The franchise formula: Stores like Kilwins, Edible Arrangements didn’t start from scratch

Sarah Spaulding, left, and Patti Beland pour a batch of chocolate fudge Saturday at Kilwins in downtown St. Joseph. Phil and Janet Dykstra, co-owners of the store, opened their franchise store in 1998. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

Sarah Spaulding, left, and Patti Beland pour a batch of chocolate fudge Saturday at Kilwins in downtown St. Joseph. Phil and Janet Dykstra, co-owners of the store, opened their franchise store in 1998. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

ST. JOSEPH — Janet and Phil Dykstra had no intention of opening a franchise store.

Before they became the owners of Kilwins in downtown St. Joseph, the couple worked at Indiana Michigan Power. In 1997, they made a big career change when they learned that the Buchanan office Janet was working out of was being relocated. During a vacation trip to South Carolina, they stopped at an ice cream shop and marveled at what they were eating.

“My wife said, ‘This Kilwins has the best ice cream I’ve ever had,’” Phil Dykstra said. “She asked if they were a franchise and the rest fell into place. For us, it was that simple. We weren’t even thinking about opening a business.”

They learned Kilwins was based in Petoskey and gave the owner a call. The Dykstras set up an appointment the next week and everything went quickly from there. From the initial meetings in the summer of 1997, the Dykstras opened Kilwins in April 1998.

Franchise stores have gained popularity in recent years.

Franchisors are known to provide a tested and proven structure for business, freeing their franchisees from having to start from scratch. From Jimmy John’s to Pizza Hut, franchise stores can be spotted throughout Southwest Michigan.

According to the franchising consultant and resource organization FranNet, there are more than 3,000 franchise concepts in almost 300 industries. They range from hotels and restaurants to cleaning services. Franchises generate more than $2 trillion in revenue per year, with outlets employing more than 12 million people.

But running a franchise store isn’t a guaranteed path to success.

“We’re pleased where we are at right now, but starting a business is not easy,” Phil said. “We were store number 34 for them. That’s how small the franchise is. There are now a little over 100 stores. This was at the infancy of Kilwins.”

After their meeting with the owner, the Dykstras borrowed money to pay for the franchise fee. Kilwins then put the store together and the couple got a few weeks of training.

‘No easy task’

By that point, Janet was retired. Phil stayed with the power company for another three years to ensure their new business stayed afloat. While the business now runs seamlessly after 18 years, it was tough going in the beginning.

“We had to build up the staff, which was no easy task. We were kind of naive, thinking it would be us and a few people,” Phil said. “The owner (of Kilwins) told me to keep my regular job to start with, because revenue may not be to the point where we both could be running it.”

Phil worked at Kilwins on weekends and evenings. He put in 100 hours a week in addition to his other job. They went six months at a time without balancing a checkbook because there weren’t enough hours in the day. Phil said he remembers Janet crying and asking what they had gotten themselves into.

Edible Arrangements, in Benton Township, is pictured Thursday. The owner, Gail Rue, sold her house in Florida to help pay for the franchise fee.

Edible Arrangements, in Benton Township, is pictured Thursday. The owner, Gail Rue, sold her house in Florida to help pay for the franchise fee.

It took less than a year to get the store going. They put a rush on the opening because the strongest sales came in the summer for the ice cream/chocolate shop.

Gail Rue opened the Edible Arrangements franchise store in Benton Township in March 2015. Rue was going through some life changes and noticed a few online articles about opening a franchise.

She liked the crafty idea and use of fresh fruit for Edible Arrangements. After inquiring about opening one in the area and getting approval, Rue sold her house in Florida to cover the franchise fee.

Rue was then invited to the business’ headquarters in Connecticut, where she attended “Edible University.” She spent two days there, learning the trade of Edible Arrangements.

Overall, it took nine months from contacting headquarters to opening her business.

“Everything went smoothly. It doesn’t always happen that way,” she said. “After I found my location, my landlord helped me find a person to do the buildout. They stayed on schedule and things were delivered on time.”

The only trouble came with the buildout cost, which was more than anticipated because the building size was larger than expected. After getting additional funding for her equipment, Rue held her grand opening.

Finding a market

Jim Paul, owner of Slumberland Furniture in Benton Township, opened his store in August 2011. It involved about a year and a half of work and preparation.

Opening the furniture franchise came by circumstance. Paul was a developer by trade, who once ran operations at Fairplain Plaza. He owned the property at 756 E. Napier Ave. and wanted to sell it to a potential business.

In 2010, Paul realized Benton Harbor was lacking furniture stores. He called Slumberland Furniture’s headquarters and was told they had a franchisee looking at the Southwest Michigan market. Things were looking good until the entrepreneur had a change of heart.

“The franchisee changed his mind and said they weren’t ready,” Paul said. “I took the opportunity and asked what it takes to be a franchisee.”

To join the Slumberland family, Paul paid $30,000 for the franchise fee. Prior to him signing, corporate looked at his financial statements to see if he was financially stable. Paul also had to meet with the senior management team for a personal interview.

Because the area was part of a market the company had earmarked for a store, Paul said the process was quicker. If an area hasn’t had any studies conducted for demographics and foot traffic, a corporation is not likely to grant a franchisee a store.

“They want their franchisees to be successful,” Paul said. “They have a growth pattern and a model that they want to have multiple stores in a TV market. With ours being in the South Bend market, they would love to see another store to open in that market. It’s more exposure.”

In order for a franchisee to operate its desired store, the corporation it works through must be registered in the state. Paul’s Slumberland in Benton Township became the second one to open in Michigan. The first opened in Iron Mountain.

“Slumberland Furniture has been franchising for close to 30 years,” Paul said. “The longer you have somebody in the franchising business, the smoother it goes. They just become more proficient.”

Location, location

Phil Dykstra didn’t know how to put together a business plan. He was thankful when the owner of Kilwins helped the Dykstras open in St. Joseph.

However, Phil recalls when the owner said St. Joseph was a “marginal location.”

“Traffic studies were done on what we could do. This was before all the tourism arrived,” Phil said. “Turns out, St. Joe has exploded over the last couple of years. When we started, we hit the ground running. The first several years it was a 25 percent increase every year. Back then there were a lot of openings in St. Joe.”

The first place the Dykstras were interested in setting up shop is where Jimmy John’s is now, at the corner of Broad and State streets. The building was empty, but a deal couldn’t be reached. Phil and Janet moved in next door, where they stayed until Kilwins moved in 2006 to its current location at 217 State St.

Shoppers visit Kilwins in downtown St. Joseph on Saturday afternoon. The Dykstras, who opened their Kilwins franchise in 1998, moved to this location at 217 State St. in 2006. (Don Campbell| HP Staff)

Shoppers visit Kilwins in downtown St. Joseph on Saturday afternoon. The Dykstras, who opened their Kilwins franchise in 1998, moved to this location at 217 State St. in 2006. (Don Campbell| HP Staff)

Rue said the real estate department at Edible Arrangements did testing for the area before suggesting locations based on size and price. Rue chose to be next to the Secretary of State’s office in Benton Harbor, where people wait for long periods of time.

“I had looked at where Little Caesar’s is along M-139, but there wasn’t too much parking and there was a drive-thru that went around where the store would be,” Rue said.

However, there are rules that come with having corporate help. Rue gets check-ups from the corporate office every six months to ensure the business is doing well and up to their standards. Last week, Rue got a field business leader who performed a quality assurance review to check on the display case, the store’s cleanliness and the employees.

Getting a franchise store with Kilwins takes a big commitment. According to Kilwins’ website, its franchise fee is now $40,000 and the corporation collects 5 percent of gross sales.

Phil Dykstra said it’s been a great ride in learning how to run the ice cream parlor. But when it came to finding success, sometimes a franchise owner needs a good partner.

“As far as running the franchise, it clicked for us because she’s good with the employees and public relations portion,” Phil said. “I’m more of the nuts and bolts person. We complemented each other.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on June 19, 2016)

Never too late: BH resident gets high school diploma on 90th birthday

Richard Joseph, 90, from Benton Harbor, receives his high school diploma during the Benton Harbor High School graduation ceremony last Friday. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

Richard Joseph, 90, from Benton Harbor, receives his high school diploma during the Benton Harbor High School graduation ceremony last Friday. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON HARBOR — Dressed in the traditional black cap and gown, Richard Joseph was a sight to behold at Benton Harbor High School’s graduation ceremony last Friday.

Joseph, 90, is a World War II veteran. He has lived in Benton Harbor since 1948 and has eight children – who all graduated high school before their father.

Joseph found a special way to celebrate his birthday Friday by finally receiving his high school diploma after spending more than seven decades outside a classroom.

The effort to earn his GED began about four years ago, when Joseph began studying and looked into what it would take to earn his diploma.

The war got in the way of Joseph finishing high school when he was a young man. Explained Joseph, he was 15 when he enlisted in the Navy and became a gunner on a patrol bomber.

Four years later, he returned home to Ohio and became a mechanic. He went on to get a job at Railway Express, which transferred him to Benton Harbor, where he has remained ever since, marrying and raising his family.

In the time that he went from working with railroads to becoming a firefighter with the Benton Township Fire Department, Joseph never finished his high school education. He retired in 1980 after serving 20 years as a firefighter.

More than 30 years after his retirement, Joseph decided to cross something off his bucket list.

Quite an honor

In partnership with Heartland Alliance, Kinexus offers an adult education program for adults, starting at age 18.

His teachers described Joseph as a unique student in the program. Not only because of his seniority among many of the students, but because of his work ethic.

Joseph was in the program for two years and walked at the Bridge Academy graduation on June 7. But because of how unique Joseph’s situation was, Kinexus got in touch with his former high school in Akron, Ohio, where he had accumulated the majority of his credits as a teenager.

“The teachers over at Kinexus got ahold of my high school in Ohio and got them to furnish me with a diploma,” Joseph said. “It’s pretty great to get it this late in life. It’s quite an honor.”

Daughter Elizabeth Mohr was present for the ceremony Friday.

Mohr said her father at first had a more difficult time getting his degree than what was originally anticipated.

“They wouldn’t let him test because he was required to type 16 words per minute,” she said. “That’s pretty hard to do at his age.”

Seeing it through

Legislation passed into law in 2001 that enabled school boards to honor World War II and Korean War veterans with diplomas. The act was updated in 2014 to include Vietnam veterans.

Joseph still wanted to take the test, but the law helped speed up the process so he didn’t have to take the typing portion.

“Oh yeah, he still went through every course,” Mohr said. “He sat in class every day. He paid attention and did the work. Once he completed the course studies, they asked him to come back and every day he works at the school with other kids who are graduating.”

It was a special moment for Joseph and his family.

He walked with all the graduates up to the stage, and also gave a speech. It was a reminder to the teenagers about perseverance and the importance of an education.

When asked what he plans to do with his diploma, Joseph chuckled and said, “look for a job I guess.”

“I’m just happy knowing that I completed it,” Joseph said. “I have eight kids who all graduated from Benton Harbor High School. Even though my diploma comes from Ohio, I consider myself a Tiger.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on June 16, 2016)

Trustees looking into new audio equipment for meetings

Officials hope to upgrade the audio equipment at Lincoln Township Hall. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

Officials hope to upgrade the audio equipment at Lincoln Township Hall. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

STEVENSVILLE — The hard of hearing could get a reprieve for Lincoln Township board meetings.

Trustees are now looking to replace the meeting room audio equipment. After a few complaints from residents, Clerk Stacy Loar-Porter said during Tuesday’s board meeting that she began getting quotes from a computer consultant company.

The current audio system is more than 20 years old.

The Tech of Southwest Michigan, based in Stevensville, inspected the equipment and gave Loar-Porter a few estimates on replacing the current audio system.

“They had some fun taking pictures of our equipment because they had never seen it before,” Loar-Porter said.

Loar-Porter said she sat in the audience last week at a planning commission meeting and agreed there was a need for new audio equipment.

However, the endeavor will not be cheap.

For a basic replacement, Loar-Porter said the township would have to pay $6,400. To replace the entire system including speakers and a digital processor, it would cost $7,900.

“Basically, we’re talking about a whole new system,” said Treasurer Terrie Smith. “Until they get in there, they won’t know if they have to replace the wires or if they can be used. It’s an iffy situation because of how old the system is. Maybe they can salvage some of the equipment, which would bring the price down.”

Trustee Marc Florian said while the board was discussing the audio equipment, they could consider an audiovisual system that could be used as a projector for presentations.

Trustees asked Loar-Porter to get more quotes and report back.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on June 19, 2016)

Royalton Township trustees in favor of welcome signs

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

ST. JOSEPH — Royalton trustees are considering a new way of welcoming visitors to their township.

At Monday’s board meeting, Art & Image – a Benton Harbor sign shop – provided three iterations of signs for trustees to consider.

Supervisor Robert Basselman said trustees liked the designs, however, a few wanted a different stone outlay that would be at the base of the signs.

“We were very pleased with them and asked for a revision to the base to give use some other options,” Basselman said. “They have a stone base and we are looking at different types of stone. The stone they have on there is great, but we want to see different options, too.”

Manager Steve Tilly said the board is contemplating adding one sign a year for four years. Each sign would be about 10 feet long and about 6 feet high.

“They would be two-sided and include the township logo with some LED lighting to give it a little bit of a glow look,” Tilly said. “Underneath, there is a smaller panel that hangs, which could be a used to showcase various township parks, schools and functions.”

The first welcome sign may be near the Hollywood Road and M-63 intersection, Tilly said. Another option is to post one near the township hall.

Basselman said the iterations shown Monday ranged in price from $3,000 to $7,000. The designs were similar, but the prices fluctuated based on size.

The board already approved spending up to $10,000 per sign, which would include installation and running electricity to the site.

The size and design have been decided with only a few details left to be approved, Tilly said.

“Only thing left to be determined is the base and the final rendering,” Tilly said. “Some of the board likes the natural field look for the base. Others like a linear, flat stone look.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on June 15, 2016)

YMCA director dies a month after retirement

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

ST. JOSEPH — Michael Ahern, longtime former executive director of the Benton Harbor-St. Joseph YMCA, died Saturday in Madison, Wis.

The 62-year-old, who was known for his love of the outdoors, had been fighting a severe infection for several weeks prior to his long-planned retirement in May.

Ahern worked 45 years in the YMCA community at facilities in Michigan and Wisconsin.

He began his time at the YMCA as a junior camp counselor at Camp Bradfield (in Wisconsin) where he became camp director. Ahern then became the associate director of the Battle Creek YMCA.

He next joined the YMCA in Royalton Township, where he remained for 29 years. As director Ahern oversaw the $4 million renovation and expansion project that was completed in December 2015. The project added 9,000 square feet to the 50,000-square-foot facility.

His daughter, Katy Casburn, said she was still young when they first moved to Stevensville. She was born in Battle Creek when Ahern was still overseeing that Y.

Among his many hobbies, Casburn said Ahern was known for spending time with his family – whether that be fishing or hiking.

“He was a wonderful dad. Very loving,” she said. “He was into the outdoors, so we camped as a family. Every summer we took a trip to the Upper Peninsula.”

Casburn, now a Grand Rapids resident, said her parents were still living in Stevensville when Ahern died.

Shortly before his planned retirement, Ahern began showing symptoms of an infection. Ahern was sent to the Wisconsin hospital because it was the same place he received a kidney transplant, Casburn said.

After starting treatment at Lakeland Medical Center in St. Joseph, Ahern was airlifted to Madison because the treatments were interfering with his kidney transplant.

“He’d been in the hospital for a month, but he hasn’t felt well,” Casburn said. “It started with a low-grade fever for a few months. He had been to the doctors but they didn’t know what it was. He was treated for walking pneumonia, then they said it was a fungal infection in his lungs. It just became more complicated.”

‘The Y standard’

His former coworkers and “second family” at the Y will remember him for his kindness and his strong faith.

Sarah Curtiss, business director at the YMCA, said she knew he was in a serious condition but was shocked to learn of his death.

“I thought it would be treatable and that he would be able to enjoy his retirement,” she said. “He was such a kind soul. He loved his family, loved his wife.”

When she first heard about Ahern retiring, Curtiss felt it was good for him and bad for the YMCA. She said they had planned a retirement ceremony for him, but that too was interrupted by his illness.

“We’ll miss him everyday,” Curtiss said. “He used to say, ‘you had to find the right type of people that meet that Y standard.’ His compassion was his biggest thing. He was personable with the staff and the community. It’s just heartbreaking for all of us.”

Ahern left a growing family. While he had a wife – whom he was married to for 39 years – and two children, he was also awaiting his second grandchild.

Casburn is pregnant with her first child and said Ahern was excited about being available for his grandkids.

“He had talked about taking a family trip,” Casburn said. “I think he’ll always be remembered for his kindness to others. He went out of his way to serve others. It was something I’ll strive to do in my life.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on June 14, 2016)

Cardon’s contract extended through 2019

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

ST. JOSEPH — The St. Joseph school board extended its superintendent’s contract by another year Monday night.

Superintendent Ann Cardon was told her contract was renewed and will continue through June 30, 2019, based on her performance this school year. Last year, Cardon’s contract was renewed for three years through 2018, but the board felt it prudent to extend that extension another year.

“When I came on board, we agreed to a three-year contract with the option to always roll that third year on,” Cardon said. “Because of a successful year this was, the board is giving me another year on top of my remaining two.”

Cardon was hired by the district in April 2012. Under her tenure, the school district passed a series bond in May that would raise more than $8 million over the next 12 years.

“I love my job. This is a great community and you guys are a fabulous board to work with,” Cardon said. “You keep the kids first in every decision you make and sometimes that’s hard to do.”

The board held a special meeting in May to give Cardon an evaluation. Board President Amy Porritt-Peirce read the board’s evaluation to attendees.

The evaluation cited Cardon’s “oversight of the bond proposal project” and her ability to “challenge her staff” as a reason for granting an extension.

When Cardon’s contract was extended last year, she was given a 2 percent pay raise. Porritt-Peirce said Cardon turned down an increase this year.

“Ann’s performance merits an increase,” Porritt-Peirce said. “However, Ann has said she does not recommend any increases for herself or her administrative staff at this point and time.”

Time for budgets

Board members discussed insurance bids and agreed to the purchase of a worker’s compensation policy from Insurance Management Service from July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2017.

Treasurer Chris Cook said the finance committee was happy to find a local company that was cost competitive.

The board also scheduled a 6 p.m. public hearing for June 20, to be held prior to a special meeting on the same day, to discuss the 2016-17 proposed budget. The budget has to be approved before July 1, which marks the new fiscal year for the district.

The hearing and special meeting will be at the North Lincoln Administration building at 3275 Lincoln Ave. in St. Joseph.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on June 14, 2016)

Pride in numbers: LGBT community holds vigil for Orlando shooting victims

Todd Dockerty, left, and Rev. Eric Stricklin take a moment to recognize the individuals who were shot and killed Sunday morning in Orlando. The two spoke during a vigil at the OutCenter in Benton Harbor on Sunday. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

Todd Dockerty, left, and Rev. Eric Stricklin take a moment to recognize the individuals shot and killed Sunday morning in Orlando. The two spoke during a vigil at the OutCenter in Benton Harbor on Sunday. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON HARBOR — A black ribbon was strung atop the pride flag that hung outside the OutCenter’s dwelling.

Members and supporters of the LGBT community gathered below the flag along Water Street to mourn the deaths of at least 50 people who were shot and killed Sunday morning at a gay nightclub in Orlando.

Among the gatherers was Rev. Eric Stricklin, who was there to not only speak about LGBT rights, but also gun control. A gunman carried an assault rifle and pistol into the club at about 2 a.m. where he began killing attendees at the nightclub. Considered to be the deadliest mass shooting in the United States, another 53 people were wounded.

“The worship of guns must be confronted with action,” he said, surrounded by about two dozen supporters. “Today is a fine place to start. People deserve to dance, to be happy, to feel safe, to be themselves. Hate can’t be allowed. Violence can’t be allowed. Enough is enough.”

Stricklin was in casual wear, with a rainbow-colored stole that hung down and around his chest. As the reverend of the Coloma United Church of Christ, Stricklin said he was asked to come and speak at the impromptu vigil.

During the gathering, Stricklin gave a brief prayer for those who lost their lives before the crowd broke out in song.

“I think people who live as themselves are vulnerable,” Stricklin said, who serves as sort of religious leader for the OutCenter. “There are going to be people who are angry with you. But the main thing to remember is you’re loved and there are several communities of allies and fellow LGBT people that have your back.”

Sandy and Larry Feldman were at the vigil singing in a circle. They said they were grateful for the OutCenter’s presence on days like Sunday.

Sandy Feldman discovered the incident while listening to NPR, and said she kept waiting for it to be replayed to make sure what she heard was correct.

“I just thought, ‘this can’t be happening,’” she said. “The reaction was horror and then anger. We’re supposed to be in this together.”

It had been 16 hours since the Orlando shooting, but Todd Dockerty was adamant in making sure people came together. June is known as Pride Month. This June was also supposed to signify one year since same-sex marriage was deemed constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Dockerty said anyone who doesn’t feel safe should reach out to friends and local LGBT centers.

It was hard for Dockerty as the news kept pouring in. Early reports showed it was 20 dead. Then the number increased to 50. Then he heard of an Indiana man arrested for trying to bring weapons to a gay pride parade in Los Angeles.

“This didn’t happen in a small town, this was in a very big urban place,” said Dockerty, the board chairman of the OutCenter. “I felt very safe because of the family and friends that I have. It’s like I have my own bubble. (The shooting) burst that bubble a little.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on June 13, 2016)