When Primo Partners—Ben & Jerry’s largest and only Black-owned multi-unit franchise group—began its growth path, it felt the need to choose between business and education, says Antonio McBroom, the company’s CEO.
“But we saw the genius of ‘and,’” McBroom says. “We saw that we could be business leaders and make major contributions educating people about business; our business could be our classroom.”
Consisting of long-time friends McBroom, Eric Taylor, and Phillip Scotton, the journey of Primo Partners is one of passion and mentorship. In addition to Ben & Jerry’s, the company also has development endeavors in real estate and just this year was awarded a Starbucks licensing agreement.
When McBroom had the opportunity to buy the Ben & Jerry’s shop he was working at during his senior year in college, he felt like it was the right time to take the entrepreneurial leap.
“As a brand, Ben & Jerry’s has always been a justice company. They use ice cream for their platform,” McBroom explains. “That allowed the company to connect with us at even deeper levels.”
The friends’ first Ben & Jerry’s location opened 15 years ago in North Carolina. From there, they have opened 14 more in metro areas such as Chicago, Tampa, and Houston. From the beginning, Primo Partners used its business to educate and develop young leaders. Its goal is to change Black business as we know it.
“We’ve always looked for ways to tackle difficult issues or have difficult conversations, and we really see ice cream as a vehicle for doing so,” McBroom says. “It’s something that brings people together.”
Through its Ben & Jerry’s platform, Primo Partners has established a growing internship and scholarship program. It donates 1 percent of its revenue back into the community, supporting Black entrepreneurship and marginalized communities. Additionally, it has commitments to foundations, such as Habitat for Humanity and United Way.
In addition, Primo Partners sets aside 2 percent of its revenue for staff development. Through the pandemic, the company poured resources into professional enhancement activities and coaching.
“Coaching is what we love to do. If you think about the original coaches or carriages from the early centuries, they got valuable assets from where they are to where they need to be,” McBroom explains. “We look at Primo as a coach to transfer these leaders from where they are to where they want to be.”
Furthermore, February 16 ushered in a new era for Primo Partners. The group opened its first Starbucks location at the University of South Carolina, and McBroom is eager about the partnership.
“We thought that this would be the ideal complement to the Primo brand as we become a multi-unit, multi-brand organization,” McBroom says. “I’m excited to grow within the Starbucks ecosystem and be a key partner across multiple markets in the Southeast.”
For McBroom, Starbucks felt like the right fit not just for its products but also for its justice-minded approach to equity. Since its inception, Starbucks has never shied away from taking stances, something McBroom looks for in an organization.
The Starbucks store at the University of South Carolina adds to Primo Partners’ portfolio of campus locations. The franchise group has Ben & Jerry’s locations at the University of North Carolina, the University of South Carolina, and the University of Georgia. While McBroom looks forward to expanding his business footprint, he does not deny how valuable universities are for Primo Partners.
“Universities are incubators, and we love it for where we start businesses,” McBroom comments. “We love having a campus presence because that’s where so much energy happens, as far as talent recruitment and development.”
Moving forward into 2023, Primo Partners remains focused on two things: impact and celebration. McBroom explains that as a brand, the company is embracing a season of rejoicing and taking every opportunity to go back to the drawing board.
“We are re-sharpening our pencils and getting clearer on what our next 15 years will look like. The key word is impact; we want to dial it up and measure it in a robust way,” McBroom says. “We want to measure how we impact the lives of the folks in our company as well as the communities that we serve and the other businesses that we’re able to help.”
In 2021, sales were up by 104 percent at Ben & Jerry’s locations. In 2022, sales jumped by 77 percent. McBroom hopes to continue these trends and grow the franchise.
With its 15-year, 15-unit milestone met, Primo Partners developed a plan to open 25 Ben & Jerry’s shops within the next three years. Additionally, Primo Partners has a community impact strategy planned at $250,000 per year.
By 2033, the partners expect to have three best-in-category brands under their belt and a full-time social fund platform. McBroom envisions a nine-figure company, with real estate and stock ownership fused into the business model to bridge the generational wealth gap.
The long-term goal of Primo Partners is to generate $10 billion for Black business excellence through varied business and community initiatives. McBroom wants to take every opportunity to continue providing mentorship and education in every area the brand touches.
“As a business, we always have an opportunity,” McBroom says. “I come from an abundance mindset, not a scarcity mindset. There is always an abundance of opportunities for growth in any business that we run.”