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Robeks Franchise Review: An Interview with Katrina Bickford

Robeks is growing fast in Connecticut, New York

Katrina Bickford. Photo courtesy of Katrina Bickford.

Katrina Bickford is the regional director for Connecticut and southeast New York, where she oversees a fast-growing group of franchises. She started the first two Robeks locations in Connecticut in 2004 and 2006 and is currently a partner in another store. Three stores have opened in her region since September 2011, and this month Robeks will be opening its first location in the newly redeveloped Service Plazas on Connecticut’s I-95 where the company will be going head-to-head with McDonald’s, Dunkin Donuts, Subway and other fast food options. “Having a healthy option on the road will be very good for travelers,” she says. There are plans for more Service Plaza locations as they are re-opened.

What did you do before Robeks?
I was a landscape designer. I ran that business out of my home, and prior to that I raised four children. I was always on the prowl for healthy eating options.

How did you find out about Robeks?
We found out about Robeks through a franchising consultant with FranNet. My husband and I had decided to look for a business that we could get into together. He was subsequently re-employed in the banking industry.

What attracted you to Robeks?
There was a complete lack of anything like it in this market. Having raised four children and always looking for healthy alternatives for fast meals, there simply weren’t any. We also felt that healthy eating was a serious trend and not a fad. Luckily we were right, and it has continued to trend more in that direction.

What makes for a successful Robeks franchisee?
Ideally it should be somebody who is truly passionate about healthy eating, and wants to have a positive impact on their community. Someone with strong people skills— good with employees, customers, vendors etc. Franchisees should be willing to roll up their sleeves, get behind the counter and sell smoothies; really learn the business from the inside out even if they don’t intend to run their stores on a daily basis. A store needs a spiritual leader to set the tone. Customers like to see that there is somebody knowledgeable and mature there, someone who takes responsibility for providing them with a consistently excellent guest experience. This is what makes the franchising model so much more successful than the one with company owned stores. Franchisees are buying into a proven business model, and have to realize that they can’t change it. A highly successful Dunkin Donuts franchisee in my region advised one of my franchise candidates to take the business model, follow the rules,and execute it better than anyone else—THAT’s what makes a successful franchisee.

How do health trends affect your business?
Even in this economic downturn, people still have to eat. People might give up their treats, but if we can train our customer, educate them to see our product as something that is nutritionally valuable to them, then I think our customers see us as an indispensable part of their routine. We have a very high number of return customers. It’s really a lifestyle choice that people make. Are they Starbucks people? Are they Dunkin’ Donuts people? No, they’re Robeks people.

What do you like most about owning and operating a Robeks?
There is a lot of variety in the life of a franchisee. You’re dealing with employees, you’re talking to customers, you’re doing marketing every day. Going out into the community to sample our product, getting into the schools. You get to work with young people, develop them and teach them how to be good employees. It’s never boring, but there’s no denying it’s hard work. This is where the passion comes in! And of course, when the blenders are going, the register is ringing, there’s that certain sense of satisfaction that you’ve had another good day.

What kind of customers does Robeks draw?
A Robeks person is someone who pays attention to what they put into their body — someone who tries to choose the better ingredients. A lot of them are busy, active, frequently on the road. High school kids like Robeks. They need places to hang out, and it has been popular with the high school crowd. For people trying to lose weight or get fitter and build more muscle mass it’s a great option. Smoothies are an easy way to get good nutrition for people undergoing chemotherapy or recovering from an illness. Juicing has become increasingly more popular, and Robeks has responded by expanding juice offerings in many of the stores. And then, of course, there’s always the person who just wants a healthy refreshing snack.

Robeks touts its health benefits. Have you seen any notable success stories among your customers?
I’ve seen people lose a lot of weight when they use Robeks appropriately. Using a Smoothie in place of a meal, with protein, fiber, fat burner and an energy boost can be a great way to aid in weight loss. I’ve seen people achieve phenomenal things with juicing and wheatgrass. My husband has a smoothie every morning with Powerbek and Protein and it takes him right through till lunch time. The Powerbek really works, energizing like coffee, but without the crash. I think Robeks as a company is at a very exciting point in it’s development. We have solid strong leadership. Steve Davidson is very committed, open-minded and progressive, and I think the company is making some decisions that will really help us in the next couple of years.

What has owning a Robeks allowed you to do with your life?
It’s been 20+ years since I was in the corporate world, so I’ve enjoyed the freedom I’ve had. As a Franchisee you have the ability to schedule your work around your life, to a certain extent. I appreciate having that flexibility. One of the things I love about my job is that it’s something I feel I can be really proud of. I have Robeks license plates, and I’m out in the community all e time. Kids say, “Look, there’s the Robeks lady,” and I kind of like that! It has been exciting to be at the leading edge of something that is new and exciting and happy. It’s all good stuff. It’s very uplifting work. I told my husband that I had to find something that I was passionate about. I have been able to immerse myself completely, and I just love it.

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