Frozen-yogurt chain TCBY may be the category leader—ahead of brands like Pinkberry, Red Mango, and Menchie’s with nearly 18 percent market share, according to an October 2012 report from IBISWorld—but it refuses to get too comfortable in its place out front.

In fact, following several major moves over the last few years—including the rollout of a new prototype and self-serve model, as well as the introduction of Greek fro-yo and Super Fro-Yo—the brand is gearing up for continued innovation and growth.

While the 520-plus-unit brand opened an average four units each month in 2012, for a total of 53 new locations, director of franchise development Rich Hankins says TCBY will top this number in 2013.

In fact, he says 68 locations are already under development so far this year, and the brand hopes to ultimately open more than 100 units in 2013.

The growth is spurred by TCBY’s desire to continually evolve in the market, in light of the fact that its 30-year history makes it one of the most mature brands in the category—something Hankins says can be a “double-edged sword.”

“We’re a mature brand, so some people may look at some of the other concepts as hot and sexy,” he says.

“We are just as hip as anybody else. … We’ve got the background music, we’ve got the TVs, and really it’s all about the diversified toppings,” Hankins adds. “The more unique, diversified toppings you have, the stronger the brand is, I think, because people come back.”

The expanded toppings bar is part of the self-serve prototype, which launched in 2010 to compete with the burgeoning number of customizable yogurt competitors on the market.

“We are aligning ourselves once again to be the leader with a product that is consumer-based and consumer-driven,” says franchisee Ed Forman, whose unit in Lawrence, Kansas, is the first in the system to feature TCBY self-serve fro-yo, Mrs. Fields cookies, and specialty coffee all under one roof.

Sam Batt, a franchisee in the Charlotte, North Carolina, area, was the first operator to launch the brand’s self-serve prototype. He says the brand’s transition is a testament to its dedication to evolving and keeping up with industry trends.

“They continue to improve upon themselves, where they could have said, ‘You know what? We’ve been around for 30 years, we’ve seen trends come and go. Self-serve, that’s just going to be a trend,’” he says. “But they didn’t. They were always forward-thinking and very franchisee-centric, because a franchisee for them is their consumer.”

Hankins says more than 90 percent of the brand’s units now feature the self-serve model, and the majority of new locations will be self-serve, as well.

“If we do 100 locations, you may only have two or three a year that would be traditional,” he says.

To date, the brand hasn’t closed a single self-serve unit, Rankins notes, owing to the fact that the brand is highly critical in its franchisee-selection process.

“We turn down locations,” he says. “We turn down franchisees, because we want quality locations open to be able to tout that we haven’t had one self-serve location close.”

By Mary Avant

Denise Lee Yohn: QSR's Marketing Guru, Design, Desserts, Growth, Menu Innovations, News, TCBY