Blenz Coffee Sells Off Corporate Training Centre at Prestigious Library Blenz

Blenz the Canadian Coffee Company LTD has sold their corporate training centre at Library Square to a new franchisee.  A sign reading “This location has new owners! We look forward to serving you!” was posted on the window.

new-owners

This location was a very useful component to the Blenz brand and had been the location used not only for giving new franchisees (owners) a chance to train with the public before running their own stores, but also for hosting events such as ‘That Barista Thing’.  They also used the location to do dry runs on new products and get feedback from customers.

This location has a challenging history as it was reportedly owned by a franchisee before Blenz took over the location from the upset owner.

Adding to the story of the sudden recent change of hands of this prestigious location is the simultaneous erection of a dividing wall between what was the ‘training side’ (left) and the ‘customer side’ (right) as shown in the this photo:

closed-training

This most serious corporate decision begs the following questions:

  • Where will new franchisees in the Blenz chain get trained moving forward and how will this affect the quality of the training?
  • Has Blenz protected the current owner of this Library Square location from a potentially competing business opening right next store?  There is not hint of what kind of business will be moving in to the former training space.  What if it turned out to be another coffee shop or tea shop?
  • Why did Blenz sell this location?  Did the city of Vancouver charge too much rent?  Our reports show that lease rates in Library Square are some of the most manageable in the city.  There are fewer locations with such a captive audience as library square.

This seemingly silent transaction should prompt franchisees and all stakeholders involved with Blenz the Canadian Coffee Company LTD to be on high alert if this decision was indeed not explained in advance.

As always, send us your industry information and we will be pleased to do a follow up report.  We are here to help.

Another Blenz Bites the Dust: Prestigious Landmark Robson at Burrard Location Gone Forever

Another Blenz Bites the Dust: Prestigious Landmark Robson at Burrard Location Gone Forever

2013 was clearly a tough year for Blenz the Canadian Coffee Company LTD completely losing the prestigious Cambie & 17th and Howe & Hastings locations from its previously expanding chain while experiencing temporary yet unusual and unexplained shutdowns at the Robson & Bute location as well as the Main Street location, not to mention the extremely high number of Blenz current sitting for sale on the world wide webs.  It is also the year that started just months after Blenz made the corporate decision to re-instate previous leader Mark West to steer the Blenz ship – while he remains owner of My Cup Coffee and Tea (currently their website is shown as ‘suspended’ but here is a PDF of the page that was visible until recently: www_mycupcoffeeandtea_com_Franchising_html ) which still competes directly with existing Blenz locations, one location at Georgia and Seymour which chips away at the sales of three different Blenz locations that are steps away.

blenz_closed_01

As if that battle story were not bloody enough for the Vancouver chain, Blenz finished off their year with the colossal and damaging blow of losing their most prized location: Robson & Burrard – One of – if not the – most highly visible and high foot traffic locations in the city.  Although not yet confirmed, it is rumoured that Lulu Lemon will be taking over the location.  The previous franchisee has not been availble for comments yet.  Apparently transparent stretchy pants and yoga gear are well liked by commercial landlords.

blenz_closed_03

Although the economy and ‘coffee saturation’ has been blamed by some for the challenges that franchise model brands like Blenz are facing, it has not seemed to stop corporate chains like JJ Bean and Cafe Artigiano from encroaching on their native territory.

2014 is upon us and it will be most interesting to observe how large number franchise chains like Blenz and Waves play their game.  If 2013 was any indication of the future…

 

Prestigious Blenz Gone

Prestigious Blenz Gone

Sue-Go Juice: Did Jugo Juice Juice their Franchisees?

It looks like Jugo Juice is becoming ‘sue-go juice‘.

I had been running my own coffee franchise for nearly two years when I took my first Canada Line trip.  The very first thing I noticed was what seemed like a Jugo Juice at almost every location.  The first thought that came to my mind was ‘Those rascals!’ (of course using much more colour terminology). My only surprise is that there are not more names on the plaintiff list.

As discussed in other VCSFA articles, the Franchisor is in a clear position of power and has the advantage of being the creator of some very hand-crafted – and arguably one-sided – legal documents, namely the lease, the sublease (if applicable) and the Franchise Agreement.  The profile of Franchisee that seems to be preferred by Franchisors is typically, from my experience,  someone not steeped in either franchising, or small business.  They are often accountants, teachers, retail managers, and such, but more commonly – again from my experience – immigrants who may not quite have the language skills to battle on their own should such a need arise.  The point here is that not one of Franchisees I have met over the last few years in the food and beverage business – especially in the Vancouver coffee business – came with the expertise required to make such a huge financial and time investment.  As a result, I have seen devastated marriages and families as the money is bled out of their lives.

The worst part is that British Columbia doesn’t have *any* franchise legislation to help abused Franchisees. In their often nearly bankrupt condition – the time when they most need a lawyer’s help – they are left to fend for themselves.  As in this Jugo Juice case, I’m sure that we will see that a mandatory disclosure document may have saved these Franchisees the need to file this lawsuit.

One will often come across quotes from experts in law and business saying things like, “It’s buyer beware” or, “One has to check the legal documents carefully”.  That’s very easy for someone to say who has no experience in business or business law.  To reiterate, most prospective Franchisees are not coming from a position of being savvy in business – and the Franchisors know that.

Every Franchisee I have spoken to has one thing in common – they trusted the name and the brand and their experience.  They trusted that the Franchisor would not knowingly put them (or allow them) into a bad deal.  The trust that potential buyers put in the brand is so strong that I have witnessed sound-minded, intelligent people sign documents that are so bad they would give you cramps.  I know one gentleman whose position is, “Well, they signed it.”  I disagree with this position.  If it were an independent cafe or restaurant and the people who created the documents were on the same playing field in experience, then I would steadfastly agree.  However, the very nature of a Franchise implies ‘trust’ and ‘success’ and they accomplish this image largely because of the sheer number of locations.  I will never forget a quote from my good friend.  He had just explained how he had received accounting and legal advice *not* to purchase his franchise coffee shop.  The outcome of his decision to purchase was the most devastating series of events I have ever witnessed.  After explaining his situation to someone the person asked ‘Well, why in the world did you purchase, then?”  His response?  I’ll never forget it.  It’s engraved in my mind forever:

I thought surely sixty locations couldn’t all be wrong.

They were wrong, though.  They all signed a similarly one-sided document and were reaping the reward of their folly.  Just like me.

Did Jugo Juice sincerely think – with all their experience in the retail beverage business – that these stores would succeed buried deep within the Canada Line?  Who has time, while rushing to a train, to have a nice, blended drink?  And, let’s just say you do have just enough time to grab a drink and get on the train, it says right here in the Translink Etiquette Guide (item #4) that you should ‘refrain from eating and drinking on the train’. So stopping to get one of these drinks will set you up to be a bad guy in the eyes of your co-commuters.  To me, this sounds like a business disaster waiting to happen. Just to make sure it wasn’t my personal experience and bias clouding my judgement, I started surveying my own customers to find out when was the last time they stopped and bought a nice drink at a transit station and if they would do so in the future.  The results of the mini survey were dismal: they all agreed that they would prefer to go a little further *above ground* and buy their speciality beverage.

Here’s what Jugo Juice gained out of the last few years since their 2010 Canada Line Expansion:

  • Incredible brand awareness: countless hundreds of thousands of people walked by (the key is *walked by*) those Jugo Juice logos
  • Increased probability of selling new stores: “Mr. Prospective Buyer, we are a big, well-known brand. You are buying into a big chain with a winning formula.  Look at the proof – we have stores in most Canada Line stations.”
  • Royalty payments: Did Jugo Juice offer ‘royalty relief’ during their time of suffering or was the full contractual amount continually (and probably automatically) taken from their bank accounts?  This will come to light, I’m sure.

What did the Franchisees – who likely invested all of their life-savings in these businesses – get out of the deal?  A court date?

It will be most interesting to follow this lawsuit and perhaps it will pave the way to better Franchisee-Franchisor relations in BC and ultimately the quick establishment of franchise legislation in our beautiful province.

 

 

 

Bell Mobility Gets Sued by Franchisees: A Deeper look into the Franchisee-Franchisor relationship

The Globe and Mail, on July 29th, published this article about how the Bell Mobility division of Bell is getting sued by its independent dealers.

In short, the Franchisees are suing their Franchisor for squashing their profits and looking out only for their own interests at the expense of the front line troops – the Franchisees.

This is another example of the potentially very challenging relationship a company must face if it chooses the franchise business model.  The motives, agendas, and heart of the Franchisor *must* be like a parent shepherding their flock of less experienced sheep towards a mutually profitable enterprise.  Once it is known (or suspected) that the Franchisor’s main goal is to take as much as possible from their flock and give back little, the relationship will be short-lived and it will be just the blink of an eye before court documents are filed.  Should one be surprised?  Divorce rates are well over 50% and there is much more than money to be lost in a divorce.

It must be noted that not all franchises are being sued.  In fact, we have had Franchisees of a few select coffee franchises claim boldly that they are a) making money and b) satisfied with their Franchisor.  So, it is absolutely possible to have a synergistic and win-win relationship with the Franchisor. However, when trust is breached as in the case of Bell, and if swift and serious action is not taken to repair the breach then all roads lead to the courthouse.

This is serious business, rest assured.

Sometimes Franchisors lose touch with their roots.  They don’t spend enough time in the field getting to know the customers and Franchisees personally.  They don’t know that everything is falling to pieces when a simple, transparent and humble chat would have revealed all. Perhaps the Franchisor would have to consider some compensation for past errors.  Perhaps all it would take would be a grave apology letter or speech from the Directors.  Unfortunately, the impression that many Franchisees get from their ‘shepherd’, as they suffer significant financial hardship, is that they are nothing more than mechanical cogwheels in their money-making machine, held in place by nasty and sometimes abusive contracts.

The Canadian – specifically the British Columbia – franchise world will, in the near future, see the collapse end of bad Franchise ’empires’ as associations like the VCSFA are able to help prepare potential buyers for their investment. We hope that Franchisors who are serious about maintaining a positive brand and all the goodwill their created in the eyes of their customers, will hear the voices of their front-line soldiers and take strong action.

 

 

 

Article by Tony Wilson about Franchise Legislation in BC

Tony Wilson is respected around town (Vancouver) as a Franchise Lawyer which is why when he writes an article in the Globe and Mail, the VCSFA pays attention.  In this recent article “Franchising is Big in BC – So Where’s the Legislation?”, Mr. Wilson talks about the British Columbia Law Institute’s (BCLI) consultation paper on franchise legislation in BC.  He explains BC’s odd position of being one of few provinces that remains without franchise legislation and even brings up an argument that the legislation may not bring notable changes as follows:

But will it [bring change]? If most franchisors in Canada – including those headquartered in B.C. that are selling franchises in Ontario, Alberta, Manitoba, PEI or New Brunswick – must comply with the legislation in effect within the disclosure provinces anyway, it is arguable this will add little more in terms of compliance costs to B.C.-based franchisors. They will simply adapt their FDDs to include B.C. Franchisors in other provinces will do the same.

Thankfully the VCSFA has had the honour of meeting with some of the people involved in this consultancy report and have been able to express our position on the matter.

Although Mr. Wilson is correct that many reputable Franchises are currently operating in compliance with other province’s franchise legislation and that they will be able to quickly adapt to any implemented BC legislation, this doesn’t take into account the fact that there are BC-born Franchises that have been operating without it for years *here in BC* and continue to sell stores.  Take for example the following ‘bigger name’ coffee shop franchises from our Francouver list that are either BC-born or operate primarily here:

  • Bean Around the World
  • Blenz Coffee
  • BG Urban Cafe (formerly “Bread Garden”)
  • Serious Coffee
  • Take 5 Cafe
  • Wave’s Coffee
  • Wired Monk

We have received local Vancouver reports from current and previous Franchisees involving horrific business practices that have resulted in bankruptcies, broken families, or other similar tragedies. In fact, some of the stories are so bad that you would be hard pressed to believe that the events could have possibly taken place in Canada.  Some people have been begging us to bring some of these stories to light and the companies behind them, but we are convinced that by means of the current court systems and eventual Franchise legislation in BC, that nasty people will be unable to continue in their nasty ways.

Do not think that just because a Franchisor is complying in other provinces that they will play nice and follow suit in BC.  We need clear and reasonable legislation right here at home.

In conclusion, let it be known that the VCSFA takes a very strong position *in favour of immediate Franchise legislation* so that it becomes very difficult for Franchisors to commit premeditated acts of business atrocities in our beautiful country, and especially in our province of British Columbia.

 

 

 

What’s Going on at Blenz: Blenz at 4198 Main Street in Vancouver Silently Reopens

On June 5th, 2013, we published an article about yet another Blenz (Main Street) mysteriously closing.  For some time just brown paper could be seen on the outside.   We attempted to reach the Franchisee on record without success.

Yesterday, June 17th, it was reported to us that the location had silently re-opened and that the person operating the store was also seen operating at least one other Blenz location.  No further details have been revealed at this point.

In the past, Blenz would have celebrated the takeover of a new Franchisee with a ‘re-opening party’ including free drinks and food for the neighbourhood.  The idea was to inform everyone that the store is now under new management.  In both of these recent closures/reopenings no marketing event was performed so we are not sure what is happening with the ownership structure.  In fact, none of the Blenz Franchisees we asked about it even knew that these stores had closed, let alone re-opened.

In the Blenz ‘Fresh Brew’ publication, the only information that could be found was a new store opening in Ladner.  The Franchisees we surveyed didn’t even know there was a planned opening of a new store in Ladner until the store was open.

All of these recent events beg the question ‘What is going on at Blenz?’

 

 

 

What’s Going on at Blenz Coffee? Blenz at 4198 Main Street in Vancouver Closes

Brown paper covers the windows of this closed Blenz on Main street in Vancouver

Yet another sudden closure without notice has occurred at Blenz Coffee, this time on Main Street in Vancouver.  Customers in the area reported to us that they were attempting to patronize the location but found the store closed with brown paper on the wall (see photo).

So far we are unable to get details on what is taking place at this location.

This closure is the 4th closure of this type in the last 3 months, following quickly on the heels of Robson and Bute on May 1, and 815 Hastings on March 3, and 3297 Cambie on March 29th.

 

What’s Going on at Blenz Coffee? First Ever Blenz at Robson and Bute Location Mysteriously Closes Doors

Last night Blenz Coffee at the corner of Robson and Bute closed its doors at the usual time. This morning, however, when customers started arriving for their morning coffee they were surprised to find it still closed.

When a few curious people contacted us this morning and asked if we knew what was taking place, or if Blenz the chain was closing down, we contacted the Franchisee, Ali Kormi, who was unwilling to comment further about the situation.  He did confirm that he would not be opening the store today.

What we have learned is that during the summer of 2012, this particular location was closed for nearly two months while it underwent a renovation.  Before and during the renovation staff and customers alike were told that it would take about two weeks to complete – similar to the recent renovation at the Bentall 5 renovation which took well under two weeks and much longer than the Seattle’s Best location takeovers which Blenz was known for completing in a single weekend.  For any retail operation, especially in the coffee industry, each day closed results in notable damages from lost revenue and the loss of the regular customer base as they are forced to change their buying habits during the closure.

This mysterious closure follows just weeks after the closures of 815 Hastings on March 3, and 3297 Cambie on March 29th.

Perhaps most noteworthy about this closure is the fact that Blenz on Robson and Bute was the first ever Blenz location.

You can read more about Blenz the Canadian Coffee Company LTD at this Wikipedia page. *Note: Number of locations appear not to have been updated to reflect recent changes throughout the chain.

Be sure to check back here for updates as they develop.

Blenz Coffee at Cambie & 17th Closes Doors

Early this morning and without notice, customers were surprised to find the Blenz Coffee location at 3297 Cambie Street (17th & Cambie) in Vancouver locked and with Baliffs at the premises.  This event comes right on the heels of the 815 West Hastings closure location a few weeks ago.

At this point we do not have all the details but be sure to check back frequently as we bring you the latest updates on the recent string of sudden store closures happening at Blenz the Canadian Coffee Company LTD.

Do Customers Like Coffee Shop Franchises?

A small article in the Huffington Post BC slipped by many readers. It is most significant to us at the VCSFA not because of what is on the list, because instead what is not on the list.

Before reading the article, it is important to preface that the author Jesse Ferraras used the term ‘franchise’ towards Artigianos where was not a Franchisee/Franchisor business model but instead a corporate structure.  Be it known that Caffe Artigiano does not sell individual franchises as is therefore not on the VCSFA list.

Why this article struck us as notable was that we could not find one – no, not a single solitary name – coffee shop franchise. Don’t believe us, do your own comparison.

The VCSFA Comprehensive List of Vancouver Coffee Shop Franchises

The Huffington Post article of ‘The Best Coffee in Vancouver’ list

Not a single coffee shop franchise wowed the people enough to make it into this list which begs the two obvious questions:

What makes a coffee shop desirable?

Why aren’t coffee shop franchises desirable?

In defense of all those who were not included in this list, we at the VCSFA do not consider Yelp to be a reliable form of research data.  We have had many discussions with cafe and restaurant owners who have had very positive reviews end up ‘filtered’ at the bottom of their page, not contributing towards positively to their star count.  Further, we know of some horrific cafes that have been reviewed accordingly and those awful 1-star ratings still sit there filtered today, not lowering their star count to where it should be.  Finally, we believe that every food and beverage business needs a ‘jubilee’ every 1 or 2 years where all their entire ratings and history are magically erased and reset to zero and the business gets a chance to right the wrongs of the past, starting again with a clean slate.  Can you name one food/beverage business where the same bad (or good) staff are still working there two years later?  Or, is it not possible that a new owner has taken over and has improved upon or killed the previous owner’s work? For this reason, we acknowledge that the data source is not a reliable enough to be considered conclusive.

With that preface, Yelp is good for one thing: collecting the ‘extremes’.  So, if a review does make it through the Yelp filters, it is likely that the person who wrote it is pretty fired up in the positive or the negative.  It is even more unlikely that someone will blog a positive review so all the kudos to the shops that got some.

With all that preamble behind us, here is the important stuff that we have pulled out of this work:

What seems to make people like these shops:

  • quality food
  • unique atmosphere
  • niche java (ie. serving South American style, Clover machines, freshly roasted, organic/fair trade, etc)
  • niche skill (ie. latte art)

One reason why a Franchise coffee shop may not have made it on the list is because people, by the nature of the way they view a multi-location chain, don’t consider it special.  They may get a good drink but because it’s part of a big chain they might not consider that experience unique enough to blog.

The VCSFA is well aware that the food programs at most if not all coffee shop franchises is abysmal.  In many cases the owner of the store is forced to order over-priced product from a vendor that has no idea what the customers in his neighbourhood are demanding and/or has no authority or ability to provide a solution.  In one case, a group of franchisees from a major Vancouver chain reported to us that their sandwiches were made in Vancouver and then shipped for sale to their store in the Okanagan!  We could understand this model for a low-priced, high-volume chain, but we were shocked that this was occurring in a chain claiming to be trying to carve out a piece of the high-quality market.  Needless to say that as soon as the customers found out, sales slumped.

Coffee shop franchises should be on alert and take much heed to this casual list.  Franchisees of the chains that were not included on this list (which is every last one of them) should start immediately asking their Franchisors what went wrong.