Fro-Yo Files: Interview with Lovin’ Spoons’ CEO Diane Kahn
Big frozen yogurt chains have been dominating the market and growing at breathtaking speed, with hundreds of franchises springing up across the country and even around the world. But smaller entities are also making headway, gaining a foothold even in highly competitive markets. I spoke to Founder/CEO Diane Kahn about launching and growing Lovin’ Spoons, a self-serve frozen yogurt company based in Savannah, Georgia.
The Big Leap
When Kahn and her husband moved from their hometown of Savannah to San Diego in 2009, they found themselves in frozen yogurt land — “there was practically one on every corner.” They grew homesick and decided to return to Georgia in 2010, but not before they were bitten by the frozen yogurt bug. They explored fro-yo stores up and down California, learning along the way what to do and, more importantly, what not to do, as they prepared to open Lovin’ Spoons.
Finding that most frozen yogurt stores seemed “cookie-cutter” and indistinguishable from one another, Kahn knew she had to differentiate her brand from the get-go. Enlisting the services of Mighty 8th Media in Atlanta, Kahn developed a concept that would be both unique and offer “broad appeal.” Having come of age in the Seventies, which she feels is “a lasting time period,” Kahn was inspired to create a Seventies “vibe” with a “contemporary” feel. “It eliminates age group” distinctions, Kahn says. “It’s not too juvenile, not too sophisticated.”
For Kahn, getting her brand right and making it consistent across all design elements and marketing materials was key. The store had to be recognizable and make an immediate impact, which is why Kahn made the bold move of opening two locations at once, the first in November of 2011 and the second six weeks later.
“People thought it was a big chain from California,” Kahn says of her company’s early success. It didn’t look like a local mom-and-pop shop: looking professional and long established from Day One helped Lovin’ Spoons get off the ground quickly.
One of the things Kahn learned on her tour of fro-yo shops and definitely wanted to avoid was “the messy appearance” of “half-empty stores” where “the machines were dripping.” As other fro-yo owners confirm, keeping a spotless store is essential. Maintenance has been a critical factor: frozen-yogurt stores can easily grow to look “worn-out” and “torn up.” “I want every store to look like it just opened, every minute of the day,” Kahn says.
Marketing, Local Presence, and the Competition
Kahn never rests on her laurels and instead markets aggressively, relying on “a two-pronged approach” of advertising and public relations to keep the brand alive and growing. The company goes to doctors’ offices, schools, and anywhere they’re likely to find a customer, with coupons for frozen yogurt. “Our company holds fundraisers for local organizations,” she says. “We have a huge presence in the community.” This kind of grassroots marketing is itself a “full-time job.”
Kahn hasn’t been too worried about the competition. A large competitor, Menchie’s, is only four blocks away; it opened just a few weeks after Lovin’ Spoons. But Kahn says her company’s Facebook page has 11,700 fans, ten times that of Menchie’s local page. So even though her company had the gloss of a big outfit, its actual local identity and greater reach in the community have made it a “leader” there.