Getting the Scoop on Successful Franchising Operations with Chill-N’s David Leonardo

On today’s episode of the Brick and Mortar Reborn podcast, Bobby speaks with David Leonardo, CEO of Chill-N Nitrogen Ice Cream, a shop serving up fresh, made-to-order ice cream. They discuss Chill-N’s unique way of creating ice cream, and how they’ve automated steps to increase throughput to meet customer demand. They also discuss what makes a successful franchisee, how not to fall into the trap of believing a first profitable store means more profitable stores, how franchisees can instill great customer service in their employees, and how great teams create success.

Topics discussed:

  • The evolution of David’s career that spans 20 years in franchising, from Burger King and Wendy’s to his inspiration to start Chill-N, now grown to eleven stores with five more on the way.
  • The challenges to scaling, and how Chill-N has used automation to reduce throughput and increase cup production to meet customer demand.
  • What the future looks like for Chill-N, including more stores, more operators who understand customer service, and more leverage with vendors.
  • What franchisees get wrong about early success, and why it takes opening a portfolio of stores to understand each one’s unique needs.
  • How to know when you’ve found a formula for success, and why it’s based on the team you have around you.
  • Methods through which Chill-N ensures consistent experiences across locations, including using a Franchise Business Manager as a point person, weekly calls, and empowering managers to “make it right” for customers.
  • Trends seen across locations, including seasonality and the rise in delivery demand, which makes up 20-25% of business today.

Guest Quotes: 

“I think when you have a formula for success is when you start realizing that the team you have in place can really manage a lot of the operations without you. Your success is really driven by your team and your ability to scale is driven by your team. Everything else you can outsource, but the team that helps you operate and the team that helps you execute is really the one that’s going to determine whether you can scale or not.” (11:48)

“We’ve been introducing technology throughout the process to help increase our throughput. As of right now, we’re probably at about 110 cups an hour in maximum production time. I’m of the belief that no matter how good a product is, if a person has to wait too long for it, you’re probably not going to get a repeat customer. For the notion that you can come in with two or three kids, wait under ten minutes to get ice cream — it’s really rewarding and it actually creates a repeat visitor for us.” (3:53)

“I think one of the things that goes wrong for a lot of people who venture into the franchising space is they have one successful store, and all of a sudden they’re going to base their entire franchising model off the success of one. I think if you go to any franchise show or talk to any experts, they say you should definitely have several, a portfolio of stores under your belt, because you’ll find out that what was great in that first store is actually more of a challenge in the second store and the third store. And you really start getting your rhythm after that fourth or fifth store.” (8:23)

“I really try to understand how they view customer service, how they view employer-employee relationships, because all of that really impacts the experience. Because there is going to come a point where that franchisee is not in the store. And so the employee has to treat the customer. And that employee will treat the customer usually depending on how they’re treated by their employer.” (15:49)

“I’m literally doing a call with our franchisees on a weekly basis. And we’re going through everything, everything from your financials to how’re deliveries, how’re the employees going. And one of the things that I typically look at is, what are your reviews? What are your customers saying about you on Google, on Yelp, on Uber, on delivery? What are they saying and what are you doing to address it?” (14:52)

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