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Frozen yogurt shop swirls a new model
by Jessica Garcia
Sep 17, 2009 | 857 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
"My son going for it with some Mango Tart, some kiwi, raspberry topping and butterfingers with a little whipped cream," said Shanya who posted her son's photo on the U-Swirl Frozen Yogurt Facebook page.
"My son going for it with some Mango Tart, some kiwi, raspberry topping and butterfingers with a little whipped cream," said Shanya who posted her son's photo on the U-Swirl Frozen Yogurt Facebook page.
RENO — Taylor Cohee knows something about almost every business in the Southtowne Crossing shopping center on Damonte Ranch Parkway. He’s scoped out the “triage” of high schools surrounding the center for a plentiful field of potential employees, and he knows his regional competition in Reno and Sparks, as well.

Cohee, 27, has done his homework in preparation to open a new U-Swirl frozen yogurt shop in the midst of these businesses and high schools. He’s shooting for an Oct. 18 opening date in Southtowne Crossing, followed by two more Reno locations to open in 2010 as well as one in the Sacramento, Calif. area.

“I’ve been in real estate development for the last four years,” Cohee said. “(I looked) at the business model (for U-Swirl) and the self-serve deal and you’re able to serve more customers and leapfrog ahead of everybody.”

The shop will feature 16 flavors of frozen yogurt and 60 different toppings, including seasonal fruits, candies and even cereals to appeal to kids and adults. Two employees will be manning the shop with minimal responsibility in helping with sales, cleaning up and assisting customers as needed.

Unique to the local frozen yogurt industry, Cohee said, is the self-serve model and a pay-by-the-ounce method.

“You kind of dictate how much you want to get in,” Cohee said. “It’s a total user-friendly experience.”

At U-Swirl, customers pay 36 cents per ounce and less than a dollar for water. On average, most customers will spend about $3.80 for about 10.2 ounces of frozen yogurt and toppings.

“In profitability, the per-cup ratio ends up being what it would pretty much be at other yogurt places,” he said. “The difference with our model is there’s not as much overhead and not as many employees. We’re able to serve way more customers than any other folks and we generally draw way more customers, too.”

Six U-Swirl stores already exist in Las Vegas. The company is a subsidiary of Healthy Fast Food, Inc. with headquarters in Henderson.

The shops in Las Vegas, Cohee said, generally sell about 15,000 cups per month, resulting in a “pretty good bottom line.”

“That’s why you see so many frozen yogurt places opening,” he said. “Food and beverage get about a 7 to 8 percent return. With frozen yogurt it’s about 20 percent.”

As far as staffing is concerned, Cohee said, a manager and assistant manager/team leader have already been hired and he will be taking on some high school students; he has already received about 90 applications.

“You would love to see some of these applications,” he said with a laugh. “They’re absolutely classic: ‘I will do anything to get this job.’ It’s pretty cute.”

Cohee said U-Swirl is bucking typical business trends in the economic downturn and expanding, largely due its nominal overhead.

“We understand it’s not a new idea out there, but we’ve evolved the model,” Cohee said. “We’ve become like the Starbucks of coffee shops or McDonald’s of fast food. It’s a pretty cool place to be in the business world right now because you can count the number of models on two hands.”

The first of the two other northern Nevada locations is planned for north Reno, the second is planned for the Kietzke Lane/Plumb Lane corridor, he said.

“It’s a seasonal business, no matter what,” he said about the Damonte Ranch location. “You figure the one that has all the high schools so close and the triage of high schools will help combat that a little bit. … You walk out of the Wal-Mart here and it’s the number two Christmas shopping destination in all of Reno. We also have the Texas Roadhouse over there and it’s the number two Texas Roadhouse in the nation among the other chains. And BJ’s (Restaurant and Brewhouse) is the number one restaurant in Reno. The density of traffic and population is unparalleled.”

Cohee had his bachelor’s degree in finance from the University of Nevada, Reno. His interest stems from spending time in Henderson and Las Vegas, where he met Hank Cartwright, founder of Pizza Hut, who shared with him his knowledge about the self-serve model and got him excited about the possibilities with U-Swirl.

“I really believed in it,” Cohee said. “I did my homework on what a lot of people have done out there (in Las Vegas) … and this is a superstore. There are more flavors, more more toppings, more Wi-Fi. It’s usually 80 percent of the folks take their food out while 20 percent stay in the restaurant. The ratio is reversed for us.”
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