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Smoothie chain plans growth, after shrinkage


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POSTED: Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Tropical Smoothie Cafe plans to open 10 stores in Hawaii in the next four to five years, adding to the spread of the more than 275-unit chain across the U.S.

There were two Tropical Smoothie Cafes in Hawaii, but the Honolulu store closed in October “;due to lack of business,”; said Teddy Wells, the restaurant industry veteran and sometime “;Lost”; actor (he played Ivan, a member of “;the Others”;) who opened it in 2007.

Wells had leased space on the ground floor of Hawaiki Tower on Piikoi Street that also houses KHON-TV, but is now scouting locations as well as “;franchisees and/or investors that want to help with the expansion,”; he said.

Nevada businessman Tom Poblano bought the Kona store, opened in 2006, and has joined the group of Hawaii-area developers planning to expand the brand across the islands. His niece Kellie Wojnowski has been running the Kona store for about a year, and he and his wife are planning to move to Hawaii in the next month or so.

“;Our hope is that Honolulu's going to open up first, because that's always the flagship store, it's where 80 percent of the people live and tourists are going to come in there,”; he said.

“;We want to get something open in Hilo, and we've got somebody interested on Maui, as well,”; said Poblano, who also believes Oahu has room for multiple additional Tropical Smoothie locations.

“;We have a lot of parameters,”; including a certain amount of foot traffic and other requirements, as chains generally do. Any new location has to “;make sense.”;

However, it also has received permission from the corporate powers-that-be in Florida to open a new concept, Tropical Smoothie Express, that would sell primarily smoothies, with a few selected food items from the larger stores' menu.

“;We'd love to have (all) full-blown Tropical Smoothies,”; Poblano said, but there are some locations where the smaller footprint of the “;Express”; concept makes more sense.

The economy presents the team with a mixed plate of good things and bad.

“;We know the economy's tough, but we're trying to come up with flexible ideas for getting (franchises) into stores,”; Poblano said. Programs from organizations such as the U.S. Small Business Administration might help veterans and others get into a franchise or other small business.

“;If someone's qualified, we'll definitely work with them somehow,”; he said.

A looming negative, however, is the more than 1,000 percent increase in unemployment insurance taxes that will come due beginning in April.

“;You have these taxes and what happens? You have to start cutting employees. It's crazy,”; Poblano said. For small businesses it will mean “;working harder and longer at the store, but what can you do about it?”;

Poblano is not permitted to discuss monetary requirements for potential franchisees, but the Topical Smoothie Web site says a franchisee will typically need between $75,000 and $100,000 in liquid assets and can expect the initial investment to be between $244,000 and $345,000.

There are many players in the smoothie segment, but Tropical Smoothie has “;zero”; competitors, Poblano said. “;There's nobody doing smoothies and food.”;

“;Our food is all freshly assembled, freshly made, (such as) hot, toasted wraps; most sandwiches are toasted. The salads are freshly made; nothing is prepackaged in that regard.”;

ON THE NET:

» www.tropicalsmoothie.com