Whether purchasing a franchise or doing it yourself, adding food and/or drink services can boost your bottom line.

SMOOTHIE AND JUICE bars are a great way to add additional profit to your bottom line. They don't take a lot of space or equipment, and you can cater to your customer's nutritional needs and whims in just moments. When you think of maximizing profit per square foot of floor space, a smoothie or juice bar may just be your best bet.

The trend for offering additional services and providing members with more for their money is still going strong. People want to feel pampered. Look at the rising sales of high-priced coffees, teas and juices, and you'll see the makings for sales success when you bring these types of luxury items to your center.

There are two main ways to bring a successful juice/coffee bar into your business: a franchise or a self start-up.

Franchise

There are obvious benefits to purchasing a smoothie or juice bar franchise for your center, or even renting space in your facility to a franchise operator. One important one is brand recognition - people will recognize the name of the smoothie bar and go there because they know what they are getting. Another benefit is marketing assistance. There are many prepackaged, turnkey marketing materials, signs, frequent buyer cards, brochures, television commercials - you name it, they've got it.

An obvious disadvantage, depending on your budget, is start-up costs. Purchasing a franchise is expensive. Add to that the expense of the counters, blenders, refrigerators, signs, bar stools, and/or tables and chairs, and you've got an expensive proposition on your hands. Certainly, the size of the space you'll be serving from dictates your start-up costs, including, in some cases, the cost of the franchise. But, you can expect a franchise to cost anywhere from approximately $34,000 for something small, like a cart, to $300,000 for a small counter and seating area.

Even with the costs, franchises are a great way to go for many reasons, including the most important, from a customer's perspective: the menu. "We help our [franchise operators] focus on the key product lines for a fitness center," says Janet Beaudry, marketing vice president for the Maui Wowi Hawaiian Coffee and Smoothies franchise, Greenwood Village, Colo. (www.mauiwowi.com). "We offer a full line of coffee and smoothie drinks … but, some fitness center customers may or may not want coffee drinks, or may want to add certain boosters to their fruit-based drinks. We've created the mixes already so that [the boosters] won't impact the flavor [of the smoothie]." Menu flexibility is the key within each site, as is how extensive the menu will be. Franchises offer their expert assistance on what works for your specific needs and space requirements. Some, like Maui Wowi, even have a fitness model for franchising.

A franchise program will also help you to design your space and tell you how much equipment you need. You'll get essentially a turnkey design guide that is attractive to consumers and sells the company name. You give your space layout to the franchise, and it offers assistance on how your counter and equipment layout should be. "About 400 to 500 square feet is our minimum," says Ted Barnett, sales manager for the Squeeze Fresh Juice Bar franchise, Greenwood Village, Colo. (www.squeezeusa.com). "With that limited space, we know that you'll need two blenders, a cooler, dipping cabinet, etc." Squeeze Fresh Juice Bar's in-house design group will design to fit your space. You hire an architect and contractor to oversee the building, and voila, a smoothie bar is right there at your own counter.

A great benefit of franchising is the marketing assistance. After all, you can have a great product, but if you can't get people to try it, you won't be successful. From printed materials to web-based marketing, franchises have it all planned out for you; plus, you can customize it to suit your needs. Look for a web-based design template you can attach to your own center's homepage and that attaches to the franchise's corporate homepage. Says Beaudry, this site should educate consumers on product lines, catering options and even franchise opportunities.

Self start-up

Of course, you don't need to have a franchise smoothie/juice bar. The Paradise Health and Fitness Center in Port Aransas, Texas (www.paradisefitnesscenter.com), is a great example of a self start-up. Its Mambo's Coffee and Juice Bar is central to members coming and going from the group fitness and exercise areas. It's a great addition to this new fitness center, which opened in June 2005.

"Our early morning members grab one on their way out for breakfast, and our noon people have one as a lunch supplement," says Leizlie Turicchi, owner of Paradise Health and Fitness Center. She wanted to include a juice bar when she opened the facility as a service to her members, and for guests, since the city has a large tourist population.

To help encourage members to purchase Mambo's offerings, Turicchi's front desk staff offer samples, and there are gift cards that can be loaded with money for use in the café. "Some members spend over $300 a month with this card," says Turicchi. "A husband and wife will come in together every morning for a workout and a smoothie each." It all adds up.

Mambo's design and logo are catchy, thanks to Turicchi's son, who is a graphic artist. She gave him her vision for the space, and he not only designed the look, but helped build parts of the café counter. They wanted their mascot, Mambo, to have a personality, so, the "Mambo Says" board offers words of wisdom such as, "If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time"; and he wishes members a happy birthday or announces special occasions.

Turicchi also wanted a uniquely named menu, so she chose to name her beverages after celebrities. There's the Blues Brothers (banana and blueberry), the Carmen Miranda (pina colada), the Joe DiMaggio (coffee and chocolate) and so on.

Sneakers, a fitness center in Binghamton, N.Y. (www.sneakersfitness.com), also has a juice bar. Owner LuAnn DiMartino has offered the juice bar for 12 of the 14 years her fitness center has been open. "We responded to the requests of our members," says DiMartino of the decision to begin offering an assortment of items, such as juices, smoothies, protein shakes, bagels and muffins. "And, the menu has changed over the years, based on what the members wanted."

Many take their snacks and drinks to go, but many also eat in. Binghamton is a small city, and Sneakers offers members a comfortable place to relax after a workout. This juice bar is especially appreciated by older members, who find it a warm and inviting place to chat.

Because of the variety of members' ages, DiMartino offers a wide assortment of items for sale. "The younger crowd goes for the protein drinks and energy drinks, but the older folks like the juices and smoothies," she explains.

Lessons learned

As with any business, there are always lessons to be learned. For instance, Turicchi says to be sure the blenders for smoothies are in an insulated area. Her day spa is directly above Mambo's, and though her blenders are in a closeted area, she wishes that she had installed more insulation to further buffer the sound.

DiMartino suggests checking the prices of baked goods before ordering. She initially baked the muffins and treats sold at the juice bar herself. Then she found that it was much cheaper to have them catered, packaged and delivered. Catering is also a lot easier with regard to food permits.

A smoothie and juice bar can make a great addition to your fitness business, but give it the same forethought you would give any other business decision. Planning the space, menu and marketing must not be an afterthought. Ensure that your members are given the delicious product they want, market it appropriately and, if needed, offer incentives to purchase, such as free samples or gift cards. With the right product and a little coaxing, your smoothie and juice bar can be an integral part of your fitness center's bottom line.

To Franchise or Self-Start?

While it is true that franchising is expensive in start-up costs and additional fees, before deciding that it's just too expensive, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Do you have enough know-how to design a tasty product line?
  2. Do you have professional marketing help for glossy photos, brochures, television ads, etc.?
  3. Do you have design help for the look of your smoothie bar? Don't forget that, in addition to architects and contractors to build, the design fee of the space will be an additional expense should you choose to go with a self start-up.
  4. Consumers may ask about nutritional information. Do you have a relationship with a lab that can test your products if need be?