Ritchie Patel, 38, has plans to be part of a new concept in franchising: ask the community to pitch in.
Chicago-based Crowd Franchise gets local residents involved by becoming investors or networking with others to fill vacant storefronts. Helping lure other enterprises to town might be part of it, too.
Patel, who owns the Forever Yogurt franchise in Naperville and a location in Evanston, just might be one of the test cases for the formula.
Mandy Calara, the founder of Forever Yogurt, said that so far, Patel’s stores have performed well and that he is considering opening another store in Naperville or another western suburb. If those plans move forward, Patel would likely become point the guard for the project.
“We’re looking at adding another Crowd Franchise store in addition to the one we have in Wicker Park as well as two others we have in Boston and New York,” he said. “Ritchie has good business skills, and it makes sense that we’d work with him to help find a location and look after the franchise by serving as something like a regional manager.”
Forever Yogurt is looking for others to try the model established at the franchise’s Wicker Park location, which became the first community-owned Forever Yogurt. It attracted an amazing 13 investors on the first day it was offered.
Patel could very well be an important part of the company’s expansion plans. A graduate of Northern Illinois with a degree in health administration, Patel said he opened his yogurt franchise here in October 2012 and that, at this point, he sees the venture “as a hobby.”
“I work as a medical service sales rep for a company out of Massachusetts, and at this point, the yogurt franchise requires minimal time,” he said. “Eventually, I’d like for this to become all that I do.”
Patel said he believes yogurt is one of those things that is riding a wave of popularity.
“There are a lot of mom-and-pop shops out there today, and right now, I see yogurt as a hot commodity,” Patel said. “It’s a healthy treat, and for business owners, the profit margins are good.”
Calara said he first heard about Patel “through a friend at corporate” and knows he has been “one of the top performers” for the medical supply company he still works for in addition to owning the yogurt store.
“I knew he had good business skills and that he was organized,” Calara said. “It makes sense if we expand in the Naperville market that Ritchie will be asked to be involved in it.”
Patel, who lives in Bolingbrook, said opening a store in Naperville was an easy decision, based on his familiarity with the city.
“I grew up in St. Charles, and I spent a lot of time in downtown Naperville during my high school and college days when I was at Northern,” he said. “I knew there would be a lot of foot traffic and that all I had to do was find a storefront that was open.”
Patel said that, while he owns his yogurt franchise, he understands that the Crowd Franchise model might represent the wave of the future, given the build-out costs for a business as well as maintaining the necessary profit margins.
“The Crowd Franchise represents a great way for the Forever Yogurt brand name to grow,” he said. “You need about $200,000 to $400,000 in build-out money for a business, and not a lot of individuals have that kind of money.”
Patel says he still has some questions about the multiple-owner model he might help implement if the yogurt franchise expands here, but expects those issues to be resolved.
“How many voices can be part of one store, and who decides things like flavors and if there are big decisions — in what direction will they go?” he said. “The level of each person’s investment could affect their impact on decisions, but this is certainly an option to help businesses grow.”