Yousuf Nabi’s father was a Mrs. Fields franchisee for more than 15 years. His example led Nabi to open his own store, with three more on the way. Recently, Nabi did something few have tried, however—debut during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since, he’s pivoted to add third-party delivery and in-store pickup, as well as bring froyo brand TCBY into the fold at a co-branded unit (which boosted sales 5–10 percent).

Nabi chatted with QSR about the experience of opening during the pandemic and what the future holds.

Give us the backstory on your Mrs. Fields history. How did you get involved with the brand?

My father, Mr. Nabi, who was new to the business and excited for the opportunity to be his own store owner with a franchise like Mrs. Fields, welcomed the opportunity to operate a Mrs. Fields in Downey, California, back in 2005. For 15 years, I witnessed my father operate that location working seven days of week and providing new tactics to make sure the store was always in good hands. Once retired, my father provided immense support, training and quality assurance for the new stores I have opened.

What attracted you to the franchising industry? What were you doing before?

I have been exposed to several different franchise opportunities in the years, but with Mrs. Fields, you have a proven franchise concept, you have support from an amazing team at corporate to help, guide and work with you. My background is unique. I served time in the military, then spent some time in law enforcement and after that, started dabbling in small businesses before signing on with Mrs. Fields.

Let’s dive into the store you opened during COVID-19. Did you have some hesitations about doing so? When exactly did it open?

We opened the Henderson, Nevada location back in June. While we faced many hesitations, my mindset during this time was “Can you brave the storm?” as stores open during this time faced a loss of 50–60 percent of their sales. I worked with the franchise development team daily to get information on new possibilities. The Mrs. Fields team mentored me in the real estate space, giving me advice and input on what and what not to look for and how it could work.

Walk us through the process. What were some of the unique challenges of opening during this crisis?

Navigating through this new atmosphere of which government agencies are open and which are not was a big challenge. With most government agencies working remotely and some offices being closed, the process of opening a store went by much slower than usual. My advice to other franchisees in a similar situation would be to plan ahead and give yourself time. If you can get past the red tape sooner, you can always open sooner.

Did you try a grand opening strategy? How did you get the word out that you were open, given all the circumstances at hand?

Unfortunately, due to the landscape set forth by COVID-19, we were not able to host a grand opening event for the sake of keeping a safe environment. We were able to host a small soft opening to celebrate the opening and do plan on hosting a larger event once things turn to normal scheduling.

What was it like staffing the location?

Staffing in general can be a tough situation to navigate. I always want to ensure I am selecting the right candidates that will offer the best customer service for my stores. During COVID-19, I faced difficulty aligning salary expectations with the government benefits that were set forth but am confident this will improve with time.

How has it fared?

Even though we opened the store in the middle of a pandemic, the feedback from customers has been great. We have been welcomed, and likewise welcomed our new customers and introduced the brand to the Henderson community. Being a co-branded Mrs. Fields and TCBY store gives us the ability to offer more options to customers seeking a sweet treat. 

Talk about some of the pivots you’ve needed to make, and how Mrs. Fields has supported those.

We saw a peak of customers using the resources Mrs. Fields provided to facilitate the process of online ordering, such as third-party delivery services and in-store pickup options. Mrs. Fields did a phenomenal job of launching an online ordering site that was extremely easy to set up and maintain. We continue to see our customer base turn to these options as foot traffic has declined.

How much have sales come back or lifted throughout the pandemic?

As retail shops were forced to close their in-store dining options, we did see a decline in sales throughout the stay-at-home measures. However, I am grateful that Mrs. Fields has worked with its franchisees, like me, on our royalties and has also helped us get rent relief, which has been a savior during this shift in sales.

How helpful was it to add TCBY to the mix?

Adding the TCBY brand to our existing and new stores has helped increase sales 5–10 percent. I wanted to maximize our counter space and saw a niche opportunity to offer customers not just cookies but the country’s best yogurt for a variety option that we capitalized on once third-party delivery was introduced.

What are some safety protocols you’ve rolled out to ensure social distancing?

Early on, Mrs. Fields rolled out a helpful online training program for franchisees to ensure that all safety measures set in place for COVID-19 were enforced. These trainings were also followed up with necessary manuals, supplies, and signage to ensure our guests felt protected as we welcomed them back into our stores.

How have delivery and in-store pickup picked up?

Due to mall closings, third-party delivery and in-store pickup options have helped support sales. Even as COVID-19 measures have slowed down in Nevada, we still see a big portion of our customers still opting for these measures.

Talking about the future, what are your growth plans with the brand? And have those been influenced at all by COVID?

We just broke ground on our Las Vegas store located at Fashion Show Mall and have a location in Cerritos, California, in the works. While opening stores during COVID-19 has not been easy, I am confident that my stores will run a successful course and have added another three prospective locations that I am targeting to open by the end of 2020.

What do you think are some lasting changes the pandemic will have on restaurants?

While we’ve seen a shift in foot traffic due to the closing of key anchors in the retail space, I actually do not see this being a lasting effect as consumers are still eager to return to their daily routines.

Do you see opportunity for franchise growth and success in all of this?

Absolutely. In my experience, it’s been a great time to strike deals, and negotiate with landlords and vendors to get your store up and running. The franchise development team at Mrs. Fields has been extremely understanding and resourceful during this time and will help steer you in the right direction at all times.

Franchising, Story