When asked to talk about his success and crowning glory as a franchisee, Roger Wilder III, owner of 10 Smoothie Kings in Louisiana — with another one preparing to open — says sharing his best practices would be “braggadocio.” But Wilder should be forgiven for boasting.
When he and his wife Stephanie opened their first Smoothie King franchise in Denham Springs, La., the business won the company’s Outstanding New Franchisee Award a year after it opened in 2001. Over the years, the accolades have just kept coming. For four consecutive years, 2005-2008, Store #346 was named Franchise of the Year by Smoothie King and it nabbed the distinction of Store of the Year in 2011 when the awards were announced last June. The store is owned by the Wilders along with one of their partners, J.T. Davidson.
All of the awards are quite a feat when one takes into consideration that Smoothie King operates more than 600 outlets in 32 states, the Cayman Islands, and the Republic of Korea.
“We’ve got a great product,” says the 36-year-old, when asked about the secret to his success. “As a franchisee, I’ve learned don’t compromise the product. The system works.”
Early Career in Hospitality
Wilder began his career at age 16 working for Celebration Station entertainment complex in New Orleans. The six-acre site had thrill rides, batting cages, go-karts, miniature golf, video games, and food concessions. Wilder started out as a grounds keeper; within six years, he had moved up to assistant general manager.
Tired of working nights and weekends, however, he began working at Smoothie King in New Orleans. Because he was friends with the son of the company’s founders, Stephen and Cynthia Kuhnau, Wilder actually worked alongside the founders at times.
When Celebration Station offered him a general manager position at its property in Baton Rouge, the then-23-year-old Wilder took the job and moved his wife to the capital city. He noticed quickly that there were very few Smoothie Kings in the area, so he opened his first store in 2001, while continuing to work at Celebration Station. By 2004, he had picked up another Smoothie King store in the Baton Rouge area and he has continued to grow his empire by opening a new store or acquiring an existing one at the rate of about one per year.
When he first started out, having learned from the Kuhnaus themselves, Wilder said he thought he knew the business because he could make a smoothie. He has learned a lot about the business since then.
“I thought that I knew everything,” he said “I walked into a hornet’s nest. The first store was a learning experience.”
Now in the process of building his 11th Smoothie King in Louisiana, a free-standing structure at a major intersection, and the first unit for which Wilder will own both the building and land, the father of two (with a third child coming any minute) said he has advice to share with potential franchisees who might be interested in investing in Smoothie King or other franchises.
Wilder Advice: ‘Know Nothing’
“Don’t assume to know anything,” he cautions others. “Assume to know nothing and use the franchise for those resources.”
Wilder attended Loyola University and University of New Orleans, but didn’t graduate. When he took on responsibilities as a franchisee in his early 20s, he says he “lacked certain life experiences” but he felt empowered because he knew the product so well. Ultimately, strong partnerships have been the key to his success, he says, with his partners owning 10 percent of his stores, while he owns the majority share.
“And my wife is the best possible partner I could ask for,” he said.