If there’s such thing as a joint epiphany, then John Barnes and Matt Thelander had one.
Barnes, the Las Vegas-based marketing vice president of Sunburst Shutters, and Thelander, Sunburst’s Chicago-based regional director, had worked together cross-country for nearly a decade in 2009 when each approached the other with an idea neither had before discussed: How about starting up a gourmet frozen yogurt chain?
Thus was born Yumz Gourmet Frozen Yogurt, a growing business that’s about to relocate its Chicago headquarters to Las Vegas and open its first area franchise.
“We just felt we could do it better. There were some things we could improve upon, from taste to marketing to design to social media,” Barnes said. “We said, ‘If we can’t offer a better taste, we’re not even going to do this.’”
It wasn’t easy to start up Yumz: It took roughly four dozen visits to fro-yo shops nationwide, plus a lot of test recipes at home and finding a specific dairy, to craft the company’s final, fat-free product. Every cup of Yumz begins with a vanilla base, with other tastes layered in to create flavors including pistachio, oatmeal cookie, Key lime, root beer and red velvet cake. The end result is sweet, like ice cream, rather than the tangy flavor in vogue today, though Yumz does offer a tangier version and will soon unveil a Greek alternative. There are also no-sugar-added and sorbet versions.
Yumz has also played with its store design, creating seating clusters to “help people feel like there’s a place for them regardless of age, lifestyle and taste,” Barnes said. That means general seating for groups of friends, lounge seating with couches and ottomans for a more relaxed atmosphere and private niches for couples on date night.
Then there’s the marketing, which revolves around customer preferences. The company’s “Coolest Combos” lets patrons list the ingredients of their favorite flavor combination, name the creation and have it posted on the Yumz website. Customers can choose other people’s combos from a touch screen when they order, and there are monthly and annual winners. (The 2013 winner was “Yumberry Cheesecake,” a blend of strawberry, cheesecake, cake batter and raspberry-pomegranate, with a topping of strawberries, cheesecake bites and strawberry boba balls.)
Yumz Gourmet Frozen Yogurt’s recipe for standing out is helping it grow. It will open its first local store in southwest Las Vegas within roughly three months, Barnes said. It already has 12 stores in Illinois, Indiana and Florida. It’s opening soon in Wisconsin and Iowa. By summer, it should have about 25 stores nationwide, and by the end of 2014, upward of 50.
Along the way, its headquarters will relocate here for lower taxes and training benefits. It’s easier to get franchisees-in-training to visit balmy Las Vegas, with its rich entertainment and dining choices, Thelander said.
There’ll be additional expansion beyond 2014, though Barnes and Thelander aren’t focusing first on growth.
Said Barnes: “Our goal isn’t to be the biggest. Our goal is to be the best.”