Is Super Suppers for Stupid Suckers? And Other Meal Prep Franchise ???s

Sean Kelly is my hero!!!

I wonder if “factfinder” is going to question Sean’s relationship with his spouse and children… :)

Do franchisees of Super Suppers feel like Stupid Suckers? Has Dream Dinners become the Nightmare on Elm Street? Will My Girlfriend soon be getting back her Kitchen? Has time run out for Supper Thyme USA ? Will Pass Your Plate soon be passing THE plate?

Can the “Meal Prep”,or “Meal Assembly Kitchen”, or “Make It & Take It” franchise concept fail before we’ve decided what to call it? Meal Prep franchise companies such as Entree Vous! , Entrees Made Easy , Mr. Food , Supper Thyme USA hope not. They’re launching creative strategies including premade food to go, health and diet meal preparation, and other ideas.

But it’s a bad sign for a food concept when even a woman named Cathy Chew, the Supper Thyme USA franchisee trying to sell her Council Bluffs, IA location, can’t make it work. Another bad sign is that, despite the myriad clever names, no seems to be able to craft a succinct explanation of what these places do.

I hope I’m wrong, but the meal prep franchise concept always hit me as a solution in search of a problem and my preduction is that you’re going to start seeing this supposedly “hot concept” turn colder than a Swanson’s TV dinner.

Read the full article here:

NYT on the Meal Prep Franchise: Hot Concept Gone Cold?

A common new business pitfall is the entrepreneurial tendency to become enamored so with a “solution” that one forgets to make sure it’s preceded by an actual need and a need great enough to support multiple competitors who are also enamored with said solution.

Case in point: “Meal prep” or “meal assembly” kitchen franchises. This is where, to my hazy understanding, ex-yuppie soccer moms with more money than time can go and slurp Merlot with other ex-yuppie soccer moms while assembling meals to bring home, freeze, and serve later to their families as if they had actually used those recipes they downloaded to their PDAs from GoodHousekeeping.com.

These recent darlings of hot franchise lists and their advertising sales reps have clever names like Super Suppers , Dream Dinners , My Girlfriend’s Kitchen, Pass Your Plate, Entree Vous! , Entrees Made Easy , Mr. Food , and Supper Thyme USA .

But are women who are NOT inclined to cook really looking for a way TO cook? It’s the same kind of question the Curves and 30 minute fitness franchise buyers wished they’d asked: Are couch potatoes really going to stop being couch potatoes, even if it only takes 30 minutes and they don’t have to shower?

My suspicion that the meal prep franchise concept is a solution in search of a problem seems supported by the current New York Times article It’s on to Plan B as a Hot Trend Cools Off. Here are some excerpts:

The concept boomed, as the number of stores mushroomed from four in 2002 to 1,400 in 2007, almost exclusively by catering to women who wanted to provide home-cooked meals for their families, according to the Easy Meal Preparation Association.

_________

The loyalty of these wives and mothers landed meal assembly companies on various lists of top franchises and hot new businesses throughout 2005 and 2006.

But growth in the industry has slowed sharply, long before reaching expectations. Industry revenue, which two years ago was forecast to reach $1 billion annually by 2010, is now projected around $650 million by then, said Bert Vermeulen, an industry consultant and founder of the easy meal association.

Some 264 meal preparation stores closed during 2007, Mr. Vermeulen said, more than three times as many as in the previous year. He forecasts fewer than 50 openings in the United States this year, compared with 562 in 2006.

It turns out that lots of people are simply not motivated to plan so many meals in advance. The desire for last-minute convenience remains powerful in America, often trumping the more ephemeral rewards of home cooking.

_________

Super Suppers, which is based in Fort Worth, once forecast it would have 600 stores by the end of 2006; it now has about 200. Dream Dinners, based in Snohomish, Wash., originated the concept. It has 236 stores, not quite meeting expectations. No single competitor of Super Suppers and Dream Dinners has more than 70 stores.

The majority of owners bring in less than $25,000 a month, or $300,000 a year, in revenue, according to Mr. Vermeulen’s data. He figures that is about $5,000 a month short of what they need to stay out of financial trouble.

Book It N Cook It, an independent store in the Tampa, Fla., suburb of Lutz, never exceeded $4,000 in monthly revenue in its eight-month life, said Terry Warner, its former owner. Monthly expenses averaged about $7,500. Mrs. Warner and her husband closed the store in November after losing about $250,000.

The Warners, retired insurance adjusters who spent two years studying the industry before jumping in, say they underestimated the public’s aversion to meal planning.

“People here have a grab-and-go mentality,” Mrs. Warner said of Florida, where free time can be spent outdoors year-round. “The last thing anyone wants to do here is plan dinner.” She said that the burger joint next door to her shop seemed to be doing great.

Read the article here:

Meal Prep Franchise Dream Dinners Appoints New CEO

Here is the press release announcing the appointment of Darin Leonard as meal prep franchise Dream Dinners CEO.

The Meal Prep (Or Meal Assembly Kitchen) segment of franchising has come under increasing scrutiny, with commenters on FranchisePick.com alleging that stores are closing in large numbers, but the troubles are being kept quiet by the franchisors and groups such as the Easy Meal Prep Association.

It’s curious that the press release writer seems to hint at industry troubles, and noticeably avoids mentioning the number of open Dream Dinners locations (which the Easy Meal Prep prep group lists at 233, Entrepreneur magazine lists at 199, a Recent TIME magazine story quotes 278 and the Dream Dinners website doesn’t list.)

[Emphasis added by FranchisePick.Com]

Dream Dinners Announces New CEO

SNOHOMISH, Wash., Feb. 12 /PRNewswire/ — Dream Dinners, the leaders and innovators of the meal-assembly industry, are starting 2008 with some bold moves. Stephanie Allen and Tina Kuna, co-founders of Dream Dinners and the originators of the meal-assembly industry, announced this week the placement of Darin Leonard as CEO to lead the evolution of the brand and the industry.

Darin is excited to be jumping aboard at such a pivotal time in this industry. “This industry has some unique challenges ahead of it, but Dream Dinners is poised well and clearly at a competitive advantage to continue to lead the industry. Stephanie and Tina have done a spectacular job of setting up a Franchisor support system that focuses on the customer,” Leonard said.

Dream Dinners, a privately held company based in Snohomish, Washington and recognized as the creators of the meal-assembly Industry, continues to lead the industry in store count and double digit growth since inception in March of 2002. While Darin steps into his position as CEO, the founders will continue to play active roles in the business relating to their unique talents. Tina Kuna will serve as CFO for the business, while Stephanie Allen as President will concentrate on strategic development.

Darin is amazed at the early success of Dream Dinners and recognizes both the challenges and the opportunities in taking this industry from a niche market to mainstream . “Nobody in this industry is positioned as well as we are to take it to the next level,” said Leonard. The plans and strategy necessary to re-define the industry requires new thinking and he is passionate about the possibilities in front of Dream Dinners.

Darin Leonard BIO

As Managing Partner of OneAccord, an international revenue consulting firm, Darin has driven major revenue growth plans, systems and processes for mid-market Fortune 500 companies in the food manufacturing and retail industries. He began consulting with Dream Dinners in 2007 on systems and strategy before joining full time.

Prior to his work with One Accord, Darin built leadership success within the Maytag Corporation, where he spent twelve years at various leadership positions in all three of Maytag’s divisions (retail, builder and national accounts). Darin left Maytag to launch an innovative retail concept in the Northwest called the Maytag Stores, where he served as CEO for almost three years.

Dream Dinners has doubled its revenue every year since 2002, is ranked 5th fastest-growing on Entrepreneur magazine’s Franchise 500 and its co-founders were named 2006 Ernst &Young Entrepreneur of the Year in the Pacific Northwest Consumer Product category. For more information, visit http://dreamdinners.com.

Read the article here:

Other Articles of Interest:

    None Found

85 Responses to “Is Super Suppers for Stupid Suckers? And Other Meal Prep Franchise ???s”

  • mysterymiss:

    Sean Kelly & the other folks who are starting to read and take our stories seriously are my heroes as well. Thank you Sean and others who are looking past the bogus press releases and all the blather and crap that is being force fed to the public and press by “we all know who”- It is intersting to see the back tracking going on by the “MAK experts” Thank for everyone who has told their story, we are making progress. Let’s all keep in mind that us telling our stories are what is going to change the the industry FOR THE BETTER. We are not out to destroy anyones business(except for stopping the continued sales of a failed franchise concept by franchisors).
    Tuckerbox, Mindy and all the folks who have shared your stories here…God Bless you all! We ARE making a difference.
    Kelly

  • Mindy:

    MM, I am Thankful that Owners are starting to ‘talk’ about the Meal Assembly Industry.

    There is freedom in knowing you are NOT alone in this process. No one is a failure, just the concept.

    I only wish we could find that magic-bullet that is under a rock….to turn it around!

    Much JOY,
    Mindy
    http://www.joyfilledyou.com

  • jimcoosteel/ownermastor:

    Hey all,

    I just saw a posting on Blue Mau Mau about a theory on why this site has become so negitive lately. Is this true? Is this the thing Lisa was posting about. Tuckerbox are you connected to this group? I now question the intent of this site and until convienced otherwise i will not be visiting it to get any “advice”. Thanks for any replies.

  • Former Franchisee:

    Jim –

    Don’t believe what was just posted on Blue Mau Mau by so called guest. I’ve been part of this website for over 6 months. I’m a franchisee who lost everything. There isn’t anything being plotted by the masses that use this site. There may be something that Lisa and Mindy are a part of but this site isn’t intended for that and never has been.

    This is honest people telling the truth about what has happened to them. There are hundreds of families that have lost everything because of this industry and that is just simply the truth.

    The fact that others don’t want to hear it is understandable, but I also think it’s understandable for those of us that lost everything to be a little bit PO’d about it. It’s a two-edged sword really – I don’t want to hurt the franchisees that are left within the system I was a part of, but I also don’t want to sit by and watch the ZOR’s continue to sell franchises to unsuspecting people.

    75% of those that go into this are going to lose everything. There will be those that succeed, but I think the ones that do had pretty deep pockets to start with.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if it is a ZOR on Blue Mau Mau trying to discredit this site for telling the truth. For months, we (the franchisees) were not ‘allowed’ to talk to each other – but we are talking now and they want it stopped. It worked in the beginning for the ZOR to claim failure was because of bad owners or undercapitalized franchisees. That’s not flying anymore and they have to do something to stop the truth from being told.

  • Mindy:

    Hi Jim,

    I just went to your site and read the blog post. To my amazement I was mentioned. I believe there is a lot of speculation out there, and I might have added a tablespoon of confusion to the soup.

    Lisa, a SS Owner has contacted me with a project she and a few other owners are working on. Yes, an Attorney is part of this.

    I have been looking over ‘this Project,’ Sent it onto My Attorney, before I endorse anything, I want to make sure it will be the next best thing.To HELP this Industry.

    I cannot speak for Lisa, but she has mentioned it will be about 2 more weeks. Since this is their ‘project’ I believe it is only fair for them to reveal it to the Owners and MealAssemblyWatch.

    Again, If this turns out to something Great, I would love to be the recruiter.

    As far as this site being negitive, Quite honestly it is. Down right depressing. However, All Owners need to walk through the ‘muck’ before the Healing begins and it is Great that Owners of the Meal Assembly Industry are finally sharing so raw emotions that Others can relate to.

    I beleive Good things WILL come out of this failed concept, just not sure what that looks like…yet!

    Who ever you are that posted that post about me (the kind one) Thank you!

    Much JOY,
    Mindy
    http://www.joyfilledyou.com

  • Gourmet Girl:

    Well Jimcoosteel – it’s not like we’ll notice – you really haven’t contributed anything in the last few months.

  • DinnerZen:

    So, maybe I’m too far removed, but I don’t get what the conspiracy theory on the blue mau website was talking about?

    Somebody said: “…join a “new” orginaization that will really listen to the store owners. This new orginization is promising that they will do it better, less cost, ect.ect. ”

    Huh?

  • mealblogger:

    Gotta defend Tuckerbox here….

    I’ll go out on a limb here and say the Jimcolimp comment was just a “drive by” comment by an employee/spouse of a franchisor. Care to dispute that Jimmy?
    I’d even go so far as to postulate that Jimmy is responsible for the comment on Blue Mau Mau. The tone of the post is also similar to one made here a few weeks ago that I responded to by another franchisor that never bothered to come back.
    Then again I could be 100% wrong, it’s happened before….. I did buy a meal assembly franchise after all…
    So if I did misread you comment I apologize in advance.

    I’ve said this before and I’ll repeat myself here again, this site is clearly about the meal assembly industry, not about franchise versus independent.
    There are plenty of posts about the EMP here too, and they aren’t a zor.

    I don’t have any idea what Mindy and Lisa are up to, but I doubt is has anything to do with this site.
    You can clearly see in the post in another thread that Tuckerbox was curious as to what they were alluding to.

    Jimmy you question the intent until “convienced” (sic) otherwise? The intent of this site seems pretty clear, give meal assembly owners a place to discuss (and vent about) this industry. How shall we “convience” you? What was your “intent” with such a post? “ownermastor” ? Does that mean you feel that as a franchisor you are the Master of the store Owners? That’s a pretty arrogant “name”, in my opinion.
    Has this site become more negative lately or is it just a case where more people are sharing their story, and unfortunately the stories are a bit sad/negative?
    Sometime the truth is hard.

    I also have to take moment to defend Mindy as well. I don’t know what she and Lisa are up to, but I think it’s pretty clear where Mindy’s heart is. She wants to help store owners in any way she knows how. If she needs to shake them until they wake up and see what’s really going on, then so be it.
    Mindy and so many others take time out of their lives to share thoughts and ideas here, as I’ve stated before, I appreciate it, and I know others do as well.

    MB

  • xddowner:

    The past 2 years I have been told the reason MY store was not preforming at $40,000 or better is because:

    I am not following best practice’s. (Never knew what excatly they were)
    I do not have enough captial. (build out cost me $100,00 more then told)
    I havent kiss the ground that Stephanie has walked on.
    I have questioned the Marketing Dept. on shit they would send to my store, for me to give to customers that have NOTHING to do with food.
    I could go on & on.

    But, now there is a place where Owners can exchange stories, and not feel so beat up (to God be the Glory) and be able to take the next left-> as some of us face bankrupcy.

    What I will not allow is the HO of Dream Dinners make Mindy into there scape Goat. Stephanie knew Mindy’s heart and soul was for the Owners and she/they choose Greed instead of doing what was right. Not paying Darin is another example of that.

    Tuckerbox, and others, The time that you spend on this site to help educate all of us, means the world. Keep it up. and like Mindy says- something Good has to come from this.

    #10

  • Still Hopefull:

    Well- I am a current meal assembly owner and this my first time on this site. I own a Dream Dinners store and also trained with Mindy. I have to say that it is scary to know that EVERY person that we have come into direct contact with regarding our store; Doug, Mindy, Ellen, our first coach, our new coach, our second new coach, the sysco guy and I guess you could even say the owners since they have handed control of the company over to an new CEO but I guess we still have to try to stay hopeful…we are only six months in and trying our best. It is especially upsetting that the person that 7 months ago gave us a 100 Grand bar with the hopes that we would eat it when we made that much money is now saying that this is a FAILED CONCEPT. I am not bashing any one, I had and still have respect for Mindy but I guess I wonder what has turned her so against this concept (in blogs seperate from her own site) other than that she no longer works for the company that I know she poured her heart and soul into. I sat across a table from her every morning for five days while my babies were literally across the country and listened to the hope and faith in her voice regarding the success she believed we would have and I BELIEVED her. Granted she was not the only one, the other people in the company that have left seemed to believe it too but I can’t find them any where posting so much negativity. FOr the record I emailed Mindy personally to question why she was letting negative posts on her site and two days later she removed the negative post and made a no negativity rule. If she still has any hope left in her heart for us owners that are still trying to make it and still looking to her for inspiration maybe she will try to post some constructive suggestions on how to help us. I know I am going to keep trucking away and if anyone wants to share ideas please do so! ps I am posting this on mealassemblywatch as well and I am going to send it to Mindy too.

  • Lisa:

    I am going to begin what will be a very long post with a story. The post by Still Hopefull made us realize that the time is now to come out in the sunshine even if all the infrastructure is not ready. So, consider this and give Mindy credit for also seeing the sunshine–we all make mistakes, but few have the courage to admit them and the strength to try to fix them.

    Several years ago we adopted a dog, a mutt, but to this day the most beautiful dog I have ever seen–like a miniature black lab, but her coat literally sparkled because it was laced with single white hairs. From the start she was a challenge, but at about six months she started to show strange aggressive tendencies and we knew we couldn’t keep her, but what should we do? Our neighbor, a champion obedience trainer, told us that on a “must kill scale” she was about a five and in the right home, she might be okay. We returned her to the shelter with a long letter about her tendencies, and they adopted her to a nice couple who we would see often at the dog park. When she viciously attacked their neighbor’s child, she had to be put down–and I will carry that guilt forever–two more families devastated because we didn’t have the courage to do the right thing. So, you would think that a few years later, when I could see many SS franchises starting to fail and a friend called and asked me not to say negative things on the BB anymore so that they could sell their store, I might have learned my lesson, but I didn’t. Now over 100 closures and dozens of bankruptcies later, I have. I vowed a year ago with another SS friend a lot smarter than me, that I would do whatever it took to help other owners–of any MA franchise, then we found the right opportunity.

    The foundation for the effort is this: it is not possible any longer to deny that most (if not all) of the major franchisors have failed to provide the support or system needed for their zees to be profitable, or even to stay in business. The franchise meal assembly business model is fundamentally flawed. The value of “brand” is only as good as we make it in our own neighborhoods. The effort by the Zors to protect their brand only restricts us from adapting our stores to meet the needs of our customers. As the model fails, so go the Zors. We haven’t seen any of their 2008 financial statements yet, but we can be sure they won’t be pretty. And without income, it becomes less and less likely that they will have the capacity to address the crises we face and more and more likely that they will suddenly bow out and leave their Zees high and dry. The traditional benefits of a franchise–large numbers that give buying power, a name and brand recognition, and an organized corporate to give support–have not been realized.

    So, we have consulted as many experts as we could in any arena we thought might be helpful and developed what we think is a workable plan: a member owned corporation called Kitchen Coalition, Inc.–a trade association, if you will. The corporation will be owned and run by any and all meal assembly owners–franchised, or not. The Coalition will provide the support the franchisors have not been able to muster. The members will determine what we do and the order in which we do it. Ideally, one of the first things we will do is set up a committee that works on negotiating supplier contracts (hello Pactiv and Ziploc!), because with 1300 kitchens, we stand a much better chance than even DD or SS with their 200. We can compare prices, share ideas, create promotions and buy advertising and printing cooperatively.

    Also, the biggest task for this year is to create a crisis response package to help the Zees when the Zors fail. We have a budget for attorneys and a strategy to help the Zees who need legal help with their franchise agreements. This might allow them to reinvent their stores as thriving independent businesses, or for those who wish to remain with their Zors, to control the timing of their conversion to independence so they won’t be victimized by a sudden ZOR failure, or to allow them to sell the business without selling is as part of a dying franchise. Have you given any thought to what you will do without a Zor to provide a website, POS, recipes, or anything on which you depend to run your business? We have already received $60 – $70,000 in sponsorship pledges from vendors, we have negotiated pre-approved financing for Members who wish to set up their own website and eCommerce system. We have attorneys, articles of incorporation, bylaws, committee charters and a strategy ready to launch.

    The only thing we are missing now is you, and all of you, because this corporation will only be as strong as we make it and we believe in this industry and it’s owners. We believe that we fill a need in our society and that the need will grow if we can stay in business and educate our market. People need to eat, every single day and we believe that meal assembly can and will be the way that ordinary families get meals to the table, but that franchising was probably never the right way to grow the industry. If you beleive that and are “still hopeful” consider this letter and more information will be coming soon.

  • MA Owner, CA:

    Hi Still Hopefull–

    I’m with you. I am a new store as well and I was very upset with Mindy as well. I too sat at that table for five days and listened. The group I was with was very nervous and we asked lots of questions and she kept telling us “Guys..DD is in it’s adolecent stage..I can see us 10 years from now you just have to believe.” She was gone from the company not even a month later. We knew something was up when we were there for training. We just couldn’t put our finger on it.

    I too wrote a comment on Mindy’s page asking her why after we just went to training, (it wasn’t even a month later) would she post such negative things on her site. My comment was removed as well, and she posted the “no joysuckers” rule on her site.

    I haven’t been to the site in a while, but I just went on there and noticed it doesn’t say that she is here for the Meal Assembly anymore, it’s more about a JOY site and going there for inspiration. It’s actually a very nice site with lot’s of positive reading on it. But…It is hard to go there and then go to other blogs and read the negative comments, that she posts. It’s hard to want to take advice from someone who doesn’t see us in 10 years. I do realize I need to get over it! Because it really is sucking the JOY out of me.

    I’m actually OK with reading comments on this site, most of them are depressing and negative, but I feel I do have to prepare myself for the future if we do go under.

    We haven’t been open too long and we are actually doing GREAT. I realize that we are new and at first stores do really well and then it tapers off. With that said we are continuing to market and working our butt off to make this succeed. If in the end we don’t I really (at this time) don’t feel I have anyone to blame. We have never had a problem with the HO at all. We have gotten everything we need from them. I have emailed Darin with questions and he has gotten back to me right away.

    If the concept is a failed one then we’ll have to figure out what we need to do. No one suckered me into signing papers, I loved this concept and thought that everyone else would too. If anything it would be my fault for not doing better research. When you purchase any business you take a risk and you have to have an exit strategy.

    I will go on-line and check out the site mentioned in Lisa’s post and see if it’s something we are interested.

  • DinnerZen:

    Hi Lisa-

    Question… why would you all propose to start off with a new member run association versus trying to make a connection with the IAMPB which is already an existing association with a membership base (albeit relatively small)?

    Most folks erroneously assume that IAMPB has some affiliation with EMP and thus throw the new baby out with the old bath water. EMP orginally started the “association” for a variety of reasons, which included the business opportunities having a coalition of store owners that needed products and resources presented.

    EMP’s (and Bert) affiliation with IAMPB at this point is that of vendor member- like other vendor members of the association. Bert was originally on the board of the new member run association and actually stepped down because he didn’t want to create a perceived or real conflict of interest by having a seat on the board as he pursued his business interests outside of the association.

    Most people also erroneously assume that IAMPB represents only independent stores. While that may have been the original “membership”courted and represented when the group was formed by EMP, we opened membership up to franchisees when it transitioned to a member run association.

    What we heard from different zees and zors is that those store owners weren’t interested in sharing/collaborating with other stores they see as competitors. Which I think everyone sees now as not the smartest move.

    I don’t suppose it is too late to try to get your new proposed organization to work with IAMPB, but it seems like a diversion of already precious human and financial resources to start up an entirely separate association. IAMPB has spent funds on developing bylaws, articles of incorporation, etc.

    IAMPB has taken steps to negotiate discounts for its members. I think you will find that effort not quite as easy as you might believe. Vendors aren’t exactly tripping over themselves to provide discounts to stores. Much of that reason is because the IAMPB could never attract a large enough membership to make it wholly enticing to key vendors (see point above about franchisors and franchisees not coming together to support the association). And, frankly the store owners who have put in time on behalf of the association have only so much time and energy to commit to this effort as they struggle with keeping their businesses afloat.

    However, IAMPB has negotiated and is finalizing negotiations with a couple key vendors that will offer discounts that by themselves will go a long way towards making the membership dues in IAMPB pay for themselves.

    TIP: Ziploc isn’t interested in negotating with anyone directly. I the large franchisors couldn’t make that happen, I’m not sure that anyone else could. IAMPB tried. There is no incentive for them to do so when they already have distribution options and deals in place with the warehouse chains. Our Sysco house has been working diligently to negotiate better pricing (it is absolutely in Sysco’s best interest to get this business). The point of this tangent is to say that it isn’t as if IAMPB has been sitting idly by not trying to make important gains such as this.

    IAMPB has however been successful in negotatiang better pricing with mini-grip an alternative to ziploc bags that ship directly to the store.

    Of all the posts I’ve read here, this has probably been the most deflating- I and others have put in countless hours of volunteer effort towards IAMPB while working simulatenously to make our stores a success. IAMPB has been mentioned several times in posts on this board, so folks know it exists; and you all had to know it existed in the time you’ve been putting together your plan and started posting on the board. Did you all make an effort to reach out to anyone from IAMPB in the months it had to take to construct bylaws, create a strategic plan, talk to vendors, consult with attorneys?

    IAMPB already has much of the key infrastructure in place, but needs members (dues and human resources/volunteers) to help push it forwards. If you all had/would consider devoting some of your energy and resources into helping make IAMPB successful perhaps that association would be in a better, more representative position.

    I’m sure my post comes across as defensive, and I suppose in some sense it is. I do applaud your efforts at undertaking this effort, our experience has been that it is not an easy one. Though, it is difficult for me to see the value of creating a whole new effort and alliance, when one exists that with the right committment could become what the industry needs at this very crucial time.

    I’d invite you to take a look at the IAMPB website, reach out to the President of the board (Leslie Hanna, a store owner), and for others to engage in this dialogue. I’m certain that the members of the IAMPB board are open to creating a successful trade association to truly represent the industry. We all strongly believe in the value that a trade association brings to its members or wouldn’t have taken time away from our businesses over the last year to try to make IAMPB or SOME association work for us.

    It has been amazing to see how this site (the number of users, frequency of visits, quality of the posts) has evolved since I first started coming here when the blog first started. If we could translate a fraction of that energy, wow, that would be amazing.

    Thanks,
    Jolie

  • Lisa writes: “We have attorneys, articles of incorporation, bylaws, committee charters and a strategy ready to launch.”

    Uh, Lisa did anyone of your attorneys pre-approve this message?

    My guess is not.

    There is zip money in this industry, but that is no excuse for practically daring every franchisor in this industry to sue you for inducing breach of contract.

  • Jennifer:

    Jolie,

    I can tell you that I, for one, had looked over the IAMPB website and did not seem to find anything that it offered to be something that I wanted or needed. Maybe it is that the site is not very clear about its benefits to its members – or maybe I missed an explanatory link somewhere. The way that Lisa described her organization is a little different than what I (and maybe many others) thought of the IAMPB to be. AND it’s unlikely many ZEEs knew that they were allowed to participate. What Lisa is suggesting sounds more like the type of association that would benefit ZEES more than independents (but I could be wrong here) and I always looked at IAMPB as more ‘independent’ focused.

    Mr. Webster, if ZORS can sue for joining an association, then how can franchisees start franchisee associations? Many of those exist – AAFD and the like – how do you explain that? The way I read Lisa’s post is this is just another association and nothing to induce ZEES to leave their ZORS without grounds to do so already. Maybe I’m wrong again…

  • ChefGeorge:

    Quite honestly I have never heard of the IAMPB, but regardless if the KC organization is redundant, my question is which organization would be more successful at figuring out what will fix the MAK concept? Unless that is figured out quickly any membership fee is just more money down the drain. What has the IAMPB done to date in terms of addressing how to fix the business model?

    Also to Websters point, there is also a fine line for current franchisees in terms of their obligation to heed the contract versus developing an independent devotion to the recommendations, etc of an association.

    Understand I applaud anyone who tries to help people in this industry! Our business closed a few weeks ago and we just trying to get our lives back together. One of the things I am pursuing is getting media coverage of what is going on in the industry and the lack of goverance by the FTC on franchising in general. We were so confident we did our due diligence and yet there are many things we know now that would have given us pause.

  • DinnerZen:

    Thanks for the feedback Jennifer-

    It is a very fair statement that the website doesn’t do a great job of sharing what IAMPB is about. It has been a huge challenge trying to do the legwork of setting up the infrastructure for the association. It’s also difficult when you’ve been so immersed to see the forest for the trees. And, at a certain point, even the most dedicated group of volunteers runs out of time to commit. The membership of IAMPB has dwindled as stores have closed or opted to not pay for “membership” out of their own pocket.

    We approached franchisors and only a couple were interested in stepping up and participating in the association. That was mostly self interest, I think. The others, I would guess, saw an independent trade association in conflict with their mission / competition. It’s also fair to say that it is only in the last year or so that the entire industry really started to strugle and people- franchisors, franchisees, independents, etc cared what was going on outside of the little bubble they lived in. When they started to realize that the bed of roses they had planted were turning out to have more thorns than not. A year ago, I’m not sure this site would have the following -big or small- that it has now.

    The way that Lisa eloquently described the proposed organization is exactly what the board of the IAMPB envisions/ed. Save, the resources for franchisees if/when a franchisor goes bust. But, that would have been a natural outcropping had there been enough interest from franchisees in joining an association. And in fact, franchisees would have been/ could be exposed to independents who had to build infrastructures from scratch (websites, recipes, etc), and learned a lot of lessons in doing so.

    I suppose we stunk when it came to “talking” about that to this point.

    If this site has shown anything, it is that franchisees and independents have more common concerns and issues than not. Business models, cooperative purchasing, building brands, customer retention…

    I would suggest leveraging existing efforts and lessons learned, and taking advantage of what IAMPB has already made an effort to create.

    I was curious about Mr. Webster’s comment as well, but to put words in his mouth, I don’t think he was saying that zors can sue zees for joining an association.

    I would think though that any franchisor licensing agreement would include a clause about forming an entity that would be considered in competition with the zor. I would also think that a franchisor could argue that offering up resources to negotiate (out of) franchise agreements, resources to strike out on their own, etc would be considered inducing/enticing a franchisee to leave their zor. And providing legal resources to help do/ argue any of that is icing on the lawsuit case.

    I don’t know much about franchise law, and my guess is Mr. Webster does, or at least knows more than I do. My guess is that it’s a slippery slope for sure.

  • Lisa:

    DinnerZen, I do apologize, I had checked the IAMBP site a long time ago, but when I noticed little change and nothing under member services, I think I thought the organization was still under development, or was just a support arm of EMPA. I am sorry my post made you feel deflated–that was the last thing we wanted. I don’t believe there is any reason we couldn’t work together, but also recognize as Mr. Webster pointed out that we are targeting Zees and some of the Zors may not be happy about it, and we did not get into this to drag anyone else into anything complicated or outside their mission, so while we welcome and all members, especially independents, who as you say have lots to teach us, we do not want to hinder your mission. I would love to talk in more detail, if you have the time, I am sure we can all work together for the greater good.

    And Mr. Webster, I respect your opinion, and wonder what about my message was questionable to you? There is nothing any zor can do to prevent a zee from joining an organization to help promote their business. The fact that this coalition may be more threatening to zees than my Chamber of Commerce or the American Dietetic Association, still does not give them legal grounds to prevent it, but I will refrain from any more comment until you respond. Thanks for all the comments, Lisa

  • dino (indie owner):

    I’m not so sure I get the kitchen coalition. The link takes me to Foodnet911. Is this correct? How would this organization be any different than EMP? If it is a corporation, is it incorrect to assume it is a for profit organization?

    I remember my first EMP conference. I had been open for 4 months and was looking for some great ideas and guidance from the people who had been in the business for a while. Boy was I disappointed. I think the pivotal moment was during the Best Practices for Operations session. Someone in the audience asked what the optimal staffing model was. Something relatively straight forward, not something I considered “top secret” and was really hopeful of a great answer. Instead, the two speakers didn’t answer but said that was available in the “operations manual” they were selling. The EMP does help promote the industry, but only within the context of creating a revenue stream for themselves.

    There is a need for an organization to help represent the voice of the small business owner (independent and franchise) because we all have money (and houses) on the line. That is precisely why the IAMPB was organized. Instead of creating more confusion within the industry by creating yet another company, it seems the IAMPB can be a great, non-biased resource for all MAK owners.

  • Lisa:

    The website is still in process, that was what was meant about infrastructure not being complete–as part of the IAMBP, you know how hard it is to get everything done. And again, we apologize if you feel we are stepping on your toes, that was never intended, and I think we can find a way to work together productively. And, yes it is a member-owned company, where technically there can be profits that all get returned to members as dividends–like REI… Lisa

  • Still Hopefull:

    To MA Owner, CA-
    If you have any ideas to share regarding your success maybe you can share some on this site. I think that is what it is for! I know we have been doing Sneak Peeks like crazy and that is working out really well for us.

  • David:

    Who is Michael Webster? And what is zip money? And was that legal advice he just gave? Was it free? 😉 Mr. Webster, I am in the business of helping distressed businesses. I have been working with a Dinners Ready owner who was defrauded by the company. The complaint to Oregon regulators has been submitted and we expect the investigation to commence in about 30 days. The complaint goes in to Washington this week. I’m giving 8:5 odds they won’t be around in August. There were a number of other zees that were defrauded by DR. I am willing to help any and all DR zees to terminate their contracts and they will succeed. I have consulted at length with my attorneys to to investigate the issue of contractual interference and non-competitive practices. If you are an attorney and wish to debate the matter with mine, email me at david@triarcassociates.com and we’ll have it out. To the extent that I am at risk for being sued – well anybody can sue anybody. But a membership owned corporation is at a greatly diminished risk. Can you sue somebody for interfering in their own contract? These are members coming together in their own interest. And if 10, 20 or 30 of them terminate at the same time, who are these broke zors going to sue? They don’t have the money to fulfill their existing obligations. Are they going to launch 20 $50,000 lawsuits at the same time? And will they be around to win or will they only exist as a case study for second year MBA students? Why would zees terminate? Maybe so they don’t have to stand around wringing their hands when the lights go out and the website’s down. Maybe they don’t want their agreement to be treated as an “asset” in a zor bankruptcy proceeding so that they can do nothing. Perhaps they want a working business model. There are plenty of successful MA businesses out there. Many are experiencing growth. Most of those are independents. Some sell wine. Some have gift shops, sell prepared foods, and a number of other things restricted by most franchise agreements. And I’ll tell you one thing, it sure is easier to order on an independent’s website then going through numerous confusing layers that most of these dumbhead zor sites put you through.

    There is no ethical or moral basis for leaving these business owners at risk while insolvent and ineffective zors skim the royalties and advertising fees and meet with bankruptcy attorneys, cover staff shortfalls because of layoffs and figure out out to put a smile on UFOC’s that disclose 150 failed stores in one year and million dollar plus losses, and insolvency. Why shouldn’t members come together to deal with this? Why shouldn’t they have support to develop a workable business plan and what is wrong with using their numbers to negotiate pre-approved financing for their own brand, website, eCommerce software, recipes and business coaching? All this so that WHEN their zor fails, or when they choose to terminate they have a quick-response solution in place.

    I have spoken with Mindy and Lisa. They do what they do out of love and compassion. Their motivation is to help people. And this is a crisis that gets worse by the week. I also talk to Mike, Melina, Tina and Richard. They have love and compassion too but they are using their positive energy to keep their chins up while they talk to bankruptcy judges and look for jobs to replace their retirement savings.

    IAMPB is a great group of people who have worked hard. They are well respected. Kitchen Coalition means to take nothing away from them. Kitchen Coalition only means to be relevant to the crisis in which its members find themselves and to act decisively.

    I am one of the initiators of Kitchen Coalition. I will never be a politician and I beg the reader’s forgiveness if my plain speaking gives offense. These blogs are useful but they are also dangerous. The capacity to respond so quickly sometimes makes us less thoughtful than we should be and perhaps a little inelegant. I do believe this is a time for plain speaking. But it is also a time for compassion. And it is a time for doing the right thing even when it is hard or scary.

    Mr. Webster, please do get in touch with me.

    David

  • MA Owner, CA:

    Still Hopeful-

    We are running SP’s weekly as well. 6 just about every week. We range anywhere from 15-30 new customers a week with them. The best week I had 30 new customers sign up. We really are brand new so the “Buzz” is really what is keeping us going right now. The SP’s were actually getting out of control so I had to hire a SP coordinator who handles everything from booking to running them.

    We are a very tight nit community and I think that really gives us an advantage. Everyone knows everyone, and everyone is talking about us. We’re just about to hit 230 customers for the month. My goal was 250 and with 6 SP’s lined up I think we can manage it. I must say it has made me realize how many “new” customers we have to bring in every month. But we are just starting out and know that we really have to find a way to market and make people understand that this isn’t just a luxury. We are seeing repeat customers, but haven’t been open long enough to know if it’s catching on. If I have to keep running SP’s to get the customers coming in then so be it.

    We also make it a point to make contact with major companies, health and wellness fairs, and local farmers markets weekly. We go to chamber mixers, anyone who will let us talk we’re there! We actually went and spoke to a “friendship club” older retired women’s group. We knew that we would most likely not gain any customers from that group, but we knew that some of them had daughters, grand daughters, and people in their life that could benefit from it. It also gives me the much needed practice to be able to speak in front of an audience!

    Anything you can share with me would be great!

  • cookgal:

    David,

    I don’t mean to be disrespectful. Your work in this area seems to be well intended even though I doubt your donating your services. Michael Webster is a well known franchise expert. He would be the first to agree with you that the big franchisors in this area were doomed to fail from the get go and that the franchising of this concept has not been properly executed. He has been very vocal about this concept on Franchise Pundit and Blue Mau Mau. I don’t know him personally, but have read his advice in my own research and highly respect his opinion.

    Regards,
    CG

  • Madmaowner:

    who is “david” where did you come from and why should people trust you anymore than the other guy? he at least signs his full name and does not give out some random email that links back to nothing. business consulting vultures are no beter than the lawyer you bash “god bles you all and i want to save the world” either you are good people that got suckered by leaches or your as full of it as they are. making meals doesn’t work lose your job with the hq start an “association” to pad your pockets

  • Lisa:

    Madmaowner, it is not true that everyone falls into one of two categories–cheated, or out to cheat. I am sorry if this expereince has left you so jaded and disillusioned that you can no longer believe there are good people in the world that have goals that are not strictly financial. We all strive to make a living and we do it in various ways–I also do business consulting on the side and would not mind if I could use that to benefit the MA industry, I work hard to get a great education and have great experience that might benefit some other MA, and David helped rescue a Dinners Ready zee from her situation, and realized in the process that he might be able to help others–sure he hopes to make a living doing it, but we all need to make an honest living. And no one is doing all this work for pure financial benefit–we could sell crack, you know, and the most lucrative indistry in the country is adult entertainment, so there are better options! I have had no less than five of my good SS friends file bankruptcy and lose everything–spouses, sisters, other familiy members, and their life savings all to a Super Dream to paraphrase a past posting. Why is it so hard to believe that we might want to help those who are left by helping us all devise a strategy that lets us all control our destiny and doesn’t leave us at the mercy of companies that have proven they don’t care? We all have selfish motivations, and if we disclose them, and all our interests coalesce, where is the problem? I understand your pain, I really do, but what would you have for us, to just become miserable, also? Thanks for your insight, Lisa

  • Who is Michael Webster and why is he saying these awful things about the meal prep industry?

    1. I am actually a member of the AAFD, the only Canadian Attorney who is. I have been on the AAFD Fair Franchising Standards Committee for around seven years, and was the Support Member Winner in 2007. So, I have some idea about organizing independent franchisees, IndFAs, and fair franchising.

    2. There is no legal objection to organizing an IndFA and collectively bargaining with your franchisor for access to superior pricing – although I doubt that this is your real economic problem. Your real economic problem is that your customers fail to commit to what looks like a good idea, but then they run out of steam. It is similar to the problems in the fitness industry.

    3. However, you cannot go around saying things like “If the franchisor goes into bankruptcy, we will just become independent.” You have to legal grounds or a practical plan about bankruptcy.

    Michael Webster

  • David Bowles:

    To Cookgal and Madmaowner.

    Allow me to first respond to your posts and then perhaps I can clarify more about my role and intentions.

    First: CG – Thank you. I found no disrespect in your comments and I did not mean to cast aspersions against Mr. Webster. I paid $250 per hour for the legal advice I received on this matter and I was startled by his conclusions. I looked at his post on bluemaumau and I think I figured out that his advice was based on a misunderstanding of the facts. I go into this more below. I gave Mr. Webster my email address (it’s an email address not a web link) so that we might discuss this more completely. I do charge for my services but I have indeed found myself working for free these last few months. I do hope to be paid eventually but by adding value for a lot of people at once so it doesn’t cost anybody much at all. I think profit is a good thing and my six children agree. I, too, mean no disrespect.

    Second: Madmaowner – wow! You are mad. Sorry. There are twoo ways to look at those of us in the distressed business business. The dark way is as vultures. I am sure that some of my colleagues operate like this, but I haven’t met them yet. The other way to look at us is people in the business of helping people. This is how every single one of my clients have viewed me and because of this I love my job. I will invite my MA client to post to further address this point with you. Please read on and see if some of your concerns are addressed below.

    Following is a copy of a post I also made on the bluemaumau site. I apologize that this is so long.

    My company is TriArc Associates, Inc., located in Portland, OR. I am a “turnaround manager”, which means I work for distressed businesses. I learned about the MA industry through being hired by somebody who purchased a franchise relying on materially misleading and deceitful disclosures. As I devised a strategy for her to save her skin I needed to create a workable business plan to replace the failed model she bought into. Our plan is on course and she will soon own an independent MA store. Along the way I discovered how much suffering is actually occurring in the industry and how many people find themselves in similar circumstances. So I have been working to use our solution as a jumping off point for other businesses.

    I think I see the why somebody with Mr. Webster’s credentials would be giving what I perceive to be erroneous advice. He writes, “Lisa and her vendors have opened themselves up to an inducing breach of contract [lawsuit] by calling on franchisees to break their contract with their franchisor.” This statement is simply not what’s occurring. If it were, perhaps his advice would be correct. Webster is not alone in his misperception. It is noteworthy how readily the concept of self-help that is the foundation of the Kitchen Coalition undertaking is transmogrified into this negative characterization. Lisa initially introduced KC in the blogs this weekend because of the conspiracy theory blogs that were cropping up. With about a week to go until KC’s website is up and running, perhaps this was a mistake. It is hard to present a partial picture and avoid these communication breakdowns.

    To the extent that KC will be involved in examining the termination option for its members, it will do so by helping owners come together in context of their common interests, analyze the details of their respective Zors, their states, and their respective agreements, financial condition, timing, etc. And then identify options and strategies. The notion being that there is safety in numbers. This is not about kill the Zors. It’s about saving the Zees. What we are all doing is creating a vehicle for Zees to come together and meet their needs. The greatest need right now is survival and/or salvage.

    KC is to be a support organization. Among the benefits it provides is the means for stores to own their own brand, website, eCommerce system, recipes, etc. As part of the package that has been negotiated, members are pre-approved financing. So for $1,500 dollars down (against which all membership fees will be credited) a member can have their own website up and running. The monthly cost is a fraction of franchise fees they are currently paying (e.g. $500 per mo for 4 years) and their solution will be tailored to their new and improved business plan, based on various templates for this “better mousetrap”. The package will include business planning services and a plan that is tailored to each participant. Some members may want to develop their own brand as a means to proactively convert from a franchise store to an independent business. Some may simply want to have it as an insurance policy for when their zor suddenly croaks.

    KC will not be providing these services and its website will be strictly to support member communications and services.

    This is not a perfect solution. It will get better as people come together, make their own contributions and define their needs. Maybe this won’t work. But isn’t it worth a try? Does anybody have a better idea? Are the zees facing imminent failure (or who are awaiting the imminent failure of their zors) content to have nothing accomplished while we ruminate on how to give birth to a perfect and fully formed solution? There is indeed a sea of negativity in this industry but it is important to not color everything with these dark hues. It is possible to thrive and the MA concept is a worthy foundation for a viable business. It is currently failing largely because many zors casted the business model into stone before it was properly conceived. Their current efforts to protect their brand while those who relied on and believed in them whither and die is seriously misguided. I approached some zors with an plan for creating an exit strategy that might allow them to retain some services while releasing their zees to save themselves, but it was like throwing a nerf ball at a rubber wall. Nothing came back. Zip, zero, nada.

    David Bowles

  • Mindy:

    I want to thank each Owner that has sent me a personal email today. All 305 emails Will be answered, just give me a couple of days! I thought I would post my response on MealAssemblyWatch.com

    The main question are:

    What do I think about the KC. And was I supporting this?

    Why?

    Is this something you started because you are a disgruntled X-employee?

    Here is my response:

    Yes, I support KC. But I can say I have sat on the fence.

    This is how I see it: A safety net for Owners that have RISK everything in the Super Dream that is failing by the minute. Where is the Plan of Attack from the CEO of DD? Or even Super Suppers? Aren’t they the Industry Leaders?

    I beleive Owners are the TRUE expert in the Industry, YOU just need support and Coming Together We can give that to each other! Joining fources with KC can bring this Industry to a new level. It is ALL up to YOU.

    David, Heather & Lisa, have a HEART TO SERVE WITH A PURPOSE! (If you were in my training- think back to what I talked about serving with a purpose) Their time involved with providing a safety net for Owners is incredible. It can only get better with YOUR Help & Involvement.

    Together WE want to see the Meal Assembly Industry SUCEED-

    Are you tired of losing money?
    Are you afraid your ZOR will go bankrupt?

    I have put a call button on my blog- I am accepting calls- I would be happy to discuss issues with you further.

    Food for Thought: $2,000.00 ONR time fee- is cheaper then 6% monthly royalties. + $800.00 Marketing Fund

    Remember- TOGETHER WE CAN!

    Much Joy,
    Mindy
    http://www.joyfilledyou.com

  • DinnerZen:

    Hello,
    Is it possible to funnel these comments into the discussion board versus posting here as comments? Lisa’s note was posted in two locations eliciting response on both resutling in two conversations, with a lot of traffic, making it difficult to follow unless you are constantly tuned in.

    Just a thought.

  • Frieda Foodie:

    Even with the new KC there are hundreds of MAK in business that should not be.

    If the business model failed it was based on the mentality if you build it they will come. Not true if you don’t advertise or market your business nobody comes – that is a proven fact.

    Hundreds of these MAK were sold to people that should have never gone into business in the first place. All you had to do was show up for an interview and write a check and your dream came true and you got to open your part-time business. This is a business full-time 24/7.

    There is truth to the fact that there is strength in numbers and doing the right advertising certainly will help. This is not just something to do while your kids are in school to earn a little spending money and keep you out of the mall. You have to work on your business and not in your business or it will run you right into the ground.

    I am a business person and got started in the business as a customer first and second as an owner. I think it is a great concept and certainly vialble as long as you are not paying to much in franchise fees and getting very little in return. But I have also seen the trend as would be business people get into the MAK and only canabalize the existing business from a store that has been working their a– off advertising.

    Ladies and Gentleman in order to make money you must spend money. Look at your advertising budgets/sneak peeks/health fairs/fundraisers. How much money are you actually spending on those items vs. just in survival mode? Living paycheck to paycheck?

    The KC needs to offer something more than a website when my zor goes away. What is your advertising/marketing plan? Quite frankly if you are going to rely on a bunch of soccer mom/store owners then your KC will fail also.

    Mindy where is OPRAH? I dont know that a MAK has been spotlighted once on her show.

    I am not mad and not hoping to make people mad! Just think like a business person and step back and analyze on how much time you spend working in your business vs working on your business? There is a big difference!

    Frieda Foodie

  • Mindy:

    I have asked if I may post my comments on meal assembly watch, from Owners that have emailed me some tough questions. They would like their names not to be mentioned as of yet, however, they said if it would help paint a better picture then please go right ahead.

    Mindy, Where were you when the price changed, and Why did the Marketing Dept. not listen to you as having been a prior Owner?

    Frankly, The Marketing Dept. would not LISTEN to any one other then THEMSELVES. From (Blank) profound catering experience, and (Blank) advertizing experience, they did not need me or ANYONE, even the coaches, telling them they were wrong. Leadership supported this. (family/friends first)

    During this time, I was working with the Training Dept. Nov. 06 and was recovering at home from major surgery when I went to the Poulsbo store to help support a huge Christmas Marketing campaign. The line of people was out the door! They were giving tickets for a drawing with 36/48 serving purchase, in Hopes to Win a Freezer. Out of 200 People- only 25 signed up!!?!?!!?
    However, She was having a hard time explaining the 36-servings, 48 serving, blah blah blah. The total time she spent with each customer was 10 mins. For them to” KINDA” understand, was baffling! I KNEW we had a real issue!

    I then contacted our Lead Coach at that time, she said, “Mindy, don’t go there- It’s a waste of time, the fight is NOT yours.”

    To inform each of you, the FIGHT has always been mine, deep in my heart.
    Because, I DO believe this concept can make money and the need is there, just not sure what that looks like for each Region of the Country.

    We now have a core set of people, Attorney’s included, that have a ‘Serve with a Purpose’ mindset. KC is a safety net for the future. Yes, there might be obstacles along the way, but isn’t the Meal Assembly Industry in the Adolescences stage? I am hopeful. MAK Owners can turn it around-Please email Lisa or David.

    Frieda Foodie (cute name) You ask, Where is OPRAH? Trust me Girlfriend; I see the day coming when the Meal Assembly Industry is on OPRAH- she is just waiting until OWNERS are SUCCESSFUL! (LOL) I have my seat reserved, do you?

  • FoolMeOnce:

    To:

    MA Owner, CA.

    Are you the one who is giving a $40 Volume Discount for ordering 72 servings? Is that what the home office is advising now? Be careful that you’re not just cultivating customers who will sign up to receive a $40 discount, but who will fade away when they start having to pay a more realistic price.

  • mealblogger:

    Everyone go back and read Frieda Foodie’s post.

    She gets it.

    Very well said.

    MB

  • frieda foodie:

    MAK owners and wannabees,

    Time to focus on the future and not the past!

    Marketing efforts!

    Ideas please.

    Mindy you dont need to explain the past … it is the past. Owners move forward!

    It is what it is!

    What about marketing… enough about attorneys .. they are the ones that come out the winners. What menu’s, marketing do you have in place?

    I have HAD my seat reserved and done my share of rallying the troops…. what specific efforts were made? What do we need to do?

    Frieda Foodie

  • Mindy:

    Where do you live? If you live in the Chicago area- call me. I have ideas.

  • mainok:

    Hey Frieda – I agree with you except I am one of those “not a business person” that everyone likes to use as an excuse for why this industry is not working. There are alot of “business people” that have gone out of business! I am probably one of the few store that shows a profit every month. I am not the best at everything, but I have tried to stay ahead of everyone else around me and change the model to make it work for my store. Hey, I have to stand up for moms!!!!

  • MA Owner, CA:

    Foolmeonce–

    I am doing the $40 volume reward. I would have to say I only have a handful (like 10) customers that even do 72 servings. Most of the all do 36 servings, and there is no volume reward for that.

  • frieda foodie:

    I do not live in the Chicago area but give ideas … people are waiting with baited breath! Dont hold back we are all in this together.

    Mainok good for you … consider yourself an exception and by the way I do have a family and a full time job and a MAK!

    Frieda Foodie

  • mysterymiss:

    Here is my opinion for what it’s worth-we need to ALL critically & honestly look at the MAK industry as it EXISTS right now. I don’t think we have done that yet.
    I have pondered what FF has had to say….I agree, the past is the past for those of you still in business you need marketing ideas to make your business a PROFITABLE one. So far I have not seen any of those here.. I have seen this is what I have done or that is one I’ve done…
    What have you done that has turned the corner for you,
    what have you done that is duplicated and successful for the other MAK owner,
    What have you done that has made you go from unprofitable to profitable?
    That begs the question for me of “why.”
    Is it out there, has anyone been so wildly successful that they will share their strategies with everyone? (as long as they are not in the same market as you are)
    Do you all see the slippery slope here?
    I can give you EVERYTHING I did to try to get business in the door that didn’t work.
    “You have to work on your business and not in your business or it will run you right into the ground.”
    I worked my business and my business worked me over.

    FF says:
    “I am a business person and got started in the business as a customer first and second as an owner. I think it is a great concept and certainly vialble as long as you are not paying to much in franchise fees and getting very little in return. But I have also seen the trend as would be business people get into the MAK and only canabalize the existing business from a store that has been working their a– off advertising.

    Ladies and Gentleman in order to make money you must spend money. Look at your advertising budgets/sneak peeks/health fairs/fundraisers. How much money are you actually spending on those items vs. just in survival mode? Living paycheck to paycheck?”

    All great points but I’m having a hard time getting through all the cute business coach catch-phrases with little or no substance behind them…..

    Frankly, All I hear is regurgutation of crap I heard from my Zor and marketing wonks, cute little phrases…… nothing of usuable value….
    I would have paid what I lost for usable, action-able, viable marketing ideas that would have made my business PROFITABLE.

    I said the same thing you stated above “it takes money to make money”
    I spent money on marketing…..all it got me was that I “owed money” for said marketing.
    You did say one thing in particular that interested me and that was your comment about folks coming into your market and cannabalizing the market on your dime (forgive me if I got that wrong, but I think that was what you were saying).
    The interesting thing was that the market was cannablize-able. What that says to me is that the market is indeed too small for more than one MAK to exist in any one area. That would then lead to the conclusion that it really is not the “great” idea that we all beleive it to be. Except in limited numbers in limited places.
    What I’m learning is that those who have the most capitol to outlast the other guy is the one who survives to fight another day.
    I’m just saying……

    Blessings
    Kelly

  • ChefGeorge:

    Everyone please go back to what MysteryMiss has to say. She gets it. Looking forward is great but only if there is a way forward which I have yet to see on this site or anyplace else. More ideas FF says? I am confident everyone who spends time here is already invested 100% in helping everyone and would love to post any silver bullets found.

    We spent a ton of money on advertising (including direct mailings to what was to be our very specific target market) as well as doing all the grassroots stuff and we couldn’t even get it to trend up! The saying of “work on your business” is so old when being applied to MAK. You are saying the majority of MAK owners didn’t do this and thus the high failure rate? Garbage.

    As MM says the MAK standing right now simply had the most money in bank to flush. Assuming the cure is finally found, those MAKs will eventually make money….but then how long until they recoup what was lost? If the owner is in their 20’s, I guess it would make sense.

  • Lisa:

    FF, I think I hear waht you are saying, but with the Kitchen Coalition, we do hope to move into the future of MA, and I think we need to stop calling it that, too. The Kitchen Coalition will also have a consumer side that explains what I have started calling “home kitchen replacement,” or to use business jargon “home kitchen outsourcing!” Anything our customers spend more than 15 minutes doing in or around their kitchen we can do better, faste and cheaper.

    The KC website will be able to tell people that and then direct them to a coalition kitchen near them! We can have cooking content–how to plan a holiday dinner, how to cook brown rice and what is quinoa and why should you eat it. We can make a site that people visit over and over for relevant answers to all their cooking problems, we can have an owners forum where people can ask questions and get asnwers, and of course get directed to a kitchen. And we can organize advertising coops, with 1200 kitchens, not 200, we CAN have a media presence–we can offer free meals to every family who gets an Extreme Home Makeover and a commercial to go with it.

    And Kelly, I think there is a huge market for our services, but each store will be a little different and every town will require different services and that is where the Zors fail–pizza is not the answer to my business growth, healthy meals is, but my Zor is not interested in that avenue, but I have 200 doctors willing to “PRESCRIBE” my food if and when I can offer a different menu–do you know how huge that could be for all of us? There are answers, and we have them, and it takes money to create the recipes and programs that buy our customers and keep them coming back. No amount of advertising will make up for the fact that you are selling the wrong product to the wrong people with the wrong message. We need people to help us figure out the right mix and the Kitchen Coalition can do that if we all support it! Lisa

  • Shelley:

    Hi everyone –

    I am the Dinners Ready owner that David (david@triarcassociates.com) of Kitchen Coalition used as his original case study. I can vouch that he is legit and his words and actions are true, as my case is the birth of these ideas. From his connections he met Lisa and Mindy and found that my case is not isolated. If you would like to contact me to discuss Kitchen Coalition, David, anything, please do so at shelleybarshaw@yahoo.com. Please no whining, questions or solutions only please! I survive if you survive.

    A quick bio about me…I am a business person, marketing/international business major, an outside sales person for two Fortune 500 companies for twelve years and was even a corporate sales trainer for one of them, and I even have six years of legal secretarial experience behind me! All this means is that it doesn’t matter your background in this industry! You just can’t be passive. I was a client first, and purchased an existing store as way to step out of the big corporate life – with the realization I would not make a lot of money. I did, however, think I’d make a little! Not the case. Unfortunately, I missed some areas in my research of the industry and the Zor that only hind-sight and time has revealed. It plunged me in to the survival mode of working in my business to save it and my bank account.

    First, the franchise provided me with extremely outdated financials that made them look MUCH healthier than they were/are. I would not have purchased had I known at the time that they were $2m in debt through 2006 (I’m sure losses continued through 2007 since 20% of their stores closed, and then there’s the $0.5m they have to pay out this year to a prior founder) when other Zors were posting large gains. I did not know UFOC law (and shouldn’t have needed to as the burden lies on the Zor) that made this a fraudulant act against me. We have filed a fraud complaint with the Security Division of the Attorney General’s office and are making plans to go solo. I urge anyone concerned with their MA and Zor to look in to the UFOCs their Zor gave them to see if the Zor misrepresented the company. Although David is not an attorney, he can provide guidance in this area for a fee below that of an attorney. He is now quite knowledgeable because he did all the document and law review for me, then we had it all reviewed and finalized by an attorney. If your Zor is not willing to make the changes to adjust to the market, and if there is a way to get out of your contract – DO IT! – before the Zor goes under.

    Everyone here has agreed that the model is broken. For instance, what restaurant is open Monday through Saturday 10am-7pm (which we should be, but are not because there isn’t enough traffic) and ONLY SELLS DINNERS? None. Hindsight revealed this broken model to me almost immediately after taking over the store. Unaware, sales were falling during my purchase period and continued after I took over. The same story most everyone shares.

    Another old saying, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a change”. Change in the model needs to happen in conjunction with marketing and advertising. Unfortunately, the Zors most spoken of here, including mine, can’t make the changes because they are in survival mode, and their job is to sell more Zees, not save them. It’s really an unfortunate position for them (and us) to be in.

    I still think the MA is a good concept, but it can and needs to be better and better has to do with being more responsive to your clients’ needs. So people want ideas. Some that need to change – and this is all part of the new business plan David and I have designed TOGETHER (part of the KC suite of services) – to meet the needs of my service area:

    1. We’re an eCommerce based business, use the website to sell. Post store hours on it, talk about instore specials/events, track private parties or fundraisers, use it to offer more services than just food. Did you know that if you have a dynamic ‘news’ box on your home page and change it often the search engines will pick it up? Google “meal prep kitchen” and see what comes up. Did your sight come up? Bert’s did. His changes all the time.

    2. Provide flexibility to clients. Provide clients with substitutions and use the web site reports to track these inventory changes. Add other food related products, kids’ meals, side dishes, desserts, wine. What do your clients want – ask them!

    3. Open the store to events other than MA related parties. Get the community involved by inviting them to cupcake decorating lessons, parent/kids’ days, etc. Again, what do your clients want – ask them!

    There are so many more ideas to initiate. You need a website with the flexibility to do it. Can your Zor provide it to you? If not, try to get out of your contract to make a real go at the business you once so believed in and have put your heart, energy, and bank account in to. Yes, it will cost more, but I’ve done the cost comparison and spending some to change is a heck of a lot less than closing your store, buying out your lease, paying off your loan, etc.

    Regards, Shelley

  • Frieda Foodie:

    I have been thinking/stewing over the KC thing for a few days.

    So run me through the logic. I am a DD owner and 1 mile away is either a SS or another MAK. Say we both bail our zors. So we rename our locations and then we all have the same recipes every month? All of our websites are similar?

    We may actually get de-regulated some day for having a monopoly!

    Marketing Math….

    Lets say there are 600 MAK in the US. We all have 50 solid customers per month. They come to our store every month without fail. That is 30,00 customers as a base. So lets go for the pyramid scheme. How do we incentify our best customers that may possibly have friends to tell their friends. It has to something better than a free meal.

    Thinking out loud instead of a monthly card why not a friend punch card?? Wow I like it… it just came to mind!Now need a reward for the friend punch card. How about becoming a preferred customer and getting a % reduction in your meals monthly?

    I do not believe traditional forms of advertising such as news paper really work. But the grass roots campaign yield good results… I have done radio (success), tv (flop), and a monthly coupon in a magazine (success), newspaper (flop).

    The KC will also need some BIG celebrity endorsement. What about Paul Newman? As long as we are giving something back to charity he may be a good candidate. Martha just teamed up with Costco.

    KC may not be the right name. Need something a bit more professional. A professional organizer is a member of NAPO.

    FF

  • Lisa:

    I am guessing that if you are that close to another KC store, you would choose to have different websites and offer different services. The way we have established the baseline service, there are a few different “packages” you can choose from in an emergency situation, but if you have a better idea, What’s Cooking is willing to work with you on that also. I am certain you will not have the same recipes, you already have your favorite recipes, and the other stores have theirs and you will probably all choose to grow in different directions. And wouldn’t it be great if someone actually thought we were big enough to be a monopoly, the we will know we have arrived!

    As far as the name goes, we picked Kitchen Coalition because it is short and simple, represents what we would like be seen as–a group of kitchens working together for a common cause, and we did not want it to be professional since we also want to have a consumer side–we want people to know that if they have a kitchen question or problem, they can go to the kitchen coalition site, or to a member kitchen, and get an answer! While we will all come under the same umbrella, we will all have our own identity–sort of like the Sandler Sales Institute system, their licensed franchisees all operate under different names and are licensed to use the system… Lisa

  • Lisa:

    FF, I also just thought of something else, if you are really close, you may, if free from your zors, choose to work together under the same brand and offer different aspects of the same service, one might focus on full-service catering, another on a lunch delivery service, and one on healthy meals, all with the same site and management overhead costs… Lisa

  • mysterymiss:

    Hey Kids, sorry for the early morning ramble-I was all over the charts with that one!

    Shelley & David-Thank you for sharing I appreciate it.

    Shelley,
    What is the health of your business now?
    Are you profitable?
    Have you turned the corner, If you have will it be sustainable?
    What competition do you have in your market?
    What kind of increases are you projecting this year, next year and how will get you there?
    More marketing, more incentives, more services?

    Lisa,
    I understand we all beleive in this business and see the need for it in our communities.
    I’m just trying to wrap my mind around all of the information that has been put out there by folks still in the business and those who have gone under.
    I’ll be totally honest telling you all that I’m tired of all the platitudes, cutesy catch phrases, and the this is what I’ve done stories tied to the “with hope statement” that it turns the corner for them.
    I don’t think I’m alone, I just don’t have the good sense to stop posting.
    Your post in the forum and Shelley’s post above have come the “closest” to a “real concrete solution or hope for a solution” that I have seen since I started posting here. Shelley’s post has the elements of really being a “true testimony” that this new organization, products & resources can work. I’m excited !!!!………….
    I realize that this is not a one size fits all endeavor
    I understand the need to tailor this program & suite of products & opportunities to each persons market-Kitchen Outsource location. I need to see this thing in action, see the results !!!
    You all know my story; I’m excited to be a part of the “new story”- the idea of Home Kitchen Outsourcing for families & I’m excited to be part of the real solution & success of the Home Kitchen Outsourcing idea that KC represents.

    Blessings
    Kelly

  • independent owner:

    “you will probably all choose to grow in different directions”

    This is the part that I think is interesting. The bottom line is that the stores will all try to grow in the most profitable direction, so if one is seriously outperforming the other, my thought is that the underperforming store will try to emulate the other as closely as possible, and perhaps even undercut on the exact same services/dishes. After all, isn’t that how our areas all became saturated in the first place?

    I’m trying to envision this. The proposal seems very franchise-like with shared services and paying monthly for these services. One of the large mistakes made by zors was putting stores too close together. What is to stop someone from setting up shop right next to another KC kitchen and offering the same services/recipes/etc. Where is the competitive advantage?

    Many have recipes they like, though I would imagine the existing zors would not allow their intellectual property to be taken easily, and their recipes are a large part of the IP. One of the proposed services was access to purchased recipes (at least I think I read that somewhere, though may be mistaken). Many may want to take advantage of that as a service. Those who haven’t done their own recipe development may find it much more time consuming than expected.

    No negativity in my post or questions. Just trying to see how this would work.

  • Lisa:

    Recipes are not intellectual property and really can’t be trademarled or copyrighted, that’s why things like the coke and the KFC spice recipe are kept in locked vaults that few people can access. Most SS recipes can be found in Cooking Light and we tweak them, so the way I use them are totally different than another SS. The KC will have a recipe package, and EMPA has recipes for purchase, also, we ALL have the same recipes but seeking the right quality, service, etc. is all up to the owner. I might want to focus on gourmet and you might want to be Italian, she might want to focus on healthy. Restaurants all open up right next to eachother, in the same shopping centers, but seldom does one totally duplicate another, and there is room for all of them. I think that if we open the lines of communiation, it will be unlikely that a kitchen will open up next to you without your support–there will be no big zor telling them “you will be turning people away, this is the hottest offer anyway, and you better pay me $35K now because I have other people waiting in line!” Yes, if you are successful, they might, but then there will be enough to go around. Think about it, we wouldn’t all be here if there weren’t zors telling us we would be successful. Thanks for asking the questions, Lisa

  • DinnerZen:

    I don’t mean this as a dis to you Shelley, but there are a boat load of stores (some, many, most, all?) already doing 1-4 plus some.

    We’ve done that plus provided all the convenience services that Dinner by Design recently announced in the PR. I don’t tend to think of myself as particularly forward thinking either.

    People keep talking about the need to identify the next “perfect model” for what a store should look like, and I must be stupid, but I don’t think it’s this all elusive, mystery. Pull my head up out the sand and explain to me what else lies ahead with regards to tweaking the model.

    Any farther in any one direction and we’ll either be morphed into retail/ grocery stores (have you been to a Wegman’s lately) or a carryout only restaurant that provides cooked food. Where else is there to go?

    What are the absolutes?

    I still think there are enough people interested in what meal assembly has to offer- how many times a day do you hear, I don’t know what I would do without {fill in your store’s nam}? I heard it enough from enough different types of people to make me realize that there is a lot of untapped potential.

    As for what works, I wish I were rolling in the dough and could back this up with $s…just coming around to the first year and had a month or two where I’ve not run in the red…

    I spend money on advertising. My ads always look the same (even with the clipper tried to convince me to change) and they always promote 50% off my new customer 2 meal new customer sample pack. I know, insert complaint about coupons. I cover food costs and it brings hesitant people in the door. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people who are doing the 2 meal pack say that they always wanted to try it and the coupon pushed them over the edge. It’s a great deal and gets their attention. I don’t think one particular piece of paper does the trick. When the local papers are running a 1 or 2 time rock bottom special, I run an ad. I rotate direct mailers through various surrounding zip codes that include about 10 different restaurants/service ads in a tabloid size, folded mailer. No val pak. When a month/holiday comes up that I have an angle on if I have enough energy I put together a press release and send it out to the newspapers in the area. I sit down and poke around on the internet looking for family websites where I can advertise (often for free) our Kids in the Kitchen sessions. I’ve been very lucky to have two news articles specifically about our store in local papers and I got a tiny little mention in another article about the concept. I participated in the local “taste of” that attracts 30,000 people (that was long and hard my friends). I put public announcements out when we work with a non profit group (most newspapers, tv stations, etc have websites where you can post this). Whatever I can afford for the month and my gut and reasonable intelligence tells me might put me in front of a new person or two, I do. I got caught up early on keeping up with the Jones’- other stores in the area- who were advertising in larger $ mags, etc. I did find VERY little return on chasing those ghosts. Some might call it a shot gun approach, chastize me for not hanging in there for 3 months or 6 months or 3 impressions, whatever comes first– all the rules of traditional marketing, etc. But, I pick up some customers from just about every place I publish. If I don’t get a single hit I don’t go back. I know if somebody is reached because I can track it with that new customer coupon. Some places are better than others. I haven’t yet identified the magic potion that helps me zero in on the perfect future customer- 2 meal sample pack to $250 a month customer. Though, I do realize that perfect customer doesn’t always come packaged as a married mom with money. Important note, I’m sure this is preaching to the choir, but early on I was foolish enough to take whatever asking price folks had for advertising. I now find that saying it’s too much or here is what I have left in my budget seems to work wonders when it comes to getting people to budge or leave you alone.

    My next great pursuit is an LCD in my store window that shows the concept in action, playing over and over. I found a unit that you can insert a key card into (no vcr, etc), but can’t quite convince myself I’m ready for that so will cheap my way through this endeavor like others. It’ll take me a while, but I have high hopes.

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