There are five channels to engage with your customers — in your store, pickup, delivery, catering and gift cards. “The key is to get all those customers and bring them back,” says Brian Best, vice president of digital marketing for Tropical Smoothie Cafe, a fast-growing casual cafe concept that adds two new stores each week.

Best, who spoke at the National Restaurant Association Show 2019, reminded people of a longtime marketing truth that it is five times more expensive to win over a new customer than reengage with a current one. “That’s why your database is key,” he adds.

Email open rates are typically 15-20%, so paid social media advertising is more effective as a marketing strategy, Best says. Tropical Smoothie Cafe, for example, will experience a 74% increase in foot traffic as the result of one paid social media ad.

The simple truth is that engaging guests leads to transactions. For starters, Best suggests the importance of making sure that customers can find your bakery or cafe through the map app on their phones. Increasingly, customers type in a name of what they are looking for (restaurants, bakeries, etc.) when they search Google Maps, Apple Maps or Waze. Check out your own place, and make sure the name of your bakery or cafe pops up on the search function of the app.

The next step is developing a loyalty program. Build your customer database (and keep records you can search) by gathering email addresses through site registrations, online and app transactions and sweepstakes and promotions.

“Loyalty programs are really the marriage to guest tracking, behavior tracking, guest insights and analytics,” says Best, adding that Wi-Fi enables you to track the location of customers at any given time. “When you know where the customer is, you can change behaviors.”

Tropical Smoothie Cafe recently reported significant achievements in the first half of 2019, opening 58 restaurants and signing 75 franchise agreements.

In May, the brand celebrated a major milestone by opening its 750th location in Sugarland, Texas. With more than 775 cafes open, the company is on track to continue to build upon its momentum with a goal to open 130 cafes, sign more than 175 franchise agreements and grow same-store sales by 5% in 2019. 

Tropical Smoothie Cafe has been able to propel development due to its targeted efforts in priority growth markets such as Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Chicago, Atlanta, Charlotte and Tampa.

Over the past year, the brand’s leadership team, including CEO Charles Watson, hosted meet-and-greet events in some of these markets. As a result, the brand signed multiple franchise deals including a five-unit agreement in Dallas-Fort Worth and a seven-unit agreement in Chicago. In addition, during the first half of 2019, more than one third of the brand’s openings were in its targeted markets. During the second half of the year, the leadership team will continue hosting additional events in Philadelphia and Houston.

“We came out of the gate strong in the first half of the year and are enthusiastic to continue this momentum throughout the rest of 2019,” says Watson. “From our in-market events, deal signings and new openings to our prestigious industry recognitions, we are positioned to continue the brand’s remarkable growth to reach our goal of 1,500 locations over the next five years.”

Additionally, June 14 marked the celebration of the brand’s annual National Flip Flop Day, a one-day customer appreciation event designed to bring awareness to the system’s fundraising efforts for its national charitable partner, Camp Sunshine.

The brand has raised more than $1.1 million for Camp Sunshine this year alone, allowing the organization to provide an authentic camp experience for children with life threatening illnesses and their entire families.

Over the years, the cumulative total the brand has raised for Camp Sunshine reaches nearly $7.5 million.

Now Tropical Smoothie Cafe is looking to add qualified franchisees to its growing brand and currently has franchise opportunities in markets throughout the U.S, including Orlando and Tampa in Florida; Charlotte, North Carolina; Nashville, Tennessee; Philadelphia; Houston; Dallas-Fort Worth; and Kansas City, Missouri, among others.

Interested candidates should have business experience, along with a minimum net worth of $350,000, which includes $125,000 in liquid assets. Total investment for a new cafe opening ranges between $246,500 and $580,500.

Tropical Smoothie Cafe currently boasts an average unit volume of more than $730,000 – the highest in the company’s 22-year-history – with the top 50 percent reporting an AUV of more than $938,000.

There are currently 50 franchised Tropical Smoothie Cafe locations across the state of Texas, with nine cafes open in the Houston area, and another four expected to open in the market before the end of 2019.

The new Sugarland location is owned and operated by first-time franchisees Andy and Fena Patel.

“As health and fitness enthusiasts, and regular guests to other local Tropical Smoothie Cafe locations, we’re very passionate about the brand’s better-for-you lifestyle and wanted to bring the concept to our hometown,” says Andy Patel.

Tropical Smoothie Cafe’s food and smoothie franchise system experienced an impressive surge in nationwide expansion in 2018, celebrating the opening of 110 cafes, and the signing of 191 franchise agreements.