This is the first of a 2-part interview with Charles Ashford, president and CEO of Lemon Heaven International.
Charles Ashford spent several years working with IBM Canada, IBM Dot-Com, IBM Global Services, as well as ISM Global Services in various roles, such as National Manager for Major Incident Owner Team, Canadian Customer Care Services, responsible for Canadian and Western US software maintenance, renewals, sales, lead generation, and technical support, among others.
As partner and Canadian franchisee of Lemon Heaven International, Charles helps run the organization and franchise development, while operating a franchise with his family.
Franchise Chatter (FC): For those unfamiliar, can you tell us about the different product lines offered by Lemon Heaven franchisees?
Charles Ashford (CA): Certainly. But before anything else, I just want to say that it’s a pleasure to talk to everyone about Lemon Heaven with Franchise Chatter as you seem to have your key strokes on the pulse of the industry. I often check your web site to see what the latest trends are in the industry.
Back to your question, we offer freshly squeezed lemonade in original, lime, and cherry flavors, and a new iced tea. We also have a diabetic lemonade that has become very popular. Our lemonade is a non-carbonated, fresh product where we squeeze the lemon into the glass. It’s a perfect balance between sweet and tart. Kids just love the different flavors.
Our Cin City Mini Donuts are, as all our products, made fresh in-front of the customer, and coated with cinnamon sugar. This year we are launching new dipping sauces to complement the great tasting donuts.
As for our cotton candy, it’s also made fresh which makes an incredible difference in taste. We make our cotton candy on a cone which kids have a great reaction to and it provides a great photo opportunity for parents. Nothing like seeing a photo of a kid’s face buried in cotton candy to remember a day of fun.
FC: What types of venues/events are most lucrative for Lemon Heaven franchisees? How do Lemon Heaven franchisees gain a spot in these highly coveted events and venues? Do you provide any assistance in this aspect of the business?
CA: Great question. Lemon Heaven currently operates at different venues and events in Canada and the USA, from professional sporting arenas such as the NHL Arena to your local fairs, and everything in between. This allows us to forge relationships which we can leverage to assist our franchisees in growing the business.
There is competition for these events and venues, no doubt about it. However, we’ve had great success because of our professional network, professional operation, great tasting products, our operational policies, and attention to detail. All employees are in uniform and are trained in customer service.
With all of that, we also attend industry conventions with decision makers of these events and venues, allowing us to again build relationships and keep ahead of the curve of all the industry challenges. This keeps our franchisees informed while allowing them to keep their focus on the business.
For most venues and event organizers, the real value of Lemon Heaven is having an experienced operator, versus having an operator or an individual with a ton of questions, learning as they go.
FC: Can you describe the different set-up options available?
CA: Our different set-up options come from our years of experience — our evolution if you will — understanding the direction of the industry and our need to drive high volume sales within a short period of time.
Every event or venue has different requirements and we have a suitable set-up for each of them. For example, for large state fairs, we have a large concession trailer suited for lemonade and mini donuts.
Our unique kiosk set-up, which has hot and cold running water without any power or water hook ups, gives event organizers a lot of flexibility as to where Lemon Heaven can be located.
Finally, for large convention centres and sporting arenas where space is limited and a set-ups foot print is very important, we have the smaller carts built with the same high quality standards in manufacturing and design, while exceeding all local health and fire regulations.
As I’ve said, these designs have come from our evolution, from our experience, and that’s part of the value of a having a Lemon Heaven franchise and having a Lemon Heaven operator at an event or venue.
FC: Is Lemon Heaven a year-round business or a seasonal business? Are there Lemon Heaven franchisees that work on their business year-round, and those that work on their business only during the peak summer months? What is more typical?
CA: The short answer to your last question is the majority of our franchisees operate during the summer. However, we are seeing a tremendous amount of growth in the year-round operator. As our franchisees understand — and as we continue to meet — the demand for our products and services, it’s a natural progression to move inside during the cold seasons.
There are a number of home and garden shows, sporting events, etc. during these cold seasons that have approached Lemon Heaven and our franchisees to operate at these indoor events with the same levels of success.
FC: What is the estimated initial investment and typical overhead expenses for a Lemon Heaven franchise? What can you tell us about its profit potential?
CA: Let me start with the profit potential question first as I get that a lot. I cannot make any revenue statements and every franchise system has different measurements of success. But let me just say this, out of all the different franchise systems out there (and Lemon Heaven is no different in this regard), profit is one of the measurements of success. To cut to the chase, everyone is in business to make money.
Lemon Heaven is in that group. We also offer the opportunity to have work-life balance, to work with your family, to put your kids in a situation where they have the opportunity to gain valuable skills while having fun. And I know this because my family and I have experienced it first hand.
Now to get back to the initial question. Our estimated initial level of investment is around the $50K mark. It’s higher as you get into the large concession trailers. This generally breaks down into a few large items, of which some can be financed via 3rd party. There is a $15K franchise fee for the Special Events Territory or Site Specific Location agreement. Another $15K for the kiosk setup, and then you’ll need some operating capital and initial inventory.
Another key point is while other concepts have an additional franchise fee for expanding, Lemon Heaven has NO additional fees when a franchisee adds additional equipment such as a 2nd or 3rd kiosk, mobile cart, or concession trailer. We want to help our franchisees grow their business and increase brand recognition within the territory.
To read part 2 of my exclusive interview with Charles, please click here.