Ones to Watch | By Lynne Miller
At the tender age of 25, Joe Boudreaux knows the frozen yogurt business inside and out. In high school, he started working as a counter server at Zack’s Famous Frozen Yogurt. Boudreaux worked his way up to management and, at 21, purchased the Zack’s shop in Houma, Louisiana, from his family. Boudreaux remodeled the store and rejuvenated the company’s image. Now he owns two Zack’s and plans to open more stores in and around Louisiana. Speaking enthusiastically about the prospects for frozen yogurt, he points to the success of big chains like Red Mango and Pinkberry. Boudreaux figures the time to grow Zack’s couldn’t be better.
“There’s a lot of interest in frozen yogurt,” Boudreaux says. “We’re excited about that.”
While it’s his dream to make Zack’s a well-known brand, Boudreaux plans to approach growth cautiously. Down the road, Boudreaux sees the company growing to become a chain of frozen-yogurt shops operated mainly by franchisees. Though running a bigger company appeals to him, he is cognizant of the dangers of growing too quickly. “We don’t want explosive growth,” he says. “I want to be able to service the franchisees properly.”
On its Web site, Zack’s Famous Frozen Yogurt notes the company is “taking on the world one sundae at a time.” The site features images of palm trees, tiki huts, a turquoise sea, and a sandy beach. The beach-vacation theme continues inside Zack’s shops. Thatched roofs over the counters and bright shades of yellow, blue, green, and peach create a tropical feeling. Leather couches invite customers to slow down and get comfy.
At just more than 2,000 square feet, the store in Thibodaux has a pool table and seating for 75 people. The 1,200-square-foot Houma store can seat up to 20 in the dining area. Both shops offer free wireless Internet access.
“We want it to be a place to get away and relax,” Boudreaux says.
Zack’s banana splits, made with frozen yogurt, are top sellers. Low-fat French vanilla yogurt is the most popular flavor, while the strawberry cheesecake swirl is a close second. Hot fudge, turtle, and caramel sundaes are also available. Some day Boudreaux would like the company to manufacture its own yogurt, but for the time being, employees rely on base mixes. To make the desserts unique, store servers add fruit flavorings and offer customers a choice of more than 30 toppings. Waffle cones are made on site.
“You smell that waffle-cone smell as soon as you walk in the door,” Boudreaux says. “Everything we can make, we make here.”
Boudreaux emphasizes the healthy aspects of his company’s signature product on the Web site, where visitors can download a two-page brochure that touts the nutritional benefits of yogurt. All Zack’s yogurt products are either low fat or fat free with no added sugar. One ounce of flavored low-fat yogurt has 30 calories and 2.5 grams of cholesterol, while the no-sugar-added, fat-free flavors contain just 20 calories per ounce and zero grams of fat and cholesterol. Customers who are diabetic or watching their sugar intake are encouraged to check out Zack’s “No Sugar Added” menu.
“In Louisiana, we have a big problem with heart disease and diabetes,” Boudreaux says. “We have a lot of people on diets who have to have things that are low in sugar, fat, and cholesterol.”
It’s Louisiana location also means the weather plays a big part in dictating customer traffic. When the mercury hits 100 degrees in July and August, “I can see 500 to 600 people over a 12-hour period,” Boudreaux says. But that’s not an average day. More typically, the Houma store serves about 300 people while the store in Thibodaux pulls in about 200. The average check is about $6.50.
Opening a Zack’s store costs anywhere from $97,000 to $185,000, depending on the size of the store, menu options, and equipment costs. The franchising fee is $10,000.
Boudreaux got a crash course in crisis management when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005. While Zack’s is about 45 miles from New Orleans, it didn’t entirely escape the storm’s wrath. Since the company’s suppliers were based in New Orleans, both Zack’s stores had to shut down for 10 days. The company used generators to preserve products but still had to set limits on how much stores could sell, and suppliers had to put Boudreaux in touch with sister companies in Houston and Shreveport. “They were able to help us temporarily,” Boudreaux says. “It took a couple of weeks to be able to serve our customers on a regular basis.”