Zoup! Eatery

Fresh Soup Company

Franchise Q&A with Eric Ersher of Zoup! Eatery

How was your franchise/opportunity originally conceived and started?

Zoup! began as an idea the company's founders pondered as they were building their first soup-related food service business.  

That original company which manufactured and distributed wholesale soup and spice products gave the partners kitchen-door access to some of the top chefs and managers at hundreds of restaurants.  And, it gave them the chance to confirm what they suspected all along.  First, that good soup, really good soup, was hard to find.  Second, that soup has powerful intangible qualities that elicit feelings of comfort, warmth and well-being for many people. Also, that there was a strong demand in the marketplace for the kind of authentic, handcrafted, fresh soups that customers love to eat, but seldom cook for themselves.

Encouraged by the enthusiasm of the many chefs they spoke to and armed with their industry experience (and intense love of soup) the founders teamed up with a talented chef. Then, they got to work on the careful trial-and-error process that involved hundreds of recipes and scores of tasters who completed formal evaluations of each potential recipe.  

It was this two-year process that, ultimately, yielded Zoup!'s hundreds of exclusive soup recipes, and that made way for the company's category-defining fast-casual concept.

What was your original vision for your company? How has that changed over time?

Initially, we focused on creating the highest quality soup available and serving it in a single, comfortable, casual setting in Southfield, MI.   Although we were successful from the beginning, over time we recognized the need to broaden our menu so we added salads, sandwiches and bowls.  During the next five years, we also opened four additional company-owned stores where we continued to evolve our menu, develop systems, fine-tune operations and find better and less expensive ways to design and build-out stores.  It wasn't until 2004 that we felt we had the right systems and infrastructure to begin offering to franchisees.

What do you believe is the single most important factor when choosing a franchise?

We encourage prospects to think carefully about "fit" and to consider these questions: 

  1. What did you like best and least about your past jobs?
  2. What are your skills, strengths and weaknesses?
  3. Are you comfortable with the company's people and core values?
  4. Are you passionate about the brand?
  5. Do you like managing others or do you prefer to work alone?
  6. Will the business offer you the lifestyle and family time you want?
  7. How much money can you invest and how much would you like to make?

Why should someone choose your franchise over other similar franchises?

As the creator and leader of the soup-differentiated category of the fast-casual segment, we have strong niche positioning and the proven ability to get ahead of consumer preferences for fast, fresh and healthy dining. Our franchisees enter the marketplace with a unique offering and do not have to compete against players in the pizza, sub, burger, etc. categories for real estate or customers.

We also offer an established brand with a strong, proven infrastructure; "lifestyle hours" of operation; and no sales ramp up or accounts receivable. And, franchisees benefit from our strategic and authentic culture, our underlying personality and a combination of our shared behaviors, values and assumptions.  This culture forms a foundation for running the business and attracting team members and customers. Culture is a big part of what has made Zoup! the recognized brand it is today.

What types of qualities do you look for in potential franchisees?

Zoup! is a great franchise opportunity for someone who enjoys working with people, is very organized, works well with systems and is computer savvy. Management experience is a must for motivating a team of 12 part-time employees.

What do your franchise fees and royalties cover?

Our franchise fee is $39,900, and our weekly royalty is 6% of gross sales. Franchisees also contribute 1.0% of gross sales to the National Brand Fund and 0.5% of sales to the Customer Service Fund.  These cover operational and marketing support and routine store visits to help franchisees solve problems and identify ways to improve their business.

How do territories work for your franchisees?

All targeted areas of expansion are open;  once a location is selected, the franchise is granted a 1.5 mile radius exclusive territory when outside of downtown markets

Why has your franchise model been successful?

Two factors have contributed dramatically to the success of our concept.  First, is our strong corporate culture -- our underlying personality and our shared behaviors, values and assumptions that help franchise owners and team members communicate our brand.  Second, is our commitment to controlled growth; rather than opening as many stores as we can as quickly as we can, we have focused on building infrastructure and have been careful in choosing franchise partners and locations. This has allowed us to grow the brand and successfully scale the business, while continuing to provide great service to our franchise owners and customers.

Where do you see your franchise in 5 years and 10 years?

The Zoup! brand is driven by quality products and committed franchisees who are guided by our purposefully high standards and deliberate, positive culture.  We will continue to develop our menu and build our infrastructure with a view toward supporting more than 200 locations in the US and Canada within the next few years.    

What is your favorite advice for new franchisees to help them succeed?

Numbers follow, they do not lead.  Forget about chasing money; instead, use our systems, embrace our culture and develop the talent and skills that will make your business great.  The rest will fall into place.

What would you tell potential franchisees who may be nervous about the financial burdens of starting a franchise?

While starting a franchise might seem costly at first glance, long-term by investing in an established brand with proven systems and ongoing support you're dramatically increasing your chances of success.  You're also getting partners -- the franchisor and your fellow franchisees -- who are invested in and committed to your success.

Can you explain your financial assistance?

We do not provide any direct financing, however, we do have relationships with financial institutions and can recommend ones that have provided financing to other owners.  

On average, how long does it take to start a new franchise from the franchisee’s point of view?

It typically takes three to six months from the time a franchisee locks in a site.

What was your background and experience before founding this franchise?

As Zoup!’s CEO and Founder, I have been with Zoup! since its formation. From 1994 to 2000, I was an owner of Michigan Foods of Madison Heights, MI, which manufactured and distributed custom spice blends, pre-mixes and prepared soups to chain restaurant operators. I continue to be responsible for the Zoup! brand and culture.

Do you have any franchisee testimonials or success stories that you would like to share?

"As exciting as it is to watch the business grow, I also take a lot of pride in creating a great environment where staff members and customers feel appreciated and happy." - Paul Diaz, Zoup! Multi-unit Owner

"Like Zoup!'s creators, I've always felt that really good soup is hard to find.  When I saw how successfully they had tapped into that market niche, I knew they were on to something," says Hopkins.  "And, I knew I wanted to be part of it." - Colleen Hopkins, Zoup! Multi-unit Owner 

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