You have to adapt

I venture to say this is a pretty typical story these days…

And a couple of separate comments:

Thanks for the keen insight into the obvious Bert!

(And hopefully no one thinks I’m picking on Dream Dinners), but I’m amused by the Dream Dinners store which has been “temporarily closed” for the past six months…

Switchin’ Kitchens used to have a lot of company in southern Mecklenburg.

But since opening in 2006 in the Fountains retail center on Ardrey Kell Road, owner Rachel Basile has seen other meal preparation places fall by the wayside.

Does that make her nervous about the future of her business?

“A little bit,” said Basile — who then quickly points out that she’s adapting to her customers’ needs, too.

For example, Basile works with Judy Fischer, a registered dietitian in Matthews, in planning the monthly slate of meals that customers come in to Basile’s store to prepare. Fischer analyzes the menu — and suggests substitutions when needed — then puts her seal of approval on meals that meet various designations, like waist watchers, gluten-free/casein-free, diabetic-friendly, and so on.

Basile also encourages customers — or potential ones — to call or come in to discuss what meals she sells match their particular dietary needs.

“I’m growing. There’s a reason for that,” Basile said of her business.

“What frustrates me are people who say, `Oh, I’ve always wanted to try a place like this,’ ” Basile said, laughing good-naturedly. “What are you waiting for?”

The meal prep industry has boomed in the U.S. — from one outlet in 2002 to 1,353 in 2007, according to Bert Vermeulen, founder of Easy Meal Prep Association, a Cheyenne, Wyo., group that supports the industry.

But Vermeulen said the business is experiencing a slowdown.

Some customers find that the hallmark of meal prep places — convenience — isn’t always so.

It takes some pre-planning, for example, to take your pre-made frozen meal out of the freezer and into the refrigerator for defrosting, a step many busy people simply forget to do, Vermeulen said.

He said some places are retooling in 2008 to have more “take and bake” offerings — fresh, unfrozen, uncooked meals, already prepared, that customers can buy and quickly heat for dinner that night, just like some supermarkets already feature.

Business owners are also burning out on the number of hours the meal-prep industry requires, Vermeulen said.

“They don’t (make) enough money for the owner to hire someone to run it for them,” he said. “So the owners are working a lot of hours and not earning much themselves. … They’ve ended up with a full-time job on a part-time income.”

The economy, competition and rigors of the meal-prep business have apparently taken their toll locally:

• Super Suppers, in Carmel Village, closed in August, with the owners announcing they wanted to move on to other ventures.

• The Supper Thyme franchise at Matthews Street Station closed, with no further information on the store window or on the franchise Web site.

• For at least six months, Dream Dinners on Johnston Road, the first meal-prep business to enter the Charlotte market in June 2005, has been “temporarily closed,” according to the franchise Web site. A person answering the guest relations phone line last week said that was still the case.

The business isn’t completely dying off in southern Mecklenburg.

The Web site for Mr. Food, a meal assembly chain, announces that stores will open soon in Ballantyne and Matthews.

Read the full story here:

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4 Responses to “You have to adapt”

  • DiggingOut:

    The whole “temporarily closed” is such a joke.

    That location was actually #1 in the system for over a year and at their peak, was getting over 700 customers per month. I believe their precipitous fall was a function of major competition both IN and OUT of the franchise.

  • mysterymiss:

    DiggingOut-Thanks for the info. From your post it looks like you are in the same boat as most of us ex-MAK’ers meeting here are (if not kudos and continued good luck for your operation!)
    I would love to be able to get some concrete numbers of closures & stores that are on the skids for EVERY part of the industry (indies as well as franchises,) for folks looking into the concept as a entreprenureal endeavor/opportunity to use as tools to make better decisions.
    Obviously the Zors Corporate offices are not going to give prospects realistic numbers & previous owners are slow to speak out & up about their closures or the reason for them. (I know from experience)
    However, do you (or anyone) have any ideas how we can get a database set up or a simple count (with comments maybe from ex-zees) that would be a tool for those looking to “get-in” to use?
    I would love to get that info into the hands of those still in biz to help with marketing perhaps and those looking into investing into the biz by opening an MAK.

  • mysterymiss:

    I’m sorry, but I understand adaptation and giving the customers what they’re asking for, however…
    As “adaptation & evolution take place in the industry it ceases to be the original concept.
    Which begs the question: If we have to evolve the concept into something else then it ceases to be an MAK doesn’t it & was it broken in the first place?
    Isn’t the original MAK concept as sold to us by our respective franchisors what we all fell in love with?
    I understand growing your business and adding new products and even basic services like pre-assembled and take & bake, but as those increase the sessions decrease and original concept ceases to be.

  • Well the original idea started to “morph” about 6 months in. Customers wanted the meals made for them and from there they inched their way to a whole different idea. We look back two years ago and go “This isn’t the idea I signed up for!” Even though it may be the idea we all thought was so great and exciting, you have to pay the bills and now it’s a scramble to throw an even bigger carrot in front of customers just to keep the store going.

    I agree, I still the original idea of going in and making meals was great and I can crank out the meals in mere minutes, but wishes and dreams don’t keep the lights on.

    And yes, the fact the idea had to be adapted so quickly shows the whole concept wasn’t really fleshed out the way it should be with milestones of how the company itself needed to adapt. Owners are the ones making changes in many respects and then “corporate” makes it the new standard…

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