After nearly 20 years in food franchising, Steve Rothenstein became the leader of the Dippin’ Dots’ franchise division. Having been both a franchisee and on the senior leadership team of multiple franchise concepts in roles such as training, franchise development and operations, Steve has a unique perspective to serve a franchise system in a way that few franchise executives can.
When Steve took over the helm at Dippin’ Dots Franchising in 2012, his immediate goal was to put Dippin’ Dots on the path to sustainable and responsible growth ultimately leading to a listing on the Entrepreneur Franchise 500. This year, Dippin’ Dots was ranked at #312 on the list. In addition, Dippin’ Dots Franchising grew at over 45% in 2015 and is on track to grow even more in 2016.
BeTheBoss: Tell us a little about the Dippin’ Dots concept.
Steve Rothenstein: With over 25 years of brand recognition, Dippin’ Dots originated the “beaded” ice cream concept. Franchising since 1999, the business model is a franchise concept built around bringing the fun to where the people are - specifically selling our iconic breaded ice cream at fairs, festivals, shopping centers and other high- traffic venues. While Dippin’ Dots has 119 franchise owners covering 56 territories, the Dippin’ Dots brand itself has over 10,000 points of presence and is distributed in all 50 states and in 11 countries. This brand recognition propels the franchisee’s business, and there is still plenty of room to grow.
BTB: What was your background prior to joining Dippin’ Dots franchise?
SR: I have been in franchising in various capacities my entire career. I started in the early 90s at Yum Brands as a training manager for Taco Bell and was there for nearly 10 years in a variety of roles. I then joined Cold Stone as a director of regional operations for the brand both a franchisee and eventually became a franchisee myself. I also served as the director of franchise services for Tasti D-Lite and Planet Smoothie spending the majority of my time working in international operations and development.
BTB: How and when did you become involved with Dippin’ Dots?
SR: Dippin’ Dots came under new ownership in 2012 and was looking to expand Dippin’ Dots' franchising division. My initial involvement was to oversee the strategic growth of the Dippin’ Dots brand through franchising. Now as the Senior Director of Franchising, I not only oversee Dippin’ Dots, but also our newly acquired brand, Doc Popcorn, the largest franchised retailer of popcorn in the world.
BTB: Are Doc Popcorn and Dippin’ Dots separate franchise opportunities or are you planning on co-branding the two brands?
SR: The answer is both. While each brand remains a separate franchise opportunity, our intention when purchasing Doc Popcorn in 2014 was to offer future franchise owners the opportunity to open dual branded locations. The two brands together offer a complete portfolio of sweet and savory treats that appeal to different palates and balance snackers' seasonal food cravings. We have several dual branded locations open now in both kiosk and in-line models and we are pleased with the results they are seeing with the combined offering of fresh-popped popcorn flavors and our delicious flash frozen beads of ice cream.
BTB: Who is your ideal franchisee?
SR: Both Dippin’ Dots and Doc Popcorn have a similar profile in that the ideal fit are folks looking for a simple business model and want to have fun operating it themselves. Many of our franchise owners are couples and families who want to spend time together using skills from their previous professions to own their own business. It’s important to note that although we have amazing products to sell, we are in the business of fun and smiles. So our successful franchisee is one that will be an ambassador of “fun!" We can teach our franchise owners how to run their business with regard to how to order and sell product, but someone on the team, needs to have the people skills to deliver an outstanding service and product experience, and expand the business beyond their four walls.
BTB: Tell us a little about the Snack Market?
SR: The global snack market is strong with consumers spending $374 billion on snack foods between 2013 and 2014, and the American market was predicted to hit $45.5 billion last year. People of all age-groups are snacking more frequently, and doing it on-the-go. To get specific about consumer demand for our products, more and more, people are eating ice cream throughout the day and through the winter months and Americans consume 16 billion quarts of popcorn every year. Indulging on ice cream and snacking on popcorn are two trends that are here to stay.
BTB: What advice do you have for someone looking to acquire a franchise?
SB: It’s important to assess if the franchisor’s product or service has solid consumer demand now and in the future, and whether it has the flexibility and scalability to go the distance over a multi-year franchise agreement. It’s also important to realize that selecting a franchise is really a mutual process. While franchisors are evaluating if you are a good fit, future franchisees also need to think about this as well—asking themselves not just what kind of business do they want to be in, but what do they want to be doing every day? Prospective franchisees should also talk to people who are already in the business in which they are interested about what they like, and what they don’t like, to help assess if the business day-to-day is really what they think it is.
BTB: In your opinion, why do you think that Dippin’ Dots would be a great opportunity for someone?
SR: If you have a passion for the idea of owning your own business and tapping into the ever growing on-the-go snack and treat market, the Dippin’ Dots brand is a great could be a good fit. Dippin’ Dots has been around for over a quarter of a century, enjoying tremendous brand recognition, which helps with both consumer interest and building your territory. Also, the initial upfront costs are very reasonable, particularly for a food franchise. This makes owning a Dippin’ Dots franchise, or even a multi-concept opportunity, very attractive and attainable.