Rethinking the Traditional Franchise Model

I started my business at a young age, selling my scratch-made gelato at a local farmer’s market when I was in my 20s. I came up with the idea after growing up in the restaurant industry, going to culinary school and spending time working at a Sicilian gelato store in Florence. I wanted to bring the concept of traditionally-made Italian gelato to the US. I had dreams of owning my own gelato shop, but I didn’t know how big Morano Gelato would become. It wasn’t until I had opened my first store in Hanover,NH and began watching customers line up day after day for our gelato, that the idea of taking Morano Gelato national was born.

At the time, I recognized there was a complete void of authentic gelato, particularly Sicilian-style gelato, and saw an opportunity to fill it. Our commitment to making different flavors fresh every day, educating our customers, and delivering a traditional gelateria experience allows us to distinguish ourselves within a simplistic business model that can easily be replicated.

When I thought about opening new locations, franchising seemed like a perfect fit. It enables us to partner with members of communities we are not part of, who seek to spread our mutual love of Italian culture and gelato within towns similar to our original location in Hanover. However, it quickly became apparent that the traditional franchising model–open as many locations in as many regions, as quickly as possible–wouldn’t work for me.

Making gelato is an intricate art. It has to be made fresh each morning with local and seasonal ingredients. There’s no product to ship across country for instant gratification. I quickly learned that the people I would partner with as franchisees would be the most important element of my business. After years of exploring franchising, I discovered that I didn’t want to sell a franchise. I wanted to award it.

And that’s why I’m rethinking the traditional franchise model. Morano Gelato’s third shop–and first official franchise (Hanover has since been turned into our flagship franchise)–opened this spring in Westfield, NJ. We’re rejecting the trend of trying to blanket the country with hundreds of stores and instead focusing on a few quality stores at a time in concentrated regions of the country.

As a woman rethinking the franchise model, here’s what I’ve learned:

People are Everything

As a business owner, I’m very focused on growing a brand by hiring the right people who have a respect for franchise systems and consistency. Business savviness is nice, but what I look for is high integrity, a strong character, passion for gelato and the desire to jump in and get to work, whether that’s scooping or marketing. Leaders lead by example, and anyone who’s worked in the food industry knows how tough it is to get it right, so having the right people at the helm is the main indicator of whether my brand will succeed.

You Need to Be Flexible and Follow Your Instinct

Understanding that flexibility needs to be built into your growth plan is key. As a business owner, I initially started off on a traditional franchising path. It wasn’t until I got a bit down the road that I realized this wasn’t a good fit for me–or my brand. I started honing in the values of the Morano Gelato brand and strategizing on how to retain them when we grew, even if that meant growing more slowly than I’d originally anticipated. Ultimately, by focusing on our values at Morano Gelato and following my instinct, I know this is the right way for our business to grow, even if it’s unconventional for the franchise world.

Understand the Value of Franchising

Franchising occasionally has a bad reputation. I’ve heard it disparaged as not being true entrepreneurship and that it could have a poor effect on our brand, but I think that for many people considering starting their own business, there’s value in joining the right franchise concept. I spent years training, recipe testing and market testing my product, with a ton of mistakes made along the way. Morano Gelato franchisees benefit from that, and they also get a partner to bounce ideas off of and share thoughts with. That goes both ways: as a business owner, I have already learned a lot from working with my first franchisee and I expect each new one will bring the benefits of a mutual partnership. Through selecting the right people, we can also maintain the quality of product, service, and the consistency we are known for in New England.

Morgan Morano founded Morano Gelato in 2010. The authentic Sicilian gelato company has three locations: one company store in Chestnut Hill, MA and two franchises in Westfield, NJ and Hanover, NH with more to open in the East in 2018. For several years, Morgan spent half her year in Italy and the other half in New York City, serving in both culinary and pastry chef positions. After working with a Sicilian gelato chef in Florence, Morgan dedicated herself to the art, production and science behind gelato making. She is also the author of The Art of Making Gelato: 50 Recipes to Make at Home.

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