Tourists and University of Central Florida students are making Orlando the No. 1 market in the country for frozen drink maker Planet Smoothie.
The Waterford Lakes store near UCF is the nation's best performing location in terms of gross annual sales, while year-over-year same-store-sales for the 23 Planet Smoothies in the Orlando area were up 21 percent in the first quarter. The comparable-store performance is not because the stores are new and building off of a small base. Fourteen of them have been open more than 10 years.
Executives at Nashville-based Planet Smoothie feel they are on to a good thing. A Casselberry location will open within the next 90 days followed by 10 more Orlando-area locations over the next three to four years.
Donna Smith, vice president of marketing for Planet Smoothie, which has a total of 110 stores, credits Orlando's strong economy and a cohesive group of franchisees who early on learned to work together to build the brand.
Smith said that is also why Orlando, and not say Tampa or Miami, became the Planet Smoothie capital. "We got an early toe hold in the Orlando area and have built on that base over the years," she said.
"There is also the quality of the worker base," said Smith. "That speaks to the caliber of Orlando's workforce."
The typical Planet Smoothie has a manager and 6 to 10 staffers, with pay usually above minimum wage and the stores' success equating to stable jobs. The stores average 1,000 square feet and are located mainly in strip centers usually anchored by grocery stores.
Stores average 30 flavors, with the best seller being "Chocolate Elvis," a peanut butter and cocoa based smoothie. Popular in Central Florida are tropical- and fruit-based drinks like Super Fruit Acai.
Jason Mann is area representative for Planet Smoothie in Central Florida. He owns and operates three locations, one in Orlando and two in Altamonte Springs. His first store, in Altamonte Springs, opened in 1999.
Planet Smoothie, Mann said, is "benefiting from increased tourism and the student growth at the University of Central Florida. Students are a prime demographic for us."
The stores are "taking advantage of the upswing in the economy," Mann said. "People are spending more money, and we are benefiting from that."
Stores also tend to do better when gas prices are lower. "We see a tightening of consumption when it is over $4 a gallon," Mann said.
Then there is the area's abundant sunshine, giving frozen, nutritious drinks definite appeal. "People are looking for refreshing healthy meals and we fit right into that group," Mann said.