(Ambrosio’s note: Welcome to this week’s edition of Fro-Yo Files, an exclusive bonus series for Platinum subscribers of Franchise Chatter.)
Fro-Yo Files: Interview with Mandy Calara, CEO of Forever Yogurt
Mandy Calara, CEO of Forever Yogurt, has enjoyed considerable success in the brief span of two years since his first store opened. He got in the game at just the right time, in the right place: Chicago, which had almost no fro-yo shops, perhaps because the West Coast giants feared to tread in that cold climate. But Calara knew his target audience — the youth crowd — and what he’d have to do to capture their attention and hold it throughout the winter months.
Forever Yogurt opened in the Wicker Park neighborhood, and Calara says residents were very excited from the get-go, trying to get a peek inside while that first store was still under construction. The company paid extraordinary attention to design and appearance, opting for clean modern lines that still conveyed warmth. But it didn’t want to create a chain of identical stores, and decided to be more playful and inventive.
Taking its cue from the local environment, it opened a store modeled on a Chicago L station. “We’re always going to incorporate something” from wherever the company chooses to set up shop, Calara says. When it opened a location in Andersonville, it drew on the Swedish heritage of that neighborhood for design ideas as well as product offerings.
Focusing on the local has actually helped Forever Yogurt grow, rather than limit its reach into new markets. Going local allows it to adapt to each new market and differentiate itself almost continuously, which is a tactic that companies focused on uniformity seem to have missed.
And the Chicago cold has not interfered with business. The company has a “hot bar” and serves hot chocolate, unique lattes, and inventive espresso drinks. Warm weather has also presented its own opportunities. The company now has a permanent trailer at North Beach, where customers can serve themselves from machines built into its sides.
Calara stresses “youth” as a critical factor in almost every aspect of his business. (Presumably, the stores don’t refuse to serve customers over 40.) “We’ve got a young, energetic crowd” in the stores, and staff is “happy, young, friendly, and energetic.”
Youth, or at least the perceived value of it, is related to certain strategies. “We want to design stores that are comfortable and inviting, a place where people want to hang out with their friends for fifteen minutes, which is the average amount of time spent in the store,” Calara says. Younger people tend to hang out more than older ones, and giving them an attractive place to do it is a good way to lure them inside.
And “young staff know how to stay in touch on social media.” Calara suggests that Red Mango may have suffered some decline because it couldn’t generate “a cult following — it wasn’t good at communicating with consumers and driving loyal traffic.” Forever Yogurt relies heavily on social media to engage with its “social demographic group — teens, 20s, 30s. Because we’re still small, we can maintain new markets through social media.”