How One Smoothie King Franchisee Reached the Top

Jenny Hamrick
26 October 2015

Paul McCulloch owns one of the 10 largest multi-unit franchises in the entire United States. 

He walks into Smoothie King on Tuesday morning to meet Brennon and me like a customer, except for the Smoothie King logo on the corner of his polo. Before our interview starts, he makes sure both of us have a smoothie and are seated comfortably.

We’re in one of nine Nashville Smoothie Kings, with a total of 15 to come in the next two years. 

Paul is no stranger to small business, entrepreneurial ventures, or hard work. He has started, owned, or managed over 15 different companies in 10 different industries over his career.

We are interrupted five minutes into our interview as Clay, the General Manager, joins us. He greets a guest walking through the door. This happens at least another half dozen times between now and the hour and half we spend with Paul and Clay. We don’t even need to ask what Paul’s first piece of advice is. We already witness it:

People, customers in this case, matter to him. 

People Matter Most

So we asked Paul about hiring, since that's about people. We specifically asked, “How do you manage the hiring process?”

“Every store has a manager. Clay is the acting manager at this store. He operates under a model of I need somebody, I find somebody. His first question is always who do you know who wants a job, and he first asks his current employees for referrals.”

If the first part of their success is a focus on people in general, the second secret of Paul and Clay’s success is that they hire from within their existing network, their community. His community knows when he has a need. So we ask him more about this.

Turns out 75 percent of his team are made up of referrals. Their community allows Paul and Clay to hire people they trust, so they can continue to do what they do best.

Food Trucks and Drive Thrus for Growth

Paul isn’t the only entrepreneur on this team either. Clay is on top of thinking of new ways to do things as well. They’ve been creative, they’ve sought solutions to grow their business, and they’ve pivoted when what they were doing didn’t fit with the community at the time. Paul’s Smoothie King system was the first ever Smoothie King to have a food truck, as well as a double drive thru.

Now, 60 to 75 percent of Paul’s business goes through the drive thru, and they will open another drive thru next year. Their growth and innovation has remained constant over the 10 years Paul has been in business.

They keep growing: “Growing bigger means we need to improve our technique for recruiting. The bigger you get the more you need good systems to recruit,” says Paul, and he is certainly following his own advice.

The key to business is hiring good people. If you don’t have good people behind the counter, it doesn’t matter the name on the door.

People Make the Business

Regardless of the franchise, the franchise's reputation, or the demand for the franchise in the community, the people make the business, Paul reminds us. Several more customers come in during the interview and he knows each one.

We ask, “What would you say to a smaller operation? What advice do you have?” 

He said,

“If you have only one or two stores, you need to be working in the store yourself to be making any money. Hire seven to ten people to be working on your team, but be working yourself. The worst thing you can do is not have enough people.”

We asked him when he knew it was time to scale and start hiring more people. He said,

“You, as the owner, need to know what you want. Do you want to work fulltime and stay involved? Or, do you want to hire a Clay, a GM, to be in charge? Three stores is the limit. At three stores you have to have someone in charge, someone who really works in the store and knows what’s going on. And then be willing with that person. Be willing to listen and trust someone who does it everyday.”

Paul is now a member of the Smoothie King Franchise Advisory Council as one of the key leaders who gives voice to hundreds of Smoothie King owners and operators across the nation. As a leading multi-unit franchisee, he has had the opportunity to share his advice with owners and operators nationwide, and those who are most deeply involved in his business (his hires) are still where he says all business starts and ends.

Brennon and I leave the interview with a takeaway that will keep us going back for a smoothie we already love:

Good people hire good people, and they make the best smoothies.