The Scoop on Cold Stone
Forget the ice cream. Cold Stone Creamery's franchisee network is what keeps it on the fast track.
By Allan Richter

(Business 2.0) – Six years ago CEO Doug Ducey emerged from a Cold Stone Creamery retreat in Arizona with a plan to expand to 1,000 profitable ice cream stores by 2005--a lofty goal, considering that the company had just 74 at the time. Ducey has more than hit his mark. Cold Stone Creamery has nearly doubled the number of its shops each year since 2001--zooming past the 1,000-store goal this month--which places it among the top 20 fastest-growing franchises in the United States.

What's Ducey's secret? Cold Stone's butterfat-rich ice cream, served up with exotic accessories such as apple pie filling and graham-cracker pie crust, isn't as crucial as you might think. Many in the industry credit the company's unusual formula for franchisee relations--a communications loop that makes owners as happy as customers and keeps stores on a fast track to profit. Here's Cold Stone's recipe. -- ALLAN RICHTER

Help Them Help You

Ducey's master plan called for a Cold Stone franchisee advisory council--a group of owners that could serve as a clearinghouse for not just gripes but also new ideas. Last year the seven-member panel, which meets four times annually and runs periodic conference calls for franchisees, won the company's support for a national buying program that gets all owners lower prices for supplies.

Help Them Help Themselves

Another break from industry convention is that Jim Valentino, Cold Stone's VP for franchisee relations, acts as the sole liaison between owners and the corporate office. Owners are free to call or e-mail him anytime, confidentiality guaranteed. According to Valentino, at least half of the franchisees who solicit his coaching wind up solving their problems on their own.

Help Them Help One Another

Owners communicate with other owners through Creamery Talk, the company's intranet-based chat room. Since it launched in 2004, Creamery Talk has turned into a franchisee's black book, with tips on everything from storefront design to equipment repair. When one owner's freezer broke recently, a post to the chat room turned up an easy fix involving a $21 motor fan.