Tim Weiderhoft, Wow Wow Hawaiian Lemonade’s CEO, predicts his brand will nearly double in size by the end of 2022, and to him, that’s just being modest.
By September, the 12-unit brand had solidified 40 agreements, which is the largest number of deals during a calendar year since the brand started franchising in 2017. The record pace puts the chain in position to “blow that 10-store opening I have planned next year out of the water,” Weiderhoft says. Multiple debuts are projected across Dallas, San Antonio, New Mexico, Northern California, and Arizona in 2022.
Weiderhoft attributes the accelerating growth to two main sources: For one, he believes that with health and safety on the minds of consumers more than ever, guests are increasingly cognizant of the food they’re putting in their bodies, especially when it comes to strengthening the immune system.
Headquarters: Phoenix, AZ
Year started: 2012 (began franchising in 2017)
Annual sales: N/A
Total units: 12 (10 domestically and two internationally)
Franchised units: 11
Proving his point, the National Restaurant Association’s Restaurant Industry 2030 report found that more healthy options are one of the most likely developments in the next decade. Also, ADM, an agricultural origination and processing company, published research in August 2020 that found 77 percent of consumers intend to make more attempts to stay healthy.
The other reason for success, and arguably the most vital, is that whenever a customer or potential candidate walks into one of the locations, Weiderhoft says they genuinely feel the “aloha spirit,” which alludes to the brand’s Hawaiian roots. As an example, Lakewood, Texas, couple Nancy and Kevin Taylor decided to open Wow Wow’s first store in the Lone Star State after visiting the brand in Hawaii in 2017.
“Not very many people have memories of Hawaii that aren’t amazing and positive,” the CEO says. “I’ve never met someone that went there and said, ‘Yeah I visited Hawaii. It was just okay.’ It’s usually ‘This was beautiful; this was amazing.’ It was aligned with something special to that person, whether it was a honeymoon or a birthday or a trip of family. Those pieces all connect emotionally to individuals, and they can connect with that past experience as well as the type of product that we serve.”
Wow Wow began in a Hawaiian farmers market in 2012, before growing into a food trailer and eventually a brick-and-mortar store on Maui in 2014. The chain now oversees 10 domestic stores and two international locations in Japan. The menu features hand-crafted lemonades and smoothies, and a food lineup comprising acai bowls, grain bowls, flatbread sandwiches, and multigrain avocado and nut butter toasts.
In 2019, the brand was purchased by John Choi and Klaus Grimm of C&G Franchise Development, which moved company headquarters to Scottsdale, Arizona, and accelerated franchising efforts. The group appointed Weiderhoft as CEO, an existing franchisee at the time and former vice president of franchise development at Massage Envy.
Weiderhoft acknowledges Wow Wow isn’t a Hawaiian company, but he emphasizes that it will pay homage and respect to the culture and community that took care of it for several years before greater expansion. That’s why upcoming growth will mostly focus on the Southwest and adjacent markets that have a closer connection to the islands. The young chain is receiving interest from California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Nevada, and Utah.
“Our goal is to create a small footprint in each market that we go into and then grow with those franchisees in that market to ensure that we’re one, not oversaturating; two, allowing for brand development to be very strong within that market; and then three, to really grow internally with our current franchises, so that their long-term success is hand-in-hand with ours,” Weiderhoft says.
The brand also wants to ensure it’s geographically positioned to service franchisees at a high level.
“I think that if we focus too much on selling licenses all over the place, it starts to stretch the corporate team pretty thin, and we’re very, very passionate about not losing that ability to have high touch and high support for our franchisees,” Weiderhoft says.
That’s not to say all of Wow Wow’s growth is solely in the Western part of the U.S. Although the brand isn’t actively marketing in Florida, it did sign a multi-unit franchise agreement with husband-and-wife duo Andrew and Anju Lynn. The couple runs XPLOR, an organization that provides franchisor solutions for incentive programs, conference and meeting planning, and online corporate stores.
The company’s food division will open five stores in the Sunshine State, including Sarasota, Tampa, Saint Petersburg, Bradenton, and Lakewood Ranch.
“Their proficient ability and understanding of franchising as well as the culture and the things that make them tick as people really aligned with our core foundations and the way we do business,” Weiderhoft says.
Wow Wow boxes are typically 600–1,200 square feet, depending on the market and real estate. Weiderhoft says the sweet spot is between 800–1,100 square feet because it allows for swift execution, proper storage, and a decent amount of seating. The smallest unit is the original 530-square-foot Hawaiian store, and the biggest is a 1,600-square-foot outlet in Oro Valley, a suburb of Tucson, Arizona. The Oro Valley unit is unusually large because it’s the chain’s first drive-thru, which opened with “just gangbuster [sales]” earlier in the fall, Weiderhoft says. The brand is actively searching for endcap drive-thru solutions, which the CEO says can be hard to find given that a number of brands are hoping to accelerate drive-thru expansion in the post-pandemic era. Wow Wow also designed a standalone drive-thru prototype, but the chain is still working through some of the cost factors.
No matter the store design, the company’s goal is to become 100 percent franchised. The original unit in Hawaii is the lone company-run store, but Wow Wow is in the process of potentially selling the unit to a franchisee.
“Our main priority needs to be and is our franchisees first,” Weiderhoft says. “If we continue to have development from a corporate perspective that obviously then requires investments on our end and it’s only a natural situation that you would naturally focus on where your cash investments are larger. And for us we just can’t take our eye off the ball. Our franchisees are our No. 1 customer, our No. 1 support.”
One of Wow Wow’s biggest investments in the franchise base was improving tech infrastructure, an initiative the brand worked on since Weiderhoft became CEO in 2019. The Wow Wow leader says that beforehand, the system was using a version of Square that was effective for what it was at the time, but didn’t have all of the “bells and whistles” necessary for growth.
It switched to Toast, which fully integrates POS, operations, digital ordering and delivery, marketing, team management, and financial technology. The restaurant tech company went public in September after raising $870 million in its IPO. At time of publication, Toast was worth roughly $25 billion.
In addition to the elevated POS system, Wow Wow is rolling out its first consumer app and an updated loyalty program that features transaction history, favorite items, personalized marketing, and mobile pay. As of late September, Wow Wow had just north of 65,000 loyalty members across 10 locations, and the CEO expects that to continue to rise.
The confidence Weiderhoft has in Wow Wow—in terms of unit development, sales, and digital innovation—is based solely on the efforts of its budding franchise network.
“They are doing an exceptional job when it comes to serving the aloha spirit and supporting their communities by offering a really tasty food and beverage option that’s a healthier twist on something quick and easy,” Weiderhoft says.