Archive for the ‘My Girlfriends Kitchen’ Category

The Downward Spiral

Although facts and figures regarding the meal assembly industry are suspect at best, it’s still possible to show a trend of what’s been going on over the past year. I’ve done some research and using old articles and other tidbits I’ve been able to pull together this interesting timeline. As you can see there has been a continual decline in the stores and companies offering meal prep.

There is little doubt that 2007 saw an explosion in the number of meal prep businesses with kitchens popping up on every street corner. It was a crazy time and franchisors couldn’t sell stores fast enough. All that cash coming in must have been dizzying. It’s no wonder no one was checking to see if the owners they were selling to and the locations the store would be placed in were suitable to the franchise. But the gold rush was on! So much so, that between September and December of 2007 there were approximately 450+ meal assembly companies operating, with some 1420+ outlets dishing out meals.

And then something happened.

Meal assembly was a hot movie starlet and everyone wanted their piece. But amid the glitz and glamour was the reality of the business and soon the star power began to fade and tarnish. The engagements were less frequent and this hot new trend was passed over for the next hot thing. As 2008 wore on, the store closings began to mount and owners ditched their store before they lost everyone or because they lost everything.

2009 presents us with approximately 320+ companies still doing business and just a few over 900 stores still operating. There is a lot of room for error in these figures but you can see that 130+ companies have disappeared and over 400 stores have shut down. Although I can’t find the exact figures I believe there was some speculation that over 2000 stores were actually in operation during the year. If that were true then over half the stores that used to be open are now closed and out of business.

Even if we just take the published numbers, you can see a steady decline.

And what of the big power houses of Super Suppers and Dream Dinners? They certainly lead the way in opening stores like it was going out of fashion. Gripped with the Starbucks mentality they figured opening more stores was as good as advertising, but they didn’t have to pay any money for it. So much the better!

The numbers fluctuate as to who is the true market leader, but there is no doubt both chains opened a tons of franchises. Each one claimed to be well over 200 with more bold statements that they hit 250 at some point. 225 stores sounds a little more reasonable and less prone to bragging so we will go with that number. Super Suppers has been dropping stores and currently sits at around 110 stores – a far cry from the 225 they inferred they had in the works.

Dream Dinners hasn’t done much better with less than 170 stores still operating. A pretty big gap between first and second. The stores were originally neck and neck and now a 60 store split separates them. But keep in mind it was just a few months ago SS was proud they had 140 stores. Darin claim righteously that he and his crew had a great relationship with their 180 owners. So, Super Suppers may have lost around 100 stores and Dream Dinners may have lost anywhere from 60-80 stores in the last 12-15 months. Basically we are seeing 30-40 stores close per month nationwide and out of those 4 are a Dream Dinners and 4 are Super Suppers. In essence each franchise is closing 1 store per week.

If you want to be even more depressed, think of it this way. If 500 stores have closed and each one of those owners was in debt by $100,000 (which many have stated they are) you’re looking at $50 million in debt because of this industry. And that’s were we stand now, not how it will be in a year from now.

Am I just picking on Dream Dinners and Super Suppers? I bring them up because they are the largest and most well known. Also, they should have larger capital assets to help guide them through these uncertain times. This just shows they aren’t impervious to the trend.

But there are of course other casualties. As an example, MealMakers went out of business, as did Dinner by Design. My Girlfriend’s Kitchen and Entrée Vous were sold before they collapsed.

The fact of the matter is that the total number of open stores has been reduced by half over the past year. And even at the store level you can see that franchises have lost a substantial percentage of their business. Is the trend over? I hardly think so. These store closings actually took place when the economy was still reasonably sound. People have tightened the budget all over to the point where other restaurants and food chains are taking a hit. Several of those have declared bankruptcy because of the heavy revenue loss. Meal assembly will be in the same boat. It’s possible the decline may slow, but more realistically, as layoffs continue, more retail businesses will feel the hit. There is no indicator that meal prep will pull out of this nosedive just in the nick of time.

There was once a claim of 3,000 stores and $1 billion in revenue for this industry. That seems even more ridiculous now than when I first read it.

Bad economy bites eateries

While some struggling businesses choose to downsize, others come up with new ways to market products. Some switch gears altogether, such as Shepardson. He recently closed his meal-assembly business, My Girlfriend’s Kitchen, when he realized the model wasn’t catching on, and decided to open a quick-casual seafood eatery.

But not many business owners can afford huge changes when they’re circling the drain.

Bad economy bites eateries.

Meal Prep Dominos

As predicted the meal assembly franchisors are now facing the same problems that have been plaguing the local store owners. The once mighty franchisors that sold territories like hotcakes are now struggling just to stay afloat. Seems nobody’s buying what they’re selling any more (in more ways than one). And in many cases their lifeboat has sprung a leak.

Super Suppers, the once debatable Queen of the meal assembly industry has started to suffer staggering loses. They previously had reports of over 200 stores open across the country. Several recent articles I’ve seen put that number at the 150 mark while insiders tell us the number is actually closer to 120 and falling. Depending on the numbers you believe, it looks like Super Supper has shuttered nearly 100 stores which translates into a whopping 50% failure rate. This also means they have lost a substantial amount of monthly revenue.

As they continue their downward spiral they have brought in a new CEO, but just like Dream Dinners they’re not sure they want to tell anyone about it yet. In another similarity it looks like he too will be a Rent-A-CEO and won’t actually be tied directly to the company, so even if the company hits the skids and crashes into the iceberg his golden parachute will be fully intact. Once again, savior or scapegoat? Are they planning to stick it out or run like hell? Should the silence from Super Suppers be taken as a stiff upper lip or acceptance of their fate?

In an attempt to have her company live on, or more to the point grab a final fist full of coins for her incapacitated company, Marica Hales sold her fledgling My Girlfriends Kitchen to a Dinner A’Fare after trying multiple times to find a buyer. Apparently they weren’t put off by the broken website which wouldn’t take orders. The fine folks at Dinner A’Fare then showed their spectacular ineptitude as they spent the next few weeks taking the site down, putting up the wrong web addresses, taking the site down and then completely locking themselves out of the previous MGFK customer information. This follows the several months of the MGFK site being riddled with issues which were promised to be fixed. Finally the site resumed operations, but how the current owners are fairing is anyone’s guess.

But don’t worry Marcia has taken her franchise managements skills over to The Franchise Performance Group where I’m sure she’ll be a top notch resource for those looking to learn how to run a franchise. Clearly she is a role model in the meal assembly world. And of course she still operates her FranSupply company where you can continue to line her pockets by having her help with all your purchasing needs.

By their own admission and press releases Make & Take Gourmet has been setting the standard for meal assembly franchise owners with happy owners everywhere, a proven system of success and a hundred more stores to come. But even they have hit upon hard times and will be forced to close one of their main corporate run stores. (Just like getting a new CEO this seems to be the first step in bailing out of the business). But it’s a strategic move to be sure and has nothing to do with the lawsuits pending against them. It should also have nothing to do with situations like the New Hartford owner who is ditching the Make & Take name and going it alone. He’s simply a loose cannon, a renegade if you will with these radical ideas of breaking away from the herd. Even though they only have a hand full of stores, they will hit their 100 store in no time. They wrote a press release it must be true.

The World Domination Tour of Dinner by Design seems to be coming to an end and the final show will have them going out of business. According to the latest news, Dinner by Design has failed to capture the Midwest as their marketing plan suggested and they are now taking their toys and going home. The media blitz was interesting to read but ultimately amounted to nothing. I’m not sure they will even be called a flash in the pan. The owners will be allowed to use the name and branding, but in another month or so the corporate office will be no more. So to answer the question, their innovations weren’t enough to save the industry, or at least not save the company itself.

Despite the lawsuits and owners struggling to make a living, the corporate office of Dream Dinners will be taking the day off and celebrating the birthday of their fearless leader. Individual store owners need not RSVP. But even during their jubilation Dream Dinners too is losing stores and is far from the 200+ stores they once claimed. Even with their tricky way of listing stores as “temporarily closed” even after the store has been closed for over a year, it appears Dream Dinners is closer to 160 stores and falling. Just from that they seem to be doing better than Super Suppers, but are these numbers even accurate? And if they are accurate can they be sustained? There are reports of owner after owner not paying their royalty fees and using that money to purchase attorney services so they can shut down their stores. We still aren’t sure what the 87 initiatives are or if there even was such a thing, but Emeril has ditched Dream Dinners for a new suitor and Martha doesn’t seem to hold the same punch she used to.

And yes, Stephanie’s Blog still sucks.

If you’ve been reading along we have seen some meal prep articles come out which actually give a realistic and honest portrayal of this industry. And how did they accomplish that? Well first off, they stopped listening to industry experts and therefore got accurate information. Have they seen that folks like Bert and Andy really have no idea what they’re talking about and what they say today won’t be the same story they tell tomorrow? Hopefully, we will see more of this media enlightenment in the future.

Smaller meal assembly stores can’t escape higher food costs and even the store run by the What’s Cooking Software founder is going to have to close its doors. Seems things are tough all over despite having your finger on the pulse of consumers and knowing that the pendulum will swing the other way.

Speaking of meal assembly software companies, don’t ask EATS anything about MealMakers. They’ll throw dirty diapers at you.

And regrettably the IAMPB has also brought their meal assembly interests to an end.

As we soldier on for the final quarter of the year, things have certainly taken an interesting series of turns. A few franchisors have already disappeared with several more poised to close up shop before the end of the year. The survival of the fittest is now in full swing. There was some hope for a back to school rush, which doesn’t sound like it happened, with the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays right around the corner. The dominos are starting to tumble and they are claiming many stores. It’s even been postulated that the meal assembly industry has put American families into debt by $100-200 million dollars so far with several more million to potentially be added.

What’s next? What to do to survive to the end of the year and beyond?

The Dinner A’Fare Acquires My Girlfriend’s Kitchen

The Dinner A’Fare Acquires My Girlfriend’s Kitchen in Strategic Meal Assembly Move

The Dinner A’Fare Franchising, LLC. and MGFK, Inc. today announced that the companies have signed a definitive agreement under which The Dinner A’Fare will acquire privately held My Girlfriends Kitchen, a leader in the prepared meal industry. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

Atlanta, GA. (PRWEB) July 8, 2008 — The Dinner A’Fare (http://www.dinnerafare.com) Franchising, LLC. and MGFK, Inc. today announced that the companies have signed a definitive agreement under which The Dinner A’Fare will acquire privately held My Girlfriends Kitchen, a leader in the meal assembly kitchen arena. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

My Girlfriend’s Kitchen, based in Salt Lake City, is a strategic acquisition for The Dinner A’Fare. The acquisition will extend The Dinner A’Fare’s franchise system and increase the regional and national presence.

The Dinner A’Fare (http://www.dinnerafare.com) will build upon My Girlfriend’s Kitchen’s customer and vendor relationships by solidifying and maintaining its core meal assembly strategy while adding growth opportunities to both systems. My Girlfriend’s Kitchen’s product mix and service offerings have been hugely successful over the past several years. “My Girlfriend’s Kitchen owners have achieved great levels of success in the meal assembly industry. We are delighted to have them as a part of our team”, stated Ken Wright, president, The Dinner A’Fare, LLC.

“The addition of My Girlfriend’s Kitchen locations to The Dinner A’Fare line-up is a strategic move to add positive growth to The Dinner A’Fare system,” said Wright.” “MGFK franchisees that embrace The Dinner A’Fare system will benefit from our strong management team as well as our core product offering. The meal assembly industry is still evolving, but the initial fad has passed and now we have a real business to develop. The early days of wild growth in meal assembly are over. We see this as a positive change, and strong players will propel the industry and its individual franchise owners toward greater profitability. That is the key to this acquisition.”

“This is an exciting milestone for our company. We look forward to accelerated growth with the acquisition of this brand,” said Dylan Rist, director of marketing for The Dinner A’Fare (http://www.dinnerafare.com). “My Girlfriend’s Kitchen franchisees and locations are complementary to our current market presence, making this an ideal acquisition for The Dinner A’Fare (http://www.dinnerafare.com). Our combined systems will create exciting growth opportunities for The Dinner A’Fare, our customers, and our employees. We look forward to working with the team at “My Girlfriend’s Kitchen” to ensure a rapid and seamless transition.”

About The Dinner A’Fare

The Dinner A’Fare (http://www.dinnerafare.com) is known regionally for its upscale atmosphere, high quality dinners, and industry innovation. Inspired by busy families, The Dinner A’Fare’s mission is to improve people’s lives by making high quality healthful home-cooked meals affordable and easy to prepare. As an Atlanta, GA based Franchisor, The Dinner A’Fare has focused growth primarily in the Southeast with several strategic locations open outside of their regional area.

The Dinner A’Fare and the stylized logo are registered in the US Patent & Trademark Office. All other product or service names are the property of their respective owners.

The Dinner A’Fare botches it

In their post-buyout yet pre-takeover staging, the site for My Girlfriend’s Kitchen has been completely botched and is now left as a site which appears to need to pay it’s bills. The mgfk.com site greets would-be-meal-assemblers with the notice:

This Account Has Been Suspended
Please contact the billing/support department as soon as possible.

OUCH!

From what owners say, this is perhaps just the final chapter in a long, drawn out saga of a non-functioning website. The site has been incapacitated for up to a couple of months with an inability to take orders online. This may be one way to fix the problem I suppose, but whether they meant to or not, this gives the impression that My Girlfriend’s Kitchen is now out of business and that whoever is in charge is an incompetent ass who is unable to handle web management and paying the bills on time.

It’s not just that it looks horrible, it IS horrible. This is throwing money out the window and destroying any shred of credibility and brand recognition that was left.

I can only hope that the Dinner A’Fares attempts at resurrecting the meal assembly industry and better than their attempts at running a website.

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