Industry News | October 5, 2017 | By Danny Klein | QSR Exclusive Brief

From FOCUS Exec to Tropical Smoothie Franchisee

Michael Shattuck, a former FOCUS Brands executive, opened his first Tropical Smoothie Cafe in late August. Tropical Smoothie Cafe
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"Assume I know nothing until I tell you otherwise." Michael Shattuck has often repeated this during his journey as a first-time franchisee. To state it lightly, Shattuck is a touch more experienced than your average start-up operator. With more than 40 years in the restaurant industry, the former FOCUS Brands International president has opened and led operations around the world. But this experience has been something different altogether.

“It’s a challenge. I was used to having a staff of highly trained professionals and a corporation behind me,” he says. “That was something that honestly has been eye opening. It’s been rewarding. I’ve learned a lot, despite all my experience.”

In late August, Shattuck opened his first Tropical Smoothie Café in Snellville, Georgia. He’s got five more in the pipeline for the coming years and goals to develop an entire territory in due time. Naturally, the smoothie franchise was interested in linking up with Shattuck, an operator whose credentials could rival the top-line executive at many companies.

Why it appealed to Shattuck is a more nuanced question. He spent nearly a decade with FOCUS, having been promoted to the international president role in 2009. Shattuck joined the company in 2004 when it purchased Cinnabon. He was the vice president of international at the brand and became FOCUS’ senior vice president of international operations, responsible for the international success of 560 Carvel Ice Cream, Cinnabon, Schlotzsky’s, Moe’s Southwest Grill, and Seattle’s Best Coffee International locations. Previously, he clocked more than three decades with multiple brands, including Popeyes and Hardee’s.

“I spent my entire life in the corporate world, and while it was rewarding and provided a lot of opportunities, I always had the dream of owning my own business,” he says.
“Primarily because I have some very strong views on how you build culture and how you can build teams. And I spent a career sharing that with other people. I felt like it was time to do that myself.”

When Shattuck decided to enter the franchisee arena, he spent a great deal of effort searching for a brand partner. He picked Tropical Smoothie because “they had a strong positioning and the corporation was a value system I felt like I could really believe in.”

It didn’t hurt that Tropical Smoothie is recording record growth and average unit volumes, either. The company is boasting an AUV of more than $662,000—the highest in the chain’s 20-year history. The top 50 percent are reporting an AUV of more than $846,000. Tropical Smoothie expects to hit 1,000 units by 2020 and is backed by the entrepreneurs at the BIP Franchise Accelerator, a division of venture capital firm BIP Capital, which invested in the brand in 2010.

There was also a culture fit.

“Smoothies are all about the idea that you eat better, feel better, and when you feel better it’s all better. That’s what really attracted me to it,” he says. “I think we’re right on trend, and actually I think we also do a good job of almost being ahead of it, if you will. The other side is the food side. I just didn’t see anybody else in the category delivering the quality of food we deliver.”

From experience, although on the corporate side, Shattuck was a franchising proponent. Being able to lean on the structure of an established brand—the systems, the processes, and everything else—was an appealing notion.

“The success rate is so much higher,” he says. “I do understand the franchisee-franchisor relationship well. I’ve been on both sides of it in the past. That was something that I think was very attractive to me, to able to part of a system, both in terms of the support system staff and your fellow franchisee partners who are out there. I’ve already been able to leverage some of their learning.”

The process has been surprising in many ways, Shattuck says. He has developed empathy for the franchisees he once worked with after laboring through the experience himself. Having to touch every button in the process, from staffing day shifts to calculating actual labor costs to finding a leasing agent to getting marketing materials in order, the process has been as involved and challenging as advertised.

“Even though we have a system here, it happens really rapid fire as you close in on the first opening. It’s easy to overlook some of the little aspects that require a little bit more pre-planning. I know now that I’ve got to get ahead of that a bit,” he says.

“I think simple things, like setting up your payroll,” Shattuck adds. “Setting up all your back-of-the-house accounting that’s behind all of the different locations you’re going to be opening. When I look back on that I probably should have pulled the trigger on some of those things a little bit sooner, so I could have more focus as we approached that opening when it comes to getting those events scheduled from a promotional marketing standpoint.”

The good news is Shattuck has five more chances, in the near future, to iron out the process. As he mentioned before, a large component of this journey was to build a culture according to his beliefs.

Shattuck says he’s excited to build a company that’s purpose is to better the lives of others. They’ve already done outreach work in the local community with the Youth Subsidized Work Experience Program and Briggs & Associates, which provide employment to individuals seeking new jobs. He’s planning to instill a system where employees can earn days off based on their level of volunteer work, and also create an award to hand out to team members of the year at his different locations.

“If you want good people on your team you have to be willing to put something forward to do good yourself,” he says.