U.S.-Born Smoothie King's Global Journey

By Small BusinessFOXBusiness

South Korean native Wan Kim, Global CEO of Smoothie King, got “hooked” on smoothies when attending college and graduate school in the United States. Little did he know then, however, that in July 2012 he would buy the nearly 40-year-old Louisiana-based Smoothie King company from founders Steve and Cindy Kuhanu.

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Kim says smoothies were “essential in helping him maintain a healthy lifestyle” when he was studying in the U.S., as they provided an on-the-go alternative to American fast food. Kim loved to drink smoothies so much, that he decided to go into the smoothie business after graduating with his MBA from the University of California at Irvine.

In 2003, Kim moved back to Seoul, South Korea, where as a master franchisee he opened the first Smoothie King store outside of the United States.

“The first five years weren’t easy,” says Kim. “People in South Korea didn’t care about the Smoothie King brand, because they didn’t even know what a smoothie was.”

Everyone needs to be motivated, but still having fun. Because growing a company can be very fun.

Wan Kim, global CEO of Smoothie King

While Kim wouldn’t say it was easy introducing a foreign product where awareness was low or non-existent, he helped build Smoothie King’s presence in South Korea to a span of 130 stores.

“It’s important to be aware of the current trends,” says Kim, who knew that when people’s per capita income increases, they tend to think more about their health and well-being. “Don’t move against what people want and believe in what you do,” advised Kim, who began rapidly expanding in South Korea far before posting a profit.

Kim says starting out he was certain about two things: 1) it was critical to get people in South Korea to know the Smoothie King brand quickly and 2) communicating a clear vision to his employees and customers was necessary to grow successfully. Kim’s consistent vision was simple: smoothies taste good and they’re healthy.

“I knew if we kept getting this message out, people would come back,” says Kim.

By 2011, an independent survey concluded that 97% of South Korea’s approximate population of 50 million was familiar with the Smoothie King brand.

After saturating the South Korea market, Kim says he was ready for a new opportunity. In July 2012, Kim secured $58 million in capital for growth from two institutional investors, Standard Charter Private Equity and National Pension Fund, and bought Smoothie King from its original founders who had grown the company to more than 600 locations operating in the continental U.S., the Republic of Korea, Singapore and the Caymans.

As rival Jamba Juice continues to expand, Kim says he has aggressive growth plans for Smoothie King, such as adding 1,000 new franchised and corporate locations domestically over the next five years. International development includes master and corporate expansion in Korea, Singapore and Malaysia.

First a customer, then franchisee, and today as global CEO of Smoothie King, Kim offered the following tips to successfully grow a business and/or franchise.

No. 1: Know which mountain you’re climbing…and how.

In every business senior leadership and employees must be on the same page about where the company is headed. Make sure to spend time communicating where you’re going and how you plan to get there. When everyone knows the plan to grow the business, they can make it happen faster and more efficiently.

On a similar note, not everyone will agree with the business goals, but don’t keep people in the company if they’re influencing others in a negative way to the point where no one can get up the mountain.

No. 2: Drive hard, but enjoy the ride.

Once you have a solid mission and great people behind the wheel, then it all depends on how you drive it. Drive hard. Be motivated. But, equally important, enjoy the journey. Let your team know that hard work pays back. Try out some incentives. The process takes some, so be patient. But, it’s a win-win in the end. Everyone needs to be motivated, but still having fun. Because growing a company can be very fun.

No. 3: Know what you do. And make sure others do, too.

Smoothie King doesn't just sell smoothies. What we really do is try to make the world healthier, one smoothie at a time. That's our mission. Once everyone in your business is aligned with what you truly do, they can start to spread that message externally. Whatever you do, make it simple and powerful, so everyone can understand and believe in it. Only then can you grow your brand.

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