New Brands & New Twists Bring Customer Satisfaction To The Ice Cream Franchise Industry

In the world of retailing, many believe that mix-ins and premium ice originated in 1973 when Steve Herrell opened the now-legendary Steve's in Somerville, Massachusetts. Today's brands make those days seem almost quaint, like Henry Ford's Model T in a world of 200-mph Ferraris.

For the consumer, ice cream is a cool, relaxing treat. For vendors, it's a high-stakes, high-competition arena, where innovation rules and fickle customers are always searching for the next cool twist. There's nothing new about this, really. Howard Johnson's, famous for its 28 flavors and orange roofs, began franchising in 1932. And Baskin-Robbins, another ice cream industry veteran known for its 31 flavors (one for every day of the month), turned 60 in 2005 pioneering new products for changing tastes.

Today's "hot" idea in the ice cream world is the cold slab: a stone slab, often marble, that sits atop a freezing table. This allows servers to lay out or roll out the ice cream and mix in a customer's favorite goodies without the tasty concoction melting before it gets to the customer's eager mouth.

Cold Stone Creamery, founded in 1988 in Tempe, Arizona, has been awarding franchises since 1995. Cold Stone's success is evident in the number of its stores: more than 1,200 open and 1,000 more awarded. Franchisees like the concept so much that they account for more than half of the new stores. The brand charges premium prices for its super-premium ice but consumers across the country are lapping it up like there's no tomorrow. Development costs range from $294,000 to $438,000.

At Angel's Ice Cream, you'll also get your frozen treat mixed on a frozen stone slab while you salivate. The unique pitch here is the aroma of freshly baked waffle cones that surrounds you as you enter through the 1950s-style storefront. Startup costs are $140,000 to $250,000. The franchisor also offers Angel's Hot Dogs to keep the customers coming for more than just or a treat.

Maggie Moo's Ice Cream and Treatery, another hot brand, focuses its pitch on the high quality of its super-premium made fresh on the premises (and priced about 20 percent lower than Cold Stone's).The company proudly trumpets its five Blue Ribbon Awards from the National Ice Cream Retailer's Association for its vanilla, vanilla bean, chocolate, dark chocolate, and strawberry flavors.

(Years ago, when Steve Herrell was asked what his favorite flavor was, he replied, "Vanilla." When asked why, he said that vanilla was the base for all of his other flavors, and if a company couldn't make a good vanilla they probably couldn't make a good anything else.)

Maggie Moo's rounds out its confectionary offerings with smoothies, milkshakes, cakes, treats and more. Founded in 1989 and franchising since 1996, the company had nearly 400 stores entering 2006, and is targeting 1,000 by 2010.

As Americans seek to balance their own competition between their taste buds and their waistlines, franchisees are cleaning up as new brands and new twists on old brands keep the customers satisfied.

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