When marketing and accounting backgrounds come together, they end up being an unbeatable combination for business
Annmarie Brown and her husband had known for a while they wanted to go into business together. He had experience in accounting and business; she had worked in marketing and education. “We always just thought that we would be a perfect match to go into a business together,” Brown says. When they opened their first location in 2003, they had one child. Today the couple has four children and three Rita’s shops in Northeast Philadelphia. She talks about their experience in this Rita’s franchise review.
We ended up picking Rita’s because of the lifestyle. We liked the hours of the business. In our case, it’s a seasonal area, so for us the seasonality of the business really blends well with having the family life that we wanted to have.
What do you do in the off-season?
We have four children, so in the off-season I am able to enjoy time with my kids and be the homeroom mom and spend time with my family during the holidays. That’s when we take our vacations.
How did you come to be a multi-unit owner? Did you start out knowing you wanted to be multi-unit?
We didn’t originally set out to be multi-unit franchisees. At that time in Northeast Philadelphia, it was extremely hard to find an available franchise. Most of the territories at that time, because that was very close to the original Rita’s, were already taken. There was one that came up for sale very close to where we lived. We were really excited and jumped right on it. We purchased that store and then immediately, within a couple of years, started looking for a second. We knew by then that this was something we could build on.
Our second store was like a tiny territory that had opened up near our store, almost bordering our existing location. We were able to take a rundown corner gas station and turn it into a Rita’s. We built that back up into a beautiful storefront. The third store we purchased was also a neighboring store. We had befriended the owners and had a good relationship with them, so when they were ready to retire, we were able to purchase their store. Luckily, I was able to eventually have those three stores very close to each other.
But it is a very manageable work-life balance to have the three stores and have a family.
Your shops are very high-volume. Why is that, and how do you manage that?
I’m very fortunate to have three locations that are in the general proximity of each other. As far as running a high-volume store, it’s actually easier to run a high volume store. As far as ordering and staffing goes, it’s pretty consistent. You know what to expect. You don’t have to worry about waste and over-ordering. I’m also very fortunate that I have a pool of staff between three stores. When I’m busy at one, I can pull from another. If I run out of a product, I can quickly borrow from another. These are some of the advantages of being multi-unit that I wasn’t even aware of when we first went from one shop to two.
What do you say when somebody calls you for validation?
I’ve been able to hire a manager at each store that I oversee. As much as I am in the stores — almost every single day I’m in every single store — I don’t need to micromanage because I can delegate to my managers. Having multiple units gives me a little more freedom to have a more open schedule. When I was running one store and I was the manager, yes, I made my own schedule. But having multiple units, I’m able to have even more flexibility.
With your managers, do you bring the same people back every season?
I’ve been incredibly fortunate. I’ve been able to retain the same staff members for years, some of them going back to that first year in 2003. I hired kids that were 14, 15 years old to start working a couple of shifts on the weekend. They worked for me all through high school, all through college. They got married. They got jobs, they had kids, and they still come back and might work one night for me a week as a manager. They love the Rita’s and they love the neighborhoods. We’ve built that bond and that relationship. For them, it’s just part of who they are, just like it is for me.
Do any of your kids work in any of the shops with you?
Yes. My older two are able to work in the stores. In addition to that, I have a sister-in-law, my brother-in-law and my nieces who are able to work in the stores. So it definitely is a family business. There’s a family presence in my stores every day.
Is there a plan like someday your daughters will take over the business?
My youngest daughter, who’s 7, has already told me that that’s what she’s going to do. She’s going to be a Rita’s owner when she grows up. So when kids say, “I want to be a doctor; I want to be a vet; I want to be an astronaut;” she says, “I want to be a Rita’s owner.”
If you’d like to learn more about the Rita’s franchise opportunity, we’d love to hear from you. Please fill out the form on this page. You can also explore our blog for more Rita’s franchise reviews and discover more about our brand by researching our website.
He’s our OG franchisee, the longest-standing franchise owner in the system, and he loves where he sees the brand going today
Mitch Cove and Linda Chadwick at the 2019 IFA ceremony, where Mitch was named Franchisee of the Year.
Meet Mitch Cove. He was recently named Franchisee of the Year by the International Franchise Association (IFA). We’ve always known him to be an exemplary businessman during his decades with Rita’s Italian Ice, and we’re proud of his latest honor. Mitch has seen a lot of changes in his 30 years as a Rita’s franchise owner. Leadership changes, ups and downs. Today he’s running two shops in the greater Philadelphia area, one in Bucks County and the other in Rockledge. Mitch and his wife, Eileen, are happy with their two locations, which opened in the early ’90s, and loving the new energy they’re seeing in the brand under the leadership of CEO Linda Chadwick. He tells his story in this Rita’s Franchise Review.
What were you doing before you became a Rita’s franchisee?
I was a CPA working with a public accounting firm in Philadelphia. In fact, I was a junior partner of a firm and my wife was an assistant manager at a retail clothing store called The Limited.
And what made the two of you think, “Hey, let’s go start our own business?”
I had no knowledge or experience, in any business of any kind, nor did any of my family members or parents, grandparents, nobody was ever in business for themselves. So there really wasn’t any model to follow. I was actually just looking for something as a supplement to our income.
And my wife saw through an ad that Rita’s was franchising and they were having a meeting about the opportunity, and she brought it to my attention. I thought it might be interesting, so I went to the meeting and I liked what I heard and jumped in with both feet.
I take it you were already familiar with the brand itself?
I think I’d had it once. My wife may have been slightly more familiar… There were shops out there, but not a lot of brand recognition at that time. But I was familiar with the product. Water ice, as we call it here.
So, what was it at the time that made you just jump in?
They were challenging times, with the economy. It was the late ’80s and the economy was struggling. Our firm was struggling. Our clients were struggling to pay their bills, so the cash flow wasn’t great. It was kind of, right thing at the right time. It just seemed like an interesting opportunity.
I didn’t know anything about the business or the retail business, the frozen dessert business. But I liked what they were proposing and they had a good, strong system and a good product and I took a shot. I’m not risk averse in what I do. It was risky, but you know, at that time, my wife and I were relatively newly married and no children. It was just the two of us. It was a calculated risk.
If you were just getting into business today, what about Rita’s today would make you want to jump in and invest?
Well now, 35 years later, it’s a proven brand. A strong brand. A great product, really one of the best out there. I think our soft serve product is probably the best out there. I’ve never tasted anything better. It’s an iconic Philadelphia brand — and I’m born and raised in Philadelphia, so I completely get the whole experience of Rita’s.
The seasonality is also a huge attraction. Having months off to regroup is not a bad thing if you can manage your cash flow properly. And knowing what I know now, I have a lot of confidence in the current leadership group at Rita’s, especially the CEO, Linda Chadwick. They’re really experienced in operations and really digging down deep into how this business works and what makes it successful and what we need to do to grow and to run a better business. In all areas, whether it’s operations, cost of goods, marketing, PR, reaching out to our guests, making better experiences.
So it’s a good time to get into this — and I can share this with others, because I’ve been through the good times and the bad times, the good leadership groups and the not-so-good leadership groups. So, I would absolutely do it again. I’d do it all over again.
Since Linda’s been at the helm, is there anything that Rita’s corporate has been doing for you that has helped improve your bottom line?
Yeah. Rita’s current leadership immediately embraced our marketing. We have a regional marketing co-op and we’ve been able to do a lot of very impactful marketing and advertising programs, and she’s been very supportive of that, giving us whatever resources we need, empowering staff to get involved with our marketing and local events and really giving us the support and the resources that we’ve always needed. And that’s given us more of an opportunity to continue building the brand in our market and to get out there into the community. Prior to Linda becoming our CEO and getting involved, the responsibility was mostly dropped upon the shoulders of the individual franchisees.
For me, that’s been exciting and heartwarming to know that she really understands what it’s going to take to make this company continue to succeed and grow.
So you’re thinking of adding another unit?
That’s our goal and our plan. That’s one of the beauties about having a seasonal business. It allows you to focus on how to grow your business. When you’re shut down, you can really take the time to develop a plan and then start to put into place and get it going after a few months.
After all these years, what’s the most satisfying thing about being a Rita’s franchise owner?
For me, there’s a couple. One, it’s really a family business, which allows us to involve not only our spouses, but our children. My parents were involved in the business. My in-laws, my cousins. It’s a great business and it’s a fun business to be able to share and have your family involved with as well. My children had the experience of working in the business and working hard and learning what responsibility is like.
But one of the greatest thrills for me is really having been able to work with a lot of teenagers. I’ve had maybe a thousand or more teenagers come through my ranks over the last 30 years. And to see them get their first job and experience that. Some of them take advantage of the opportunity that’s been given to them and really just grow and evolve as people and then go on, after they leave Rita’s, to become exceptional adults and parents with children and spouses. Just go on and do great things. It’s really neat, to think that we had some small part in their growth and development.
It’s a great first job and a first step for a young person. So I’d like to think we’re contributing a little bit to the development of our people.
Is there anything that you would want a prospective buyer to know about the Rita’s opportunity?
Yes. If you’re interested in getting involved, make sure you’re going to be willing and able to work in the business, learn the business, understand the business and be there, at least in the first few years. Because it’s not like most other businesses. It’s a connection business. Every day is a different story, a different experience. You know, it’s not like a McDonald’s. It’s not like many other businesses.
The other thing that I really appreciate about Rita’s current leadership team and the direction is that they have that same approach to interviewing potential franchise candidates. And it’s great that they understand that it’s going to require engagement by the franchisee for it to be successful.
Learn more about the Rita’s opportunity
If you’d like to learn more about Rita’s, we’d love to hear from you. Please fill out the form on this page to download our free Franchise Information Report. You can also discover more about our brand, including a breakdown of startup costs and more Rita’s franchise reviews, by exploring our website.
Professional caterer finds Rita’s catering has been key to his success
As the longtime owner of Katie’s Catering in the Atlanta suburb of Suwanee, Georgia, Harry Jones is no stranger to the foodservice business. So when he was looking for a side business around 2007 and attended a Rita’s Italian Ice Franchise seminar in Atlanta, it seemed like an ideal choice. Today, Harry owns a Rita’s near his catering business and is the president of the Franchisee Advisory Council. In this Rita’s franchise review, he talks about his journey to ownership and what it takes to succeed.
What was it about Rita’s that made you think this would be a good fit with your primary business?
The product itself is just outstanding, and that’s really what we got hooked on. The Suwanee shop was the first Rita’s shop in the state of Georgia, and it’s still the only shop in the state that’s owned by the original owner.
I know one of the things you do with your Rita’s is a lot of catering. How has that affected your business?
Yeah, we do a significant amount of catering for Rita’s. We specifically go out and target the market in terms of Facebook posts, and on my Katie’s Catering menu, the back page is dedicated to Rita’s. So we do a lot of flyers that we pass out at all of the lunches we do.
It’s incredibly easy to add this revenue stream to your Rita’s if you have the systems in place going into it, so you have a game plan and a pricing structure. Rita’s really did a tremendous job this year of setting guidelines and standards. They actually hired an outside consultant for the first time to look at what everyone’s doing and to put a standard catering practice in place. And so for the first time ever, you literally can use the tools that Rita’s provides and grow your business to suit that catering participation.
Do you have an estimate of what percentage of revenue your catering provides?
So far, year-to-date, our catering represents 5% of my total bid.
Have you been doing catering all along with Rita’s or is it a new line for you?
We have. That literally was my background. And so I think we always thought that being in an outlying market, you have to do what the customer wants if you’re going to be successful. So, when we had an opportunity to do catering in-shop or people wanted us to come out to their location, we figured out how we were going to make that happen. It’s my responsibility to try to make sure that my shop was successful. Especially in an outlying market.
What kinds of events do people hire Rita’s to cater?
We’ve done everything from anniversaries to doctors offices.
How do you feel right now about the direction of the brand?
Overall from a marketing perspective and an operations perspective, I think this is the best that I’ve seen it in 12 years.
The senior leadership team really has a vision of where they want to go and how they want to get there. Linda Chadwick, the CEO, comes from a franchising background. She understands that for Rita’s to make money, the shops have to make money.
I understand you’re the president of the Franchisee Advisory Council. Can you tell me a little bit about how that council is structured and what you do?
The board itself is made up of nine franchisees that are elected by their peers to be the representatives of the franchisees to the franchising company. But we’re also advisors to the company. When there’s new marketing material or something new in operations, they don’t just change it. We are kind of like the beta testers; we get the first look at it. That way we can tell if we need to add or enhance something to make it work better for franchise owners, and corporate will listen and take our suggestions under advisement.
How much interaction do you have with other franchisees who are not on the council? How much chance do they get to provide feedback?
As much as or as little as they want. We have an intranet, a CoolNet franchisee website, and all of the FAC’s phone numbers and emails are listed on there.
So, if someone has an issue or a problem, all people have to do is pick up the phone and call and let me know, hey, this is an issue, this is a problem. It would be difficult for us to call 575 franchise shop locations and ask them how things are going, but if they have a question or a problem, they should pick up a phone and call someone.
What kind of experience does someone need to be successful with a Rita’s?
I don’t think you necessarily have to have any specific type of experience. I do think you have to be able and willing to work hard, though. I am a firm believer that Rita’s is a hands-on business, not an investment business.
When you first start off, you have to work in your business. No matter what your business is, if it’s consumer-related, people want to know that the owner’s there.
From a customer perspective, what is it that draws customers to Rita’s? Consumers have a lot of choices when it comes to frozen treats. Why Rita’s? Why do they come?
I think there’s two main reasons. The primary one is the product’s terrific, and the No. 1 reason why my shop is so successful is that we have a tremendous team of young women and men who treat the people how they want to be treated. So they get terrific service, and let’s face it, the consumer is always going to go where they get something they want and they’re treated right.
What would you say makes Rita’s a good investment as opposed to another brand?
Again, I have to go back to the product. The product itself is just terrific.
And knowing what you know now, if you were just starting out today, would you still become a Rita’s Franchisee? If so, why?
Yes. I would. People love dessert, right? So they feel like it is a reward when they treat themselves and I think that of all the other dessert companies, I really, truly believe that we have the best product in the marketplace.
Is there anything else you think a prospective owner should know?
You have to be hands-on, and I think it’s important when you open a business, no matter what the business is, it’s imperative that you keep your build-out costs in line.
Learn more about the Rita’s opportunity
If you’d like to learn more about Rita’s, we’d love to hear from you. Please 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 discover more about our brand by exploring our website.
Lawyer Maria Finley who opens first Rita’s franchise in state of Louisiana featured in local newspaper
Attorney Maria Finley was a new empty-nester who was ready to move away from her hometown of Baton Rouge and start a new chapter in her life in Washington, D.C. That was before a Rita’s Blue Raspberry Italian Ice stopped her in her tracks.
As Finley told “The Advocate,” one bite was all it took to put her on a whole new path. Today, she is the proud owner of the first Rita’s franchise in the state of Louisiana. “The Advocate,” which featured Finley recently, wrote in part:
Four summers ago, Maria A. Finley, a Louisiana attorney, packed her things and was prepared to move to Washington, D.C. Her children had all grown up, and she was ready for a fresh start.
After touring Georgetown University with her son and his friend, the trio visited a Rita’s Italian Ice. For Finley, it was love at first bite.
“I got the blue raspberry and I tasted it, and I mean, literally within two or three minutes I called my realtor and said, ‘Take my house off the market. I’m coming back to Louisiana and opening a Rita’s Italian Ice franchise,’” Finley said.
With that blue raspberry, Finley picked up on something a lot of people have known about Rita’s for more than three decades — it’s delicious.
What Rita’s offers franchisees
Italian ice and frozen custard are our two core products, comprising part of virtually everything we sell. That helps keep our food costs really low. Our simple business model gives franchisees the opportunity to run a profitable business, and our mobile units and catering offer additional streams of revenue and a simple way to expand the business.
Rita’s is a happy business, where guests come in excited with anticipation and leave even happier than when they arrived. With no cooking involved, it’s easier to find, train and retain labor — and also easier to scale up quickly.
Her seasonal franchise is open year-round
As for Finley, she’s loving her new life as a Rita’s franchisee. She opened her shop in October 2018 and added a mobile unit in May. While many Rita’s franchisees in the northeast close their shops during winter months, in Baton Rouge, where January’s high temps average around 60, there’s no need to completely shut down in winter. And the community is loving it. “The Advocate” wrote:
“The response has been wonderful,” Finley said. “The secret is to get it in their mouths. And that’s part of the excitement that makes me so happy to have brought this franchise to Louisiana — practically every person I see taste it gets this amazing look on their face.”
Finley is well aware that Louisiana’s frozen treat of choice is the sno-ball, but she doesn’t make it a point in comparing the two.
“If somebody wants a sno-ball, they’re going to go get themselves a sno-ball,” she said. “I just try to get people to taste our Italian ices that we make fresh in the store almost every day. I don’t knock sno-balls, but we are definitely an alternative when someone wants a frozen treat. I just leave it up to them to decide after that.”
Own a Rita’s franchise
Find out how you can become a Rita’s franchisee by exploring our research pages or filling out the form on this page. We look forward to hearing from you!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Rita’s multi-unit owners share what they’ve learned about successfully juggling different locations
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!