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3 Franchising Tips from 16 Handles CEO Solomon Choi


Hana Dickman

In 2008, restaurant entrepreneur Solomon Choi moved from Los Angeles to New York, to create 16 Handles — the city’s first self-serve frozen yogurt brand. The concept caught fire immediately, and has since grown to 40 locations throughout the East Coast, with three locations set to open soon in Saudi Arabia.

Solomon owes his brand’s success to hard work, careful market research, and a healthy dose of boldness. Here’s what Solomon told me about how he built 16 Handles from a simple idea to one of the hottest franchises in the frozen dessert market.

1: Go Where the Action (and the Competition) Is

When Solomon arrived in New York City, his real estate broker advised him to choose a location where 16 Handles wouldn’t have any competition.

Instead, Solomon picked an East Village neighborhood that had nine frozen dessert stores within a four-block radius — everything from ice cream to smoothies.

Since his target demographic was 18-35 year old females, he knew he had to open his first store near the NYU dorms, despite being surrounded by so many competitors.

He also felt that if he opened up his unique concept surrounded by competitors, and he was able to survive, that he’d become the number one frozen dessert destination in New York.

2: Build Something That’s Easy to Replicate

The self-service nature of 16 Handles gives it unique advantages among food franchises. 16 Handles employees don’t need extensive training or previous experience, which allows Solomon and his franchisees to staff up quickly and affordably.

When he started 16 Handles, Solomon was able to teach 16 to 21 year old minimum wage employees how to operate the business. To business owners seeking to franchise themselves, he advises that people buy into franchises because of the proven operation, so it should be scalable and easy to replicate. You do the brand building, and franchisees can just focus on executing the operations.

3: Know the Real Costs Involved in Launching a Franchise

So let’s say your flagship store is a runaway hit like 16 Handles, and hungry investors are beating your door down to buy franchises. If you’re fortunate enough to make it to that point, you can just sit back and watch the franchising fees roll in, right?

I hate to burst your bubble, but turning your business into a franchise is a massive investment in itself. Solomon explained that you must have a war chest. He spent half a million dollars to get his first store open in the East Village, and another $250,000 to start franchising.

There are a lot of legal fees involved, and you have to invest in the proper infrastructure to handle the growth, that being an operations person, a marketing person, and a system that ensures your success can be replicated in other locations without you physically being there.

Thank you to Solomon Choi for the great franchising tips, and be sure to check out my full interview with him at in.credibly.com/16Handles.