How 20 Years with Smoothie King Shaped this Multi-Unit Smoothie Franchise OwnerAuthor: Smoothie King
For Eric Grush, becoming a multi-unit smoothie franchise owner was the result of a lifelong involvement with Smoothie King.
His dad opened his Smoothie King location in 1995, and Eric began working there in 1998 starting out as a team member. He continued to do so throughout high school and college, learning the ins and outs of the business.
“When I graduated from college in 2006, I was at a crossroads where I could either go out and get a corporate job or work as a general manager for my dad,” Eric said. “And at that point, I realized that Smoothie King was probably going to be my future – because I maintained a healthy and active lifestyle, I enjoy the product and I enjoy helping people better themselves.”
Between 2006 and 2017, Eric worked as the general manager at his father’s Smoothie King in Metairie, Louisiana. Today, Eric and his business partner Brett Lawson own five total locations with plans to open three additional units.
Why Make the Transition from GM to Smoothie Franchise Owner?
Like anyone making their first foray into business ownership, Eric felt a degree of hesitation. At 28 years old and with his first child on the way, he had to either seize the opportunity or keep postponing it in hopes the perfect situation would eventually arise.
“I knew it was naturally the next step,” Eric noted. “I just needed to find the right partner and figure out the right time to invest.”
Fortunately, he found the ideal location and the right business partner in Brett Lawson, so he capitalized on the opportunity.
“Brett and I were high school friends, and we had always kind of joked about opening a Smoothie King together,” said Eric.
Eric and Brett opened their first location in Gretna, Louisiana, in 2013, while Eric was still overseeing his father’s store. He hired a manager to oversee that nothing fell through the cracks while he was pulling double duty.
Growing a Smoothie Franchise Portfolio
At the outset, Eric and Brett made it clear they wouldn’t let the business get in the way of their friendship. Several years later, they’re still good friends and continue to be partners with each of their locations.
Starting in 2015, the duo started expanding into Alabama, with one store in Hoover, and another in Bastavia Hills, as well as two in Homewood, all of which are within the Birmingham metropolitan area.
During the buildout phase of his third store, Eric realized that he couldn’t maintain his role as a general manager and still grow his own multi-unit franchise portfolio. He made the difficult decision to leave in order to focus on his rapidly expanding business investments.
Lessons Learned through Hands-on Experience—and Family
“The experience I gained in my 20 years or so hands-on with the brand was priceless,” said Eric.
It allowed him to learn virtually all aspects of the business, be able to offer a higher level of support for his team and make more accurate decisions with respect to day-to-day operations, he explained.
Watching his father run a Smoothie King store for multiple decades gave Eric a unique perspective. He used it as an opportunity to analyze how his dad operated and recognize multiple solutions to business ownership challenges.
“I always joked with him – there was the right way, the wrong way and his way,” Eric said, laughing.
At any point in time, Eric works with upwards of 15 team members, and he views them as the backbone of the business. If they don’t feel like their role carries weight and is important, it’s going to be reflected in each guest’s experience, store culture and, ultimately, in-store sales, Eric emphasized.
A Clear Division of Labor
Another factor that has helped Eric and Brett succeed as partners is focusing on their core strengths. Brett is often on the front lines of investing in a new location, taking care of lease negotiations and contracts, and he oversees the financial side of running their businesses. Meanwhile, Eric typically oversees operations.
One of the few challenges Eric and Brett face is operating stores spread across a large geographic region where they don’t live. To help mitigate that obstacle, Eric’s brother moved to Birmingham to serve as the district manager. And, Eric was able to relocate team members from his Gretna store to the Birmingham area to manage his stores.
In addition to Eric’s brother working as a district manager in Birmingham, Eric and Brett also have a regional manager in New Orleans, who handles more of the day-to-day operations. Eric keeps in close contact with his management team, meeting on a regular basis.
What Differentiates Smoothie King as a Multi-Unit Franchise Opportunity?
Before opening his first Smoothie King location, Eric had looked around at other franchise opportunities and ran into barriers when it came to growing through multiple units.
“A lot of franchises want the owner to be an owner/operators for the first six months, and then they’ll grant you your second store,” Eric explained. “That doesn’t always put you on the right track for growth.”
Having worked hands-on in a Smoothie King for 20 years, Eric enjoys that store-level experience but appreciates not being obligated to be in his stores every day.
Eric and Brett are currently in the process of finding the right sites for their three forthcoming Smoothie King locations in Alabama. And, for Eric, he sees limitless potential in growing after that – if the site and timing are right.