Ahmad Yilmaz, co-founder and Creative Director of Forever Yogurt, has a Master’s Degree in International Relations and a background in politics, but he’s a graphic designer at heart and responsible for Forever Yogurt’s voice and distinct culture.
From 2008 to 2010, Ahmad was the Senior Art Director at Elite Chicago Rentals, a high-end vacation rentals company. Prior to that, he was the Art Director at whosout.com, a social networking website with a nightlife focus.
“While Forever Yogurt is a franchise, no two Forever Yogurt locations are identical,” says Ahmad. With each new store opening, Forever Yogurt strives to adopt the individuality of the community. For example, before opening a Forever Yogurt location at the iconic Belmont and Clark Street intersection of Wrigleyville, Chicago, Ahmad worked closely with the Chicago Transit Authority to create a distinctive look for the store. The stunning end result was a store interior that mimicked a classic Chicago subway train.
Forever Yogurt’s strong focus on branding and design is one of the things that sets them apart from their peers in the frozen yogurt category, and Ahmad is the person leading this effort.
Franchise Chatter (FC): What are your responsibilities as Creative Director of Forever Yogurt?
Ahmad Yilmaz (AY): I am mainly responsible for managing the overall look and feel of the Forever Yogurt brand. This entails producing all print and promotional materials, designing and maintaining the Forever Yogurt website, and creating store layout and design. I also oversee and manage our social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, etc.), as well as develop and deliver social media marketing campaigns.
FC: What message did you want to convey when you created Forever Yogurt’s branding and store design?
AY: I wanted to create a brand that would appeal to a wide range of demographics, which meant steering away from anything too sterile or too busy. This approach is reflected in the store’s layout as it embraces a clean, modern, and inviting ambiance.
FC: Can you give us a few examples of the ways you’ve tailored each individual store to the particular community?
AY: We strongly believe that integrating the character of the community into our store decor is essential for establishing a good rapport with the community.
One of our stores, for example, is located next to a CTA Red Line train station in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago. We dedicated the entire store to mimic a Red Line train station. We built a mock CTA train that houses all the yogurt machines and incorporated the CTA train map onto our wallpapers. For the convenience of our patrons/commuters, we mounted flat screen TVs that display real-time Red Line train arrival times.
All of our other current (and future) stores don our signature pink and purple color scheme with one or two walls dedicated to the community.
FC: How are you able to keep your build-out costs affordable, and construction timetable reasonable, without resorting to a more traditional cookie-cutter approach?
AY: We do most of our design work in house, and look for bulk purchase pricing everywhere we can. We have some strong national planning and construction partners that we’d love to suggest to our franchisees. Surely staying organized and on point help get the stores opened effectively and efficiently.
FC: What kind of support do you offer franchisees when it comes to store design and construction? What kind of infrastructure do you have in place to support the needs of the franchise as you grow your total number of locations?
AY: We’ll work with the franchisee on the general layout and will create a custom look for the store that fits well within its neighborhood or city.
We currently have more corporate employees than opened stores, which is rare in this industry. We have the ability to work side-by-side with each franchisee to continue to provide top notch support. We’ll continue to ramp up service and support as needed and as the franchise continues to grow.
FC: How long does it typically take to complete the design and construction process for a single store?
AY: It takes about 6 weeks from permit approval.
FC: What is your design and build-out strategy for converting existing mom-and-pop frozen yogurt shops into the Forever Yogurt brand?
AY: Converting existing stores into Forever Yogurt is both cost-effective and less time consuming. Ideally, if the existing store already has a self-serve format, it would only require minor cosmetic and aesthetic modifications with the appropriate Forever Yogurt signage.
FC: How are you integrating (from a design perspective) the FROTH Hot Chocolate & Espresso Bar to fit into the stores?
AY: Our FROTH Hot Chocolate & Espresso Bar’s logo borrows the same dark brown and gold colors that make up part of the Forever Yogurt logo. The purpose of this was to maintain a level of uniformity and color consistency with both Forever Yogurt and FROTH brands.
FC: Can you name a few companies (inside or outside your category) that you admire for their branding, and why?
AY: I am very inspired by Chipotle’s clean industrial vibe and Dunkin’ Donuts’ warm and inviting look. I wanted to blend all these qualities when we developed the Forever Yogurt brand.