SoBol is a quick service restaurant famous for their açai bowls, fruit smoothies, fresh waffles and healthy snacks. The startup franchise has 53 stores throughout the United States and is headquartered in the North East.Head of Marketing, Nick Pesko, shares insights with the co-hosts of the Revel Systems® podcast—Restaurant and Retail Revel(ations)—into the franchise's secrets to quick innovation and growth. Read on to learn how to best:
Listen to the full interview here, or read on for Nick's perspective on this fast-growing, award-winning, health-focused franchise.
Surprisingly, Nick spends only about 25% of his work week on marketing activities like branding and growth initiatives. The rest of his time is spent supporting and empowering franchisees. He notes that the level of support SoBol franchisees get is “rather unheard of.”
Each SoBol franchise is composed of a team of about 10 to 15 people who are supported by 53 corporate staff members.
“At SoBol we value the risk that franchisees have decided to take on our brand. In return we feel obligated to—and have a deep passion for—supporting franchisees in each step of their ownership journey,” says Nick.
Importantly, SoBol guides franchisees in deciding upon an ideal location. At the corporate level, SoBol provides this support for a reasonable rate making entrepreneurship both accessible and affordable to franchisees.
The exceptional care the brand provides franchisees led to the restaurant’s recognition in QSR Magazine’s 42 Fast-Food Brands to Watch in 2021.
SoBol has also been recognized as a top company for female franchisees. About 50% of SoBol owners are female. As well, SoBol corporate leadership is very diverse.
Nick notes that some of SoBol’s best performing stores are female run. “We empower those who want to take a chance on us regardless of gender,” says Nick. He continues, “We like to highlight and do everything to support those who have taken a chance on us and not had a fair playing field in the franchise world themselves.”
Just like all restaurants, SoBol had to be agile during COVID-19. Their major pivot was putting greater focus on off premises orders.
“We refocused our marketing messaging to include curbside pick up and online ordering,” says Nick. “Operations were altered to ensure accessibility of product while also promoting staff and customer safety.”
With SoBol’s successful marketing strategy, online orders and third-party delivery services became 80% of their business during the height of the pandemic. The brand’s off-premises average ticket value was 100% higher than the in-store average.
This refocus paid off, resulting in 10 new stores launching in 2020 during COVID. SoBol did this while not permanently shutting down any locations. Five additional stores are slated to open in the coming months, three of which are located on Long Island.
SoBol’s rewards app, SoBol Rewards, launched January 2021. Within the first month of being on the App Store it had 10,000 downloads. Now SoBol Rewards has more than 60,000 downloads with about 15% of all customers being rewards members.
To align the rewards program with differing customer behavior post-pandemic, SoBol Rewards is tied directly to online ordering.
The loyalty program is points based. Customers earn two points for every one dollar spent. At 100 points customers earn a $3 coupon to be claimed at any SoBol store.
The program also offers incentivized bonuses too. Users get 50 free points just for signing up.
The rewards program also has holiday and seasonal deals. For example, to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, customers earn 10 extra points when they order a green bowl or smoothie for the entire month of March. Customers also get a free regular sized bowl on their birthday.
“When I’m in the store, I see customers using the SoBol Rewards app to get a discount or free birthday bowl. I see how excited they are to show the cashier their coupon; it feels great. I know the rewards program is helping our brand and keeping our customers happy,” says Nick.
He expects the rewards app to keep evolving, increasing the number of downloads and user engagement in the coming year. Learn more about virtual branding.
Online ordering is here to stay for SoBol regardless of pandemic restrictions. SoBol is continuing to get a solid 35% of their business through online orders.
Nick says that although COVID restrictions taught people how to order online, they are continuing to prefer this method of transaction regardless of restrictions. “Pressing two buttons is easier than ordering with a cashier or calling to put in your order,” says Nick.
He predicts that all restaurants will start investing in technology to make in-store purchasing more similar to third-party delivery service. For example, he envisions ordering kiosks becoming commonplace in all stores.
Passion for Product
“All franchisees should be passionate about our product and brand which is focused on healthy lifestyle and avid fruit eating,” says Nick.
SoBol uses all fresh and frozen fruit in each of their dishes. No powders, sugars or even ice are used.
SoBol caters to a variety of healthy diets. All their offerings are dairy free, gluten free. They also offer vegan options. New products including new bowls are also set to launch in the coming months.
Although SoBol ingredients are fresh and delicious, their key differentiator is their handmade granola, not available anywhere else except SoBol locations.
SoBol has traditionally seen more success at stores with owner operators who are hands on, dedicated and willing to put in working hours. It’s important that all franchisees value cultivating a good culture and building a team of great staff and management in their stores rather than outsourcing this to a salaried operator.
Just as SoBol's corporate team greatly values innovative ideas brought forward from their franchisees, the franchise also appreciates working with owners who listen to the input from the corporate side of the house. The corporate office has a wealth of knowledge and experience selling healthy foods. Their experience is especially relevant for franchisees when it comes to marketing.
Nick notes one of the great things about working with this franchise is that the owner operators do not have to reinvent the branding of the business. They already have tried and tested techniques that franchisees can use. SoBol has spent years testing marketing strategies and fine tuning messaging for their core demographic of 13-35 year old females.
SoBol has mastered social media campaigns and other digital marketing efforts. They know what works and what doesn’t work for their customers. For example, some other marketing strategies such as TV or radio ads have not garnered the same level of return as digital marketing campaigns.
“If franchisees rely on the expertise of SoBol for marketing efforts they will be successful,” says Nick. Some franchisees have no marketing experience but are extremely successful because they are willing to listen, even when they don’t fully understand.
The SoBol franchise was initially struck by the technical prowess of Revel’s POS system and the clean modern interface. During early conversations, SoBol’s Director of Technology worked very closely with Revel. He had only good things to say about the POS system and company.
Revel has since become a critical tool for SoBol’s accounting, finance and even product development. They enjoy timely, easy and affordable communication between corporate and franchise stores.
“Revel reports are ten times cleaner and more concise than our previous vendor,” says Nick. “Revel’s POS is not a big nor bulky box point of sale. It looks better in our stores and provides a clean modern aesthetic. Most importantly, it makes our system easier for our staff and also on the corporate end.”
Want to see how Revel’s POS could help your franchise or franchisees? Schedule a demo today.