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Published: Thursday, 12/18/2008

Company execs hit the road to ease fears of worried franchisees

Dan Beem, Coldstone Creamery president, relaxes beside the tour bus he is using to visit franchisees. Dan Beem, Coldstone Creamery president, relaxes beside the tour bus he is using to visit franchisees.

COLUMBUS - The group of ice-cream executives set out last month in a rock-band-style tour bus on a 16-city nationwide gig, with a stop in Columbus on their itinerary.

But the contingent from Cold Stone Creamery wasn't hoping to sell out concert halls. Instead, they were looking to make a statement to their franchise owners about their commitment to the Cold Stone brand and how store owners can stay afloat in an increasingly troubled economy.

"We've gone from being a robust brand in an emerging economy to now being a mature brand in a struggling economy," said Dan Beem, who last year was named president of the company that is based in Arizona.

Mr. Beem spoke in Columbus this month with store owners from four states including Ohio. Rather than have store owners fly to Las Vegas for an annual meeting, the idea of going to the owners not only saves everyone money, but also shows the firm's willingness to listen and speak directly to its franchisees.

"Given where we are at in the economy, the franchisees are looking for an executive team that cares about them and their success and has a plan to protect their assets and value," he said.

It seems more franchisees are seeking reassurance as they deal with a tightened credit market, slowing sales, job losses, low consumer confidence, and general consumer anxiety.

Franchises, which contribute more than $2 trillion to the economy annually, account for about 21 million jobs, according to the International Franchise Association.

So keeping a franchise afloat despite the economy takes on even more significance. And Cold Stone isn't the only company concerned about its franchisees.

"We tell owners to make sure they have a strong marketing plan, keep their inventory properly managed and to get involved in their community" to weather the economic storm, said Anna Harper-Hess, a spokeswoman for Crimson Cup Coffee & Tea.

The Columbus coffee roaster and business consultant firm has 90 member coffeehouses nationwide, with 10 locations in Columbus.

At the town hall-style meeting with franchise owners, the Cold Stone executive team served as cheerleaders to increase owners' morale and to show them how they can increase store profits despite the recession.

The goal is to increase sales from the current average of $360,000 per store to $500,000, Mr. Beem said.

That plan includes adding new products including iced coffee and working with other food companies, such as Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, he said.

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