United States Air Force colonels typically command a wing, which consists of 1,000 to 3,000 lower-ranking airmen. Overseeing a couple of managers and 24 to 36 employees at three Smoothie King locations in Georgia wasn’t a challenge for Eric Jones, who retired from the military in 2017 as a Colonel in the Air Force after serving 30 years.
Nor was getting his teenage employees to operate as a unified team challenging. Many quick-service restaurant (QSR) employees are teens with limited work experience and a work ethic still in development, which often makes getting them to operate to your standards demanding for the average franchise owner.
But, for Eric, working with young employees wasn’t too different from shaping new enlisted men and women in the Air Force. He applied the same philosophy and values to mold a cohesive Smoothie King team at each store.
Eric found that his military background prepared him well for all aspects of franchise ownership and gave him the tools to easily take on the typical challenges that might frustrate other franchise owners.
Core Values Build Team Spirit
In order to get the best performance out of his employees that he could, Eric turned to what worked on him in the Air Force, where he rose through the ranks from Airman First Class to Colonel, one rank away from General.
“Without team building, you’re guaranteed what we called in the military, ‘Mission Failure,’” he said. “It’s the same thing for Smoothie King. The better your team, the more success you can expect to have as an operator.”
After hiring who he thought had “the right stuff” to be Smoothie King employees, he instilled in them the same core values imparted to him in the Air Force:
- Integrity first
- Service before self
- Excellence in all we do
“We take those core values and apply them to any kid who comes through the door,” he said. “They’re essential to building up the individual, to meet the standards you have for your particular franchise.”
Military Service Provides an Edge
Skills and experience from military service transfer well into franchise ownership, which is popular among veterans. One in seven franchises is owned by a veteran. Eric believes his time in the Air Force gives him an advantage over most other franchise owners.
Franchising, like succeeding in the military, is based largely on instruction and consistently replicating processes regardless of location. For example, the Smoothie King corporate team instructs franchisees how to make smoothies the Smoothie King way. Followed to a T, those smoothies will be made the same way at every franchisee’s location, which maintains consistency not only from store to store in a market but throughout the nation.
“There’s a manual for just about everything you do when you’re operating a QSR, including Smoothie King,” Eric said. “The same thing exists in the military – we have rigid instructions and we want you to do the same things every time, no matter where you are. As long as you’re accustomed to receiving instruction and implementing it accordingly, then that gives you an advantage others may not have.”
From the Air Force to Smoothie King to Community
During his transition period, which typically lasts up to two years for military personnel as they approach retirement, Eric decided he wanted to be his own boss. Smoothie King appealed to him because he was a fan (especially of the Peanut Power Plus) and he wanted to own a franchise that sold a product he believed in.
“I wanted to look at a product that I actually use, and that was Smoothie King,” Eric said. “But, my wife and I realized there wasn’t a Smoothie King around here. We usually bring our smoothies home and put them in the freezer because the closest location was about 40 minutes away.”
Realizing their area outside of Atlanta was underserved without a local Smoothie King, they decided to open one. Eric opened his first, a drive-thru, in 2016. His second, which he opened in 2018, and his third, which he opened in early 2019, are both inline stores. He plans on owning as many as six Smoothie Kings.
“The success or failure of your franchise can depend on your dedication,” Eric said. “I’ve decided to be a hands-on owner. Watching my stores grow is absolutely the most rewarding aspect of this business.”
Part of that reward is contributing to community events, including various school functions. Eric said participation without promotion is key. Showing genuine support, by handing out smoothies, goes a long way.
“Being part of the community is one of the reasons our business has flourished so much,” he said.