By Peter Saunders
This summer, Canada was struck by a robot invasion, of sorts, when Reis & Irvy’s began rolling out its franchise units across the country. Originally launched in the U.S. in 2016, the franchise system installs robotic technology in shopping malls and other high-traffic locations to automate the preparation and delivery of frozen yogurt (froyo), combining an already popular consumer product with customization capabilities beyond those of traditional vending machines.
The U.S. franchisor, Generation Next Franchise Brands, introduced the concept to Canada earlier this year and received commitments from franchisees to manage more than 120 of the kiosks. Each machine takes up about 15 square feet of space and can produce one froyo per minute, serving an average populace of 30,000.
“Once people understand the technology, they immediately realize how unique and cool it is,” says Calgary-based Brett Beninger, who bought the national master franchising rights. “This business avoids the high labour costs and rents of the traditional quick-service restaurant (QSR) industry.”
Indeed, Generation Next has forecast potential future revenues for Beninger’s business, Froyo Vending Canada, aggregating up to US$17.1 million.
“I’m hoping to manage more than 100 robots from Calgary to Edmonton,” says Barry Ehlert, one of the system’s first Canadian franchisees. “What drew me to this business is its simplicity. By way of example, each unit is self-sanitizing.”
After selling franchises by territory, the franchisor finds the locations, negotiates the leases and co-ordinates white-glove delivery and installation of the machines. In most cases, landlords are paid 15 per cent of gross revenues as rent.
Beninger estimates a part-time franchisee could operate up to six robots alone, refilling them each day and deep-cleaning them once a week.
“The machines are equipped with telemetry, which allows them to report what they need—such as more cups—to their franchisee via mobile app,” he says. “Full-time franchisees like Barry will hire staff to monitor their larger numbers of robots, but the work still takes a miniscule amount of time compared to running a QSR.”
“Not much maintenance is required,” Ehlert agrees. “We’ll need to hire one employee for every 10 to 15 robots.”