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You Say When Yogurt eyes unorthodox sites

Plant City, Fla., sits 25 miles east of Tampa and is known for its annual Strawberry Festival, pickup trucks and downtown biker events. But Brad Bridges thinks it’s just the right place for one of his stores in the expanding You Say When Yogurt Shoppe chain.

While other frozen yogurt stores are proliferating on busy commercial corridors in west Florida like Tampa’s North Dale Mabry Highway and in the bustling weekend downtown of Saint Petersburg, Bridges said he seeks unorthodox locations and pitches affordable franchise startup deals to grow his frozen yogurt self-serve chain.

Started in 2008, You Say When Yogurt Shoppe has 15 locations from Naples to just north of Tampa and plans to open another seven in July and August, including sites on Florida’s East Coast in Jensen Beach and Sebastion. Those two cities are far from the sparkle of ritzy Florida East Coast towns like South Beach and Palm Beach.

“I like being a big fish in a small pond,” said Bridges, the founder of Brandon, Fla.-based You Say When Yogurt. “We’re providing an affordable solution for people to become their own bosses. I want to people to operate stores where they live.”

The company is expecting to open 18 franchised units in Florida and the southeast in 2012.

Before developing the self-service yogurt chain, Bridge’s did brand marketing work for Pabst Blue Ribbon, ConAgra Foods and Nestlé’s ice cream division.

Bridges’ strategy for growth is to avoid mano-a-mano combat against brands like Yogurtland, Berryism, Yogurt Mountain and Yogurt Spot on Tampa’s busiest commercial strip — North Dale Mabry Highway — and stick to malls and modest shopping centers like the one in Plant City.

That shopping center, where the monthly rent for You Say When Yogurt is $1,200, includes a Dollar Tree retail discount shop, a liquor store, a fingernails salon and a Beef O’ Brady’s sports pub.

“We decided to not locate near the others and live on the fringes,” Bridges said.

He opened his first unit in Brandon, a Tampa suburb, in 2008 and said the self-serve yogurt chain is generating double-digit sales growth. He said average unit volumes range from $250,000 to more than $500,000 with an average of about $350,000.

The average per person ticket is about $5 to $6 as customers get about 10 ounces of frozen yogurt for about 50 cents per ounce

Besides picking less sexy locations for his stores, Bridges also is pitching a more modest franchise fee and buildout package that he says he affordable.

For example, a You Say When Yogurt franchisee can open a store for $100,000 to $125,000, which covers three months operating capital, construction improvements, franchise fees, start-up product, signage and equipment.

That’s less than Yogurtland, which says opening costs are $350,000 to $400,000 for build-up and $35,000 for a franchise fee, according to its website. Another frozen yogurt chain called Menchie’s says it costs $340,000 to $400,000 to open a store, according to its website.

The company owns one store and plans to open a second unit in the University of South Florida area in Tampa this year.

Bridges said to finance his chain’s growth he hopes to draw two partners who are former Beef O’ Brady’s managers and also pursue partnerships with other concepts where his frozen yogurt shop and a pizzeria, for example, would share the same kitchen facility but have separate and adjacent storefronts.

Nick Vojnovic, former president of Beef O’ Brady’s and ex-chairman of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, said eventually there will be a “shakeout in the frozen yogurt industry” and endorsed Bridges’ approach of picking more modest locations and overseeing more modest buildouts.

“Positioning himself away from the big boys and doing a lesser buildout with less debt will allow him to weather the storm,” Vojnovic said.

Contact Alan Snel at [email protected]

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