- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 8, 2003

MaggieMoo’s International is dishing up an aggressive expansion plan that includes more stores domestically and its first foray internationally.

The Columbia, Md., ice cream franchiser, which makes its own dairy desserts, has 90 franchised MaggieMoo’s Ice Cream & Treateries and two company-owned stores. The company is on track to have 130 stores by year’s end. At least one of them will be the first outside the country.

“Ultimately we’d like to be an international company,” said President and Chief Executive Officer Richard Sharoff, pointing to the company’s name. “We wanted to get a foothold in the United States first.”

MaggieMoo’s has just signed a deal for 15 stores in Thailand, a country that Mr. Sharoff says has the potential for three times that amount.

But while international development is important, it is secondary to MaggieMoo’s domestic expansion.

Locally, MaggieMoo’s will open its first franchise in the District in mid-July. The Adams Morgan shop will be the 12th location in the Washington-Baltimore area. Mr. Sharoff estimates that the entire area can handle 35 to 50 stores.

MaggieMoo’s is looking at expansion opportunities throughout the country.

“We’re compelled to continue to grow in every market,” Mr. Sharoff said. “It’s important to have market penetration.”

Mr. Sharoff says MaggieMoo’s has the potential for thousands of shops around the world, but he isn’t looking that far ahead. His goals are much more manageable — conservatively estimating that 300 stores will be open by the end of 2005.

MaggieMoo’s is part of the nearly $21 billion ice cream industry.

However, the industry has grown only slightly during the past five years, according to the International Diary Foods Association.

Sales of frozen dessert away from home such as in scoop shops and restaurants, hovered at $13 billion, about the same as the previous three years.

Industry familiars such as Carvel Corp. and Baskin-Robbins continue to grow. Soft ice cream giant Carvel, which has more than 375 franchise shops, is adding stores and revamping existing ones. Baskin-Robbins, which serves more than 10 million people per week worldwide, has joined with Dunkin’ Donuts and Togo’s to create more expansion opportunities.

While every ice cream provider is competition for MaggieMoo’s — from Baltimore’s Lee’s Ice Cream shops to Ben & Jerry’s — the Columbia franchiser competes directly with two other “mix-in” concept chains, Cold Stone Creamery, based in Scottsdale, Ariz., and Marble Slab Creamery, based in Houston.

The made-to-order desserts the companies feature allow customers to pick their own goodies to be rolled inside the ice cream on a frozen granite or marble slab — depending on the chain.

“Customizing and making your own [concoction] certainly has its appeal,” said Lynda Utterback, publisher of the National Dipper, a bimonthly ice cream publication based in Illinois.

Marble Slab, which has 195 stores open and 95 more under development, was the first of its kind to open in 1983, followed by Cold Stone and MaggieMoo’s. The company’s goal is to have 500 stores open by 2005.

Cold Stone is more than four times the size of MaggieMoo’s, with nearly 400 stores nationwide. Its goal is to have 1,000 stores open by the end of 2004. It also plans to have about 70 to 85 stores in Maryland, Virginia and the District in the next three to five years.

“Our growth can account for how we are leading the industry,” says Kevin Donnellan, communications manager at Cold Stone. “There’s such a demand nationwide.”

Mr. Sharoff says his company, Cold Stone and Marble Slab will grow to dominate the ice cream industry, but MaggieMoo’s has a leg up on the competition because of its concept.

“We have a better branding opportunity,” Mr. Sharoff said.

The company’s signature spokeswoman, Maggie, a cartoon cow, is helping to get the message out about the company and drawing people into the stores, which are animated with flashy colors, such as hot pink and aqua.

MaggieMoo’s makes all its ice cream at each of its stores, which display about 24 flavors at a time, rotating in new flavors on a regular basis. New flavors are tested at the year-old company-owned store at the Mall in Columbia.

Customers can choose from dozens of mix-ins such as candies, cookie dough, fruits and nuts. The mix-ins are hand-folded into the ice cream on a frozen granite table. The flavors range from French vanilla and chocolate to grape bubble gum, cotton candy and pumpkin pie.

The MaggieMoo’s concept will be the same overseas: homemade ice cream, plenty of flavors and a variety of mix-ins added at the customer’s request. But the biggest difference in Thailand will be the variety of flavors, which will include green tea, lychee nut, mango and guava to fit in with the Thai culture, Mr. Sharoff said.

Mr. Sharoff, a former Boston Market franchisee, bought MaggieMoo’s, a small Kansas City, Mo., ice cream chain, in 1996. The concept was updated, the stores were redesigned, and Maggie, known as the “vixen with the mix-ins,” was created. About two years ago, the company received venture capital for expansion.

MaggieMoo’s has signed franchise agreements for 237 stores. The company expects to receive more than 6,000 inquiries from potential franchisees this year.

Mr. Sharoff won’t disclose annual sales but said the company has grown 76 percent from the past year. He says it can continue the pace.

“Things are pretty crazy around here — an exciting crazy,” Mr. Sharoff said.

“We hope to keep that growth rate up.”

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