If founders, chefs and other creatives are the beating heart of the restaurant industry, then franchisees are the veins delivering their ideas to all corners of the globe. Franchising is critical to the success of the industry, allowing brands to quickly scale their big ideas using other people’s capital. And whether it’s a mom-and-pop restaurant owner with one or two franchised restaurants or a seasoned veteran whose influence in the industry is well-known, franchisees — with all their individual attributes, styles and personalities — make a huge impact on the success of a business.
In this week’s installment of Franchisee Spotlight, we spoke with Antonio McBroom, CEO of PRIMO Partners, about his work with Ben & Jerry’s and community-driven franchise model that encourages Black ownership and success.
15 stores anchored in the Southeast, with most units in the Carolinas, as well as Atlanta, Tampa, Houston, and Washington, D.C. metro areas.
19 years ago, when I was a freshman at UNC Chapel Hill, I was I was at orientation for a college job and the Ben & Jerry's ice cream shop on campus had a “Now Hiring” sign up. I loved the cool laidback atmosphere of the business. It had great college-friendly hours for students, and I loved ice cream. So those three things together made me jump in and start working there and I ended up managing the shop. I bought my first unit just two days before graduation back in 2008, and I've been loving the journey ever since….When I just had the one store, I was all about, “how do I make it the coolest most fun store, and get the music, right and the ambience?” And then we started branching out and taking our Ben and Jerry's experience to people's events, and doing the same thing about adding value to the event.
From scooper to scoop shop owner
It was an ambitious and bold journey… I remember asking my franchise owner what it would take for me as a 21 year old college student to buy my own franchise…. There was definitely a lot of learning along the way because it was new territory for me. No one in my family had ever owned their own business, so learning the ins and outs of entrepreneurship and leadership was a key thing for me the years.
As we acquired or built new stores over the past 15 years, one of our key ingredients is bringing world class hospitality. I feel that true hospitality is a gift that not a lot of people are given enough. We’re blessed to be in a business that we're serving the world's best ice cream and putting smiles on folks’ faces.
Being an example for other Black-owned franchise groups
We're 10 times the size we were when I started….I didn't dream that this would be possible when I started my first store, I was just so focused on growing that one store or maybe getting a second one day…. One of my key goals is to really be able to impact other diverse franchise groups to have success [by] being able to share some of the knowledge and experience that I've gathered over the years.
The importance of activism
As a small business, activism is key. I've learned that the way that I can have some of the deepest impact is by aligning with partners in my respective communities that share some of my values around social equity, criminal justice reform, and quality education for everyone. There are organizations and leaders that champion that and by partnering with them as a way to elevate their platform, it opens up their audience. United Way is one of our partners across several of our markets, and one of my deepest partnerships is with an organization called We Are: working to extend anti-racism education.
Creating a leadership pipeline
We have had an internal internship program for over a decade now…. One of my business partners, Philip Scott, started as a marketing intern with this program, and now he’s the Chief Operating Officer. We’ve had similar journeys where we've had interns…take the training and development programs internally that focus on the entrepreneurial journey and taking that leap in becoming a more self-aware leader…. I've done a good amount of motivational speaking and I'm starting to gear even more than toward aspiring entrepreneurs. I like to share a lot of the journey and wins and mistakes that I've made over the past 15 years.
Primo’s role in creating activist ice cream flavors
I think one of the things that Ben & Jerry’s has come to value about me is being that voice that pushes us even further into intentional activism, and in particular racial equity….So when we thought about cool, iconic flavors over the years based on pop culture like Cherry Garcia… I thought, how can we identify some ways that we can align with some pop culture icons that represent our social activism values and Black Americans. It started with our partnership with Colin Kaepernick. I thought that, you know, it was it was remarkable for us to partner with him when we did, and choosing him to have his own flavor was great. Then came Ava DuVernay and our partnership with her, and Chance the Rapper.
Goals moving forward
I definitely got my sights set on 50 [units]. The path from 15 to 50 is something that my team and I have thought a lot about. Every time we get to a plateau or milestone, from a size number standpoint, we ask ourselves, “does our ability to impact grow if we choose to continue to grow?” And each time, the answer has been yes.