Rita’s franchise review: Brian and Cassandra Kibler of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
From financial professionals to Italian ice scoopers, the Kiblers found their happy calling far from home.
Brian and Cassandra Kibler opened their Rita’s Italian Ice in the tourist town of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, nestled in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. Originally from Pennsylvania, the couple used to vacation in Pigeon Forge every year and loved it.
“If you’ve ever been to Pigeon Forge, you know there’s tons of stuff there,” says Cassandra. “We wanted to see what wasn’t there and what we could bring to the market. And the number one thing that we thought of was Rita’s, because there is no frozen custard, there is no Italian ice there. So we really wanted to bring our love of the product to that area.”
Hear about the rest of their journey in this Rita’s franchise review.
When did you open?
Cassandra: We opened our first location in Pigeon Forge in April of 2019.
What were you doing before opening a Rita’s?
Cassandra: We both grew up south of Pittsburgh and both worked for PNC Financial. We got to the point where I was in that industry for about 18 years and Brian was in that industry for a while too and we just really wanted to do something on our own. We wanted to find something that we were passionate about, and we knew we wanted to move to Tennessee. We vacationed in the area for about 15 years, and we really loved it.
You’ve gotten amazing Yelp reviews. How are you crushing it on customer service?
Cassandra: I think the reason that we do so well in customer service is we’re very present. There’s not a day that goes by that you will not see us there. Typically, we are there from open to close because we know the first two years are very crucial to whether or not you survive when bringing a new business into a market. So we’re big on customer service. We’ve been trained on it.
Brian: I worked for many years with Walmart and then PNC Bank, which were both very customer-oriented and customer-service driven. So, a lot of that was instilled in me. And plus I also think about what my expectations are whenever I go to any place, how I want to be treated and I want to be treated the best that I can be whenever I go someplace.
Cassandra: And we try to get to know every guest. Because we don’t have the same guests every day. We’re very fortunate to be in a tourist area. We meet people from all walks of life and all different areas.
Brian: The people that are really ecstatic that were there haven’t had Rita’s for a while. If they’re there for a whole week, they try to come back as often as they can. We develop a rapport during that time. There’s a lot of folks that go on vacation to the Smokies. It’s an annual thing, maybe even a few times a year. So we’re already starting to get some of those repeats back in.
How are you passing along your passion to your team members?
Cassandra: It’s a lot of on-the-spot coaching because we have 14- and 15-year-olds who have never had a job before. We’re really trying to build a strong foundation for them and to teach them how we interact with our guests. We don’t want to sound robotic; we want to be genuine.
Everybody sells stuff differently, but they know our expectation is we want our customers to come in every single time and have a great experience. And if they don’t, we want to know about it.
Brian: We’re not dealing in rocket science, we’re dealing with a delicious product — a happy product. There should be no reason at all why anybody walks out the door dissatisfied. We don’t like buyer’s remorse, so we’re really big on samples. We want everybody to find out what their favorite is and maybe always have a backup, but we want everyone to be happy with their choices.
Is there anything that happened along the way to opening your shop that surprised you?
Cassandra: The thing that surprised me the most about the support was knowing that I could pick up the phone and call someone. You always have somebody to call.
Do you have plans to open more shops at this point?
Brian: We would love to try to expand and open up more shops. We’ve flirted with the idea of getting Rita’s into Dollywood. That would be our top goal.
But right now we’re really focusing on getting this one to be 100% and working out the way we want it to work out. And then we’ll explore those avenues.
Is there any advice or any wisdom you would pass along to somebody who’s considering buying a Rita’s?
Brian: Have faith in the brand. Even though folks may not know the brand, once they taste it, they will love it. We get a lot of first-time customers. And at first they’re skeptical. Especially with the Gelati — the whole idea of putting the custard with the ice — they kind of turn their nose up at it. You get them to taste it and they’re like, “Wow.” Okay. Now they understand it. Then they start exploring it and seeing what they can do.
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