Smoothie King store interior

Smoothie King's Sweet SuccessLocal Roots Help Launch Rapid Growth

The Smoothie King brand has traveled far from the Kenner storefront where it first sold fresh-fruit concoctions in 1973.

The Louisiana-headquartered franchise system has more than 880 locations in 34 states, South Korea, the Cayman Islands, Trinidad and Tobago and the Middle East. The company opened 100 new stores in the U.S. in 2016 and is on track to open as many as 135 more this year. It operates company-owned flagship stores in Dallas and Miami, with others planned for Washington, D.C.

National and International Locations

Aside from its rapid growth, the brand has been hitting numerous milestones along the way. Smoothie King beat out Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts and other national brands for the No. 1 ranking in the beverage/snacks category in the 2016 Consumer Picks issue of Nation’s Restaurant News. Over the past four years, its average unit volume grew by 50 percent. Smoothie King also boasts that it is now the second-biggest retail buyer of strawberries in the nation.

And the brand hasn’t just been expanding its reach through traditional mediums. In 2014, the Metairie-based company grabbed headlines when the New Orelans Arena was renamed the Smoothie King Center. The announcement coincided with the 2014 NBA All-Star game at the glossy New Orleans venue, which thrust the brand into the national spotlight for a second time in 2017 when the center hosted the event once again. Smoothie King is also upping its visibility through a vigorous rebranding effort.

Smoothie King beat out Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts and other national brands for the No. 1 ranking in the beverage/snacks category in Nation’s Restaurant News’ 2016 Consumer Picks issue.

Under Smoothie King owner Wan Kim’s leadership, Smoothie King updated its logo, renovated existing stores and added new technology to revive the brand image.

With strong growth over the first two quarters of 2017, Smoothie King is on track to hit its five-year target of 1,000 stores by early 2018.

“I’m pleased by our numbers, but we still have a long way to go,” Kim said.

Suffice to say, Metairie-headquartered Smoothie King has thrived in Louisiana. But its story is equal parts global and local in a number of ways.

South Korean native Kim was a student at Boston University when he became hooked on smoothies made at a local shop. While completing an MBA at the University of California-Irvine, Kim’s love for smoothies grew, focusing on the upgraded taste and improved energy he gained after making smoothies a part of his nutrition regimen. Kim contemplated his own future in the smoothie business.

In 2003, Kim opened Smoothie King’s first international franchise in downtown Seoul. He wasn’t shy about his commitment, paying $30,000-a-month for a storefront that gained foot traffic from 200,000 pedestrians each day. Kim and his team stood outside and handed out smoothie samples as a strategy to draw guests inside for more. Locals didn’t know what the word smoothie meant, and Kim intended to teach them.

Smoothie King store sign

Smoothie King has increased its visibility through a vigorous rebranding effort.

“I knew that if they tasted a sample I could get them inside the store,” Kim said.

The approach worked. Kim opened more than 120 Smoothie King franchises in Korea during the next decade.

Five years ago, Kim shifted his focus back to the U.S., specifically to Louisiana. He had been interested in buying the company for years. That interest came to fruition in 2012 with his purchase of Smoothie King from founder Steve Kuhnau, who began the company in Kenner more than 40 years ago.

Nevertheless, Smoothie King’s local ties remain a key element in ongoing marketing and expansion efforts. The naming rights for Smoothie King Center, for instance, added important visibility at a time when the company was both growing quickly and working to boost guest expectations for its retail brand.

Having local roots—the company has 60 employees at its headquarters, many of them longtime staffers—was essential to creating the deal itself, Kim said.

“I 100 percent believe that’s why we were able to do that,” he said. “I think the fact that we were locally grown made that opportunity possible.”

Other changes bode well for the company’s future. The new New Orleans airport will support more connections for employees who traverse the nation on a daily basis at a faster pace, Kim noted.

“We travel every day, so that is a big deal for us,” he said.

Smoothie King’s guiding vision, summed up in its “Smoothies with a Purpose” slogan captures its local history. Founder Kuhnau initially made fresh-fruit smoothies as a means of coping with his own food allergies. Smoothie King continues to focus its image around inspiring others to live a healthy and active lifestyle, marketing its smoothies not as snacks but as a source of good nutrition and meal replacements for anyone interested in health and fitness, including athletes.

“We are honoring our DNA in continuing to look for ways to improve lifestyles through nutritious foods,” said Kim. “We want to be a part of every health and fitness plan.”

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