Yogurt Franchise Is Familys Key To A Growing Business In Nashua, Manchester And Soon, Salem

Monday, August 06, 2012

Sophanith Pou was visiting graduate schools in California when he landed on the idea. He and his three siblings knew they wanted to go into business, and with their parents ready to lay out the money, it was only a matter of picking a course and sticking with it.

"I was searching for my grad school when I saw the concept," said Pou, 28, currently a doctoral candidate in business at Southern New Hampshire University. It was Tutti Frutti, a self-serve frozen yogurt franchise offering a multitude of flavors, with upward of 60 toppings. Pou and his family now operate Tutti Frutti shops in Nashua and Manchester with more on the way.

Pou, a Cambodian immigrant who first came to the U.S. in 2001, happened upon one of the shops and fell in love.

"I realized, 'Oh my God, this yogurt is really good,' " he said excitedly. "It's so light, so tasty, so fresh." With that, he brought his siblings to see what it was all about.

Based in Fullerton, Calif., Tutti Frutti claims to be the largest self-serve frozen yogurt brand in the world, with 584 stores worldwide.

Pou had initially wanted to create an original brand. "But after discussion my brothers and sister, we said we should go with Tutti Frutti because they already have a brand name and 500 stores," he said. "That's why we picked Tutti Frutti." They began researching the market. Frozen yogurt shops in New England were few and far between, he said, and given the region's love affair with ice cream, the decision was easy.

"Why Tutti Frutti? The taste is much better than the competition," Pou said, sitting at the Nashua location that opened in April. "Our competitors do not make yogurt in the back of the store. What they do is buy the premixed yogurt and freeze it, defrost and put it back in the machine to make the yogurt. That's totally different from us." Within seven months from Pou's trip to California, he and his family opened the first Tutti Frutti in the state at the Mall of New Hampshire last August. It was such a hit that they opened a second location at the Pheasant Lane Mall seven months later.

Employing eight to 10 people at each branch, the family plans to open two more stores in the Greater Boston area in 2013 and one this fall at the Rockingham Mall in Salem.

Pou's 22-year-old sister, Chankessna Pou, runs the Manchester shop, and his eldest brother, Chanphanou Pou, 32, manages the one in Nashua.

He emphasized that it was everyone's idea and that each sibling has a role. Pou's youngest brother, Sophaneth Pou, 27, majors in computer science and is responsible for much of the design used in the store.

Pou said the yogurt comes from a simple recipe. Mixing two percent milk with a corporate yogurt powder, the workers blend fresh fruit daily and chop up the toppings.

In all, Tutti Frutti offers 50 flavors, using organic and local fruit when possible. Every day, 12 different yogurts are available at the store, in addition to six swirls.

Then there are the toppings. After drawing the yogurt of choice, the customer than proceeds to a buffet-style counter offering about 60 toppings.

From nuts to candy to syrup to fresh fruit, customers pile on the toppings to their hearts' content. Among them are pistachios and sliced almonds, Sour Patch Kids and Twix bars, and a cornucopia of fruits from mango and pineapple to raspberry, strawberry and banana.

The product is sold at 54 cents an ounce. Most dishes range between $2 and $15.

In an email, Mary Tomzack, founder of FranchiseHelp.com and author of "Tips and Traps When Buying a Franchise," said that in recent decades, the frozen yogurt industry has exploded in popularity.

"However," Tomzack warned, "as more and more brands emerge and more locations are built out, it appears the industry may be approaching a saturation point." "While there is certainly still room for growth in the category, to avoid commoditization the winners will need to continue to innovate in both their core offering � frozen yogurt � and in the ancillary products they provide," things like smoothies, coffee, pastries or other options.

According to Tutti Frutti's parent company, Wellspring Industry in Fullerton, Calif., to open a franchise requires an initial investment of $600,000. The estimated time of return on investment is 24 months.

Pou declined to comment about his family's investment.

Though he's active in the business � offering the knowledge he's gleaned from his education to help develop the business � Pou said he doesn't get paid for his work. His parents have paid for his entire college education, he said, and that's plenty.

In spite of the rapid success of the Pous' Tutti Frutti franchises, Sophanith Pou said he'll return to Cambodia upon graduating. He wants to work for the government to help with the development of his country.

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