Rita’s new year will bring new growth, new advantages for franchisees

Our frozen dessert franchise has big plans in store for 2019 with new tech, new footprints and new ways to give franchise owners a competitive edge

Every new year brings with it new possibilities to be better, and we’ve set sights high at Rita’s Italian Ice. As we work toward strengthening our consumer value proposition and ways to increase our customer base, our frozen dessert franchise is launching new initiatives that are also focused on improving our bottom line.

President and CEO Linda Chadwick says Rita’s is looking to add up to 50 new locations in 2019 and broadening our presence in underdeveloped regions. “Some of the territories where we have an emphasis on growth include Texas, Florida, Louisiana, the Carolinas and of course New York, New Jersey and Virginia.”  

Rita’s is upgrading our consumer app and improving our digital presence, incorporating new marketing strategies to make the guest experience more user-friendly.

“We’re rolling out some new flavors and a new product line in 2019, and our focus is all about the family experience,” Chadwick says. “We have some really cool things coming up.”

A pregnant woman and her husband sit cross-legged on the grass with their toddler son between them, all sharing some frozen Rita’s treats.

Rita’s Italian Ice is renewing our focus in 2019 on creating a fun family experience, which will be the driving theme behind our marketing strategies.

Focus on the bottom line

With new leadership positions in franchise development, marketing, IT and overseeing our supply chain, Rita’s is working hard to engineer lower operating costs for our franchisees next year.

One of the exciting new initiatives Rita’s is rolling out in early 2019 is our On The Road mobile vans. A new vendor partnership will allow our franchisees to lease the vehicles with the option to purchase them when the lease expires.

“Once a franchisee gets a shop up and running, this is a great way to expand their footprint and get the Rita’s brand out there so that they can promote their store,” Chadwick says.

Other exciting developments for 2019:

We’ll be implementing mobile platform to boost catering revenue streams called Rita’s On The Road. The platform is designed to help guests more easily book Rita’s for their special events like weddings, bar mitzvahs and festivals.

LINDA CHADWICK

Rita’s will launch our first modular building in 2019, which will speed up the timeline for opening a new shop. The sleek design will have a smaller footprint that will lower overhead costs to help increase profit margins.

“We do really well in a small footprint, and we want to get back to these neighborhood shops, which is so true to how Rita’s was founded,” Chadwick says. “This will also make operations even simpler and more streamlined.

“With our new technology, our new mobile platforms and the smaller footprints with our modular building, this is really a great time to buy,” she says, “particularly for multi-unit investors. We’d love to talk to you about a three-pack or a five-pack.”

Learn more

If you’d like to learn more about the business opportunity with our frozen dessert franchise, fill out the form on this page to access our Franchise Information Center, where you can find detailed financial results, a breakdown of startup costs and in-depth Q&As with Rita’s franchisees. You can also find more information about our franchise by exploring our research pages.

Rita’s franchise review: Seizing the opportunity in Dallas

Dallas franchisee Sean Evans missed his favorite East Coast brand, so he decided to open up a few of his own in his new hometown.

Dallas has more sunny days than rainy and more hot days than cold. It’s the perfect place for Rita’s Italian Ice to have a large presence. But when Sean Evans and his wife moved from the East Coast to Dallas to be closer to family, he couldn’t help but notice: “Where in the world is Rita’s?”

Now, he and his business partner, a cousin, have signed on to open five shops, with the first location expected to open in early 2019. In this Rita’s franchise review, Evans shares his story.

What were you doing before Rita’s?

My background has been in retail management. I worked for Foot Locker for 20 years; two of those years I worked my way to store manager, and then eight, almost nine years as a manager. Then I spent 10 years as a district manager. So that’s where I kinda got my multi-unit management experience, so to speak. I covered the D.C., Maryland and northern Virginia areas for that company for 10 years, and then we moved to Texas in 2016 to be closer to family.

So, how did you learn about Rita’s?

Well, being from the East Coast/Mid-Atlantic states, Rita’s is a well-known brand there. So when I got here to Texas I just noticed I didn’t see Rita’s. I came home one day and I was talking to my wife and I said, “You know what I haven’t seen since we’ve been here for the last five months?” It was around springtime that it kind of hit me. I was like, “I want some Rita’s.” So we laughed about it and said, “It’d be nice to have one.” And we kind of went on with life.

About four months after that my uncle, who already lives here in Dallas, simply asked me a question. He just said, “Hey, if you weren’t doing what you’re doing, what would you want to do?” And I gave him my observation about Rita’s, you know, that I hadn’t seen it but that it’s a great product I think would do well in Texas. I think you could open them all year round. I mean, we just had an open conversation about it. Then within a day, little did I know that my uncle already knew that I had a cousin who was interested in investing in the opportunity and loved the idea that I had presented. And he just put us together, and we’ve been walking down this Rita’s road ever since.

We then started to inquire with Rita’s and learned that Rita’s wanted to grow their brand in this part of this country as well. Things started to move forward. So here we are with the rights to five locations.

Four children stand on the grass in the sunshine, with the third girl on the left holding a Rita’s branded cup of frozen custard.

Warm, sunny days and Rita’s Italian Ice are a match made in heaven. That’s why our brand is such a good fit for Dallas.

How closely did you look at the direction of the brand and the leadership? You knew as a consumer you loved the product, but what makes Rita’s a good investment?

One thing that really stood out was the personal touch that Rita’s had once we started to reach out and try to talk to someone. The invited us to tour the headquarters down in Philly. Because for me, Rita’s was easy, but for my cousin — he remembered the brand from when he was younger because he grew up in Philly. But he had kinda lost touch with the brand.

So I believe that the approach they had for someone just trying to find out about the opportunity was fantastic. That gave us peace of mind that the relationship was genuine and that they were really invested in the brand having success. That was big for us. That took us from knowing the brand as consumers to experiencing the brand through a different lens.

What are some of the most valuable things they do to support you?

This is our first franchise opportunity, so we’re really learning as we go along. Every question we’ve had, they have answers. It is a good feeling when the landlord represents something or the broker represents something that, with our infant eyes in this arena, we may not know or catch, but then Rita’s has been on our side and saying, “Hey, you may want to make sure you take a second look at this.”

It’s not just about getting your initial fee and here’s your location and you’re off on your own. At one point, we were doing conference calls every other week. They’re very patient, very partnership-driven to make sure that we feel supported as the franchise owners. So that is a very satisfying feeling when you can feel like the corporate side of the franchise is also in your corner and not just trying to take your investment and wish you the best.

Were there any objections or concerns that you had going in that they were able to help you overcome?

One that comes to mind was the decision of doing one unit vs. multiple units. Because again, being first-time franchise owners, and even though we had my background in operations and there’s marketing background from the other side, one of the big things that we were deciding on was, do we want to do more than one? Or do we want to just do the one and see what happens? That kind of thing.

But through our partnership and conversations with Rita’s, they came up with different scenarios on how it can look if you decide to do multiple units. You know, it wasn’t like five at a time and boom there you are. It was more like, do the first one and then space them out six or nine months apart, and then go after the next one.

A lineup of products in Rita’s branded red-and-green cups.

What would you say draws customers to Rita’s? What makes people love it so much?

I think it is the intentionality of how close they can come to your favorite flavor. You know, whatever your taste buds are telling you that this flavor is gonna taste like when you order it, when it comes to you in that cup, it’s there.

What’s your personal favorite menu item?

For me, it started off as lemon. And then it branched out into blue raspberry. But I’m gonna tell you mango is now my favorite Rita’s flavor. And I didn’t even know that mango was Rita’s leading flavor. It wasn’t until I got to Texas that I realized mango was my new favorite.

Learn more

You can explore more information about our franchise opportunity on our research pages. Fill out the form on this page to access our Franchise Information Center, where you can find detailed financial results, a breakdown of startup costs and more Rita’s franchise reviews.

Multi-unit owners offer secrets to success with Rita’s

Rita’s multi-unit owners share what they’ve learned about successfully juggling different locations

A man in a purple tuxedo spins plates on six poles. By Henrikbothe | Wikimedia Commons

Keeping up with more than one franchise can seem, at times, like that old plate-spinning act: You spin one plate atop a pole, move on to the next and the next, and by the time you get your last plate spinning, the first one needs attention again before it shatters to the floor in a hundred pieces. But it doesn’t have to be like that, as Rita’s multi-unit owners can attest.

With the right franchisor, multi-unit owners will have the support in place to help them successfully manage all facets of their business.

Get your systems in place

Franchisee Tom Kowal owns four Rita’s units in New Jersey. Having worked in the business since he was a teenager and having bought his first unit right out of college, Kowal knows the brand inside and out. He emphasizes the importance of a strong management system to juggle multiple locations.

“Because I have four locations and I can’t be in every one at once, I have to have four managers,” Kowal says. “So, somebody is really there handling the daily operations and I’m typically coordinating with my mom or my sister, who’s a general manager, for what has to go on in the day.”

Kowal plans out his orders, arranges for inventory, firms up his marketing schedule and looks at staffing for upcoming events, with the help of his mother and sister. Typically, he has a serious planning session at least once a week.

“Because every day is different and every store is different,” he says. “For instance, our store in Clinton (NJ) is the only store we have along a major highway, so during rush hour we’re dead. Our store in Flemington (NJ) is kind of set in the path of rush hour so they’re always busy at that time, because everyone’s just coming right out of work and we’re right there.”

The franchising support team at Rita’s is with you every step of the way, making sure you’ve arranged for the resources you need to build your successful business as a Rita’s multi-unit owner.

Getting the word out

Sean Evans, a multi-unit owner who is developing five locations with his business-partner cousin in Dallas, grew up with the Rita’s brand back East, so he didn’t need to be sold on how unique the Italian ice franchise is. For Evans, part of his success will be based on how he translates his passion for the brand to a new audience.

“Even though we know the product is great, what’s it going to take to make someone else understand that, someone else that doesn’t know anything about it? You have to be willing to get the samples out there, work hard to get people to experience the product,” Evans says. “Even if that means that you might offer it free at an event. I think you have to really understand that you’re trying to show people how great it is.”

Rita’s provides detailed go-to-market strategies, checklists, and marketing calendars to help franchisees effectively build awareness and attract customers.

Learn more about our multi-unit opportunities

You can also explore more about the Rita’s franchise opportunity on our research pages, or fill out a short, no-obligation form to access to our proprietary Franchise Information Center. We look forward to hearing from you!

Rita’s vs. Häagen-Dazs: Which frozen dessert franchise should you buy?

As the larger of the two franchises, we offer the resources and support of a more established market presence, and we still have plenty of prime territory available

Four Rita’s branded cups of frozen treats are pictured on a red and white striped tablecloth, with Oreos, vanilla wafers, strawberries and peanut butter cups. Words above the image read Stuffed Blendini | Choose a Filling | For Extra Yum. Above each cup are the words Fudge, Strawberry, Caramel and Peanut Butter. On the far left side is a white circle above one cup that reads Choose from 4 Flavors.

Rita’s serves up an inventive menu of frozen treats and beverages made from just two core products: Italian ice and frozen custard.

Rita’s Italian Ice holds a unique position in the $28 billion frozen desserts industry, serving two core products: Italian ice and frozen custard. Unlike ice cream franchises, which are so common they’ve become commoditized, Rita’s offers something no one else does in the franchising space. That immediately differentiates ourselves from competitors in the frozen desserts segment. Today, we take a head-to-head look at Rita’s vs. the Häagen-Dazs franchise so you can examine for yourself both the similarities and some important differences between the two brands.

A unique franchise concept

As a Rita’s owner, you’ll quickly be able to build up a base of dedicated fans. Our Italian ices, made fresh in stores, and our unbelievably rich and creamy frozen custard have a tendency to create fans for life. If you’ve tried it, you already know. If you haven’t tasted it yet, just wait. You’ll see what we’re talking about.

You can choose from many viable territories to open your Rita’s shop, from areas that allow you to introduce Rita’s to a new market to regions close to more established markets where Rita’s is already a known and beloved brand. We offer flexible footprints in addition to expansion opportunities through mobile unit and catering sales. It’s a simple business model that’s easy to operate.

Rita’s vs. Häagen-Dazs

Rita’s Häagen-Dazs
Franchising since 1989 Mid 1970s
Total U.S. units 600+ 200+
Initial investment $172,225-$430,900 $164,158 – $542,408
Minimum liquidity $100,000 $80,000
Minimum net worth $300,000 $200,000
Franchise fee $30,000 $30,000

Sources: Entrepreneur.com; haagendazsshoppecompany.com/franchise

3 reasons to open a Rita’s franchise

Our business model is simple. With just two core products and no cooking, our business is easy to run and operates on high margins. That also makes it easier to train employees, and the fun working environment makes Rita’s an employer of choice for teens and young adults.

Rita’s is easy to scale. Start with your standard store, with walk-up or walk-in service and potential drive-thru service; then engage with your community through catering; and then consider our mobile program that allows you to grow your business outside your four walls and take the product to the consumer. Within these service models, you can find the right avenue to grow at your own pace.

Unique products draw customers. While ice cream and frozen yogurt have many competitors, Rita’s gives customers something new to try. That novelty gives you a major leg up when it comes to attracting and retaining customers. We offer frozen custard, the smoother, creamier version of soft-serve ice cream; and Italian ice, the upscale version of a slushy that’s made with water and real fruit. We make our products fresh in stores daily, combining them in different ways to come up with a variety of fun, cravable desserts. Rita’s is a fun, happy business.

Learn more about Rita’s

We hope you’ll continue to explore our research pages to see what our brand has to offer you. Ultimately, only you can decide who your winner is in the Rita’s vs. Häagen-Dazs competition. If you’d like to talk to someone on our franchise development team, just fill out this short form and someone will be in touch with you as soon as possible. We look forward to hearing from you!

Rita’s Franchise Review: Tom Kowal of Central New Jersey (Hunterdon County)

Multi-unit franchisee turned Rita’s into a family enterprise. See how he grew from fresh college graduate to multi-unit owner.

Rita’s branded cups of Italian ice

Owning multiple Rita’s franchises may be the smarter investment.

Tom Kowal owns four walk-up Rita’s Italian Ice units: a stand-alone in Clinton, NJ, that he purchased in 2006; an end-cap location in Flemington, NJ, which he acquired in 2011; and his third and fourth locations in Whitehouse Station and Stewartsville, NJ, which he has owned since 2014 and 2015 respectively.

“You really enjoy economies of scale at this level,” Kowal says. “Your payroll’s pretty low, your cost of goods is pretty low, and when it comes to food, it’s less perishable than most items. The shelf life is pretty good and you could get up and running with minimal overhead.”

Read about how Kowal got his start, and what’s next, in this Rita’s franchise review.

How did you first learn about Rita’s and how did you first come to this idea that you might want to be a Rita’s Franchisee?
It was kind of a family thing, I guess you could say. My aunt and uncle actually owned a shop in Bridgewater, and when they were going to build their Bridgewater shop, which is their first shop, it was 2003 and I was in college. Over my Christmas break I was like, “Look, I don’t have a summer job. If you want help I could help you out.” And they said, “Yeah, why don’t you come with me to this Rita’s six-day franchise training school” and I said alright. And the plan was they were going to get built out in the summer and I would come home for summer break and help them run the shop. As we know, construction delays happen and they couldn’t get up and running for the summer.

I went to the shop in Flemington, which I now own, to talk to the then-owner and said, “Hey, I have this training, can I help you out?” and he said, “Sure.” I started there making $5.15 an hour, which was minimum wage back then. After some time, he gave me the keys and I became a manager. Once my uncle and aunt were up and running, I went between the two shops helping them both and then the same thing the following year.

How did you make the leap to ownership?
Senior year comes around I don’t know what I want to do, like every other senior graduate. That winter, my mom saw an ad for the Clinton Rita’s for sale in a local newspaper. I’m thinking, hey, I’m 21, how am I going to buy a Rita’s? And my mom said, “Well if you don’t go talk to them, you’re never going to find out.”

I basically walked out of college and within a couple of weeks we closed the deal. I knew that doing one shop with a loan wouldn’t sustain the quality of life that I wanted, so I started looking at multiple locations.

Is your family involved in your Rita’s operations?
My mom and sister are both heavily involved in the business. We also have a stationary cart in a Little League complex and we have a mobile trailer. So we can do events at skating rinks. It really all builds on itself.

So are you able to meet your business goals with the units that you have now?
We are able to meet our business goals with each individual store. Every year we determine where growth opportunities exist and focus our efforts with a new strategy and a new set of goals. Our shops reached mature levels but we believe there is always room to grow and increase sales. This year we are discussing an adding another shop to our business portfolio.

What do you like best about being a Rita’s franchise owner?
It is a fun job. I mean, you’re dealing with people in a fun atmosphere. For the most part they’re not coming in with any issues. They’re coming to enjoy themselves, and you’re providing a way for them to do that. Making people happy is always awesome, even though there’s a lot of work involved and a lot of people underestimate that.

What does corporate offer in terms of support? How do they help you with your franchise marketing strategy?
They are pretty committed to helping out the franchisee with support. I also have had some really good Franchise Business Consultants who’ll do anything they can to help you. Their goals and their bonuses are all tied to our performance, so they’re incentivized to help us work toward our goals.

Do you talk to other franchisees out there. Do you get support from your fellow owners?
Yeah, everyone around me. We are a community of franchisees and are like a family to one another. It really comes down to, “Hey, I forgot to order this” or “I ran out of this other stuff, can I borrow a case or a sleeve of cups” or whatever and we try to help each other out because I’ll rub your back if you rub mine.

Rita’s provides a lot of support at all levels to their franchisees. We have an online forum exclusive to Rita’s for communicating with other franchisees.

What kind of person do you think would be successful as a Rita’s franchise owner?
I think somebody who’s outgoing and understands people and somebody that really just has good moral character. You’re dealing with people all the time, and you want to have just the right head on your shoulders to deal with them. Make sure you’re focusing on your guests, making them happy.

So if it’s the middle of summer, what does your typical day look like?
For me now, because I have four locations and I can’t be in all of them at once, I have to have four managers. So somebody is there handling the daily operations and I’m typically coordinating with my mom or my sister, who’s a general manager, for what all has to go on in the day. Planning out orders, inventory, marketing stuff, do we have any events coming up? Looking at the week as a whole if we can, up to the weekend. Because every day is different and every shop is different. The shop in Clinton is on a major highway, so at rush hour we’re dead. For the shop in Flemington, rush hour is busy because everyone’s right out of work and we’re right out where they are.

Two hands hold up three Rita’s branded cups of Italian ice against a backdrop of green bushes with a pink hibiscus blossom on the upper left-hand side.

Superior product and a proven business model make Rita’s a win-win for consumers and investors alike.

What is it that’s bringing customers into Rita’s? Why do your customers love Rita’s?
It’s definitely the product. Frozen custard is not the same as soft-serve ice cream, it’s superior.

How?
So, soft serve ice cream you can make in many different ways. Whether it’s a powder and water concentrate and you mix it together, or just using a liquid premix that maybe has high sugar, low butterfat. Whereas frozen custard has a higher level of butterfat so it is richer, it is creamier. Custard has a little bit of egg in the process to give it the custard flavor. The Italian ice flavors are simple and delicious and the kids come back because they love it, especially our Swedish Fish and Cotton Candy flavors.

We just have a decent combination of frozen treats you can make out of our ice and our custard that everyone can enjoy.

Tom, if you were just starting out today, knowing what you know now, would you still become a Rita’s franchisee?
Yes. From an investment standpoint, I’d still do a Rita’s because I think the investment is still worth it.

Learn more

If you’d like to learn more about the growing Italian ice business opportunity with Rita’s, fill out the form on this page to access our Franchise Information Center, where you can find detailed financial results, a breakdown of startup costs more Rita’s franchise reviews.