if they have a problem with their location or their supplier,” Beninger assures.
Furthermore, if any mechanical problems arise, each franchisee can rely on their full-service contract with Pitney Bowes, which takes care of repairs and the initial machine installation. Franchisees are never left long without help for a malfunctioning machine: “There’s a 24-hour turnaround time on any breakdowns,” says Beninger.
As for ongoing promotional efforts, “marketing is not the end all and be all like it is with many other businesses,” Beninger says. However, franchisees still need to do some hands-on promotion. “The best way for them to drive their business is to be present in the area to hand out free yogurt or do some samplings,” he says. Franchisees can use the machines to print out coupons and two-for-one deals, and distribute them locally to drive traffic to their robots, as well.
Looking forward, Beninger is very positive about the future of the company. “We’d like to sell 1,500 units in Canada in the next five years,” he says, pointing out that the brand already has a strong foothold in the U.S.
“The brand will build itself up very quickly. All of the franchisees that we signed up already are very excited about the brand and it coming to Canada,” he notes. “Now we just want to get the concept in front of the right people.”
By Karen Stevens