What We Can Learn From the Cold Stone Creamery Franchise
by Ed Teixeira
The Cold Stone Creamery franchise is replete with a history of problems
that include franchisee lawsuits and an expose in the Wall Street Journal. Learn
why this franchise was destined to have problems right from the start.
I can recall when a Cold Stone Creamery opened less than 10 minutes from my
house in a strip mall on Long Island. It was about four years ago and being
someone who enjoys a good dish of ice cream I paid a visit to what was then a
highly publicized franchise concept. After my visit I can recall telling my wife
that Cold Stone ice cream was not worth the high price. That particular
franchise closed two years later. Before reading glowing reports about the
phenomenal growth of the franchise, including its high rankings in the
Entrepreneur 500, personally I had known very little about Cold Stone.
I became more familiar with Cold Stone Creamery while consulting with a
business brokerage group. This firm represented several Cold Stone
franchisees who listed their franchisees for sale. All but one was losing money.
Since I had a reason to view the Cold Stone franchise agreement, it became
obvious to me why these franchisees were looking to sell.
In June 2008, the Wall Street Journal published an article reporting that a
large number of franchise locations, approximately 16-20%, of Cold Stone
Creamery franchises closed, or were being put up for sale by their owners. The
article included claims by franchisees that the company had misrepresented the
average revenues of Cold Stone stores and acted in ways that reduced stores'
profit margins. Part of the problem, according to the Wall Street Journal, was
Cold Stone’s rapid expansion in its earlier years, placing new stores too close
to old ones, which hurt sales. Many times, this led to inexperienced franchisees
buying into bad situations.
I could include other negative articles and anecdotes about Cold Stone;
however, suffice it to say that this had the makings of a flawed franchise
I looked at the 2007 Cold Stone Creamery franchise disclosure documents and
there were obvious signs that pointed to potential problems. Following are
several signs that stood out:
- The site location and leasing requirements for a franchisee
included the requirement that a real estate broker from the
franchisor’s approved list be used. Failure to use a franchisor
approved real estate broker would result in a $5,000 fee to be
paid by the franchisee to the franchisor “in connection with
training your real estate broker regarding our requirements and
reviewing the letter of intent.”
- The franchisor disclosed that approximately 52% to 58% of
franchisee purchases and leases of goods and services will be
for items purchased or leased through Cold Stone “acting as a
broker on your behalf” The franchisor reported that it earned
over $6 million dollars in rebates from vendors and suppliers
from franchisee purchases in 2006. The franchisor disclosed that
these monies were used for general operating purposes, including
but not limited to, salaries of personnel that assist
franchisees increase their profitability and for other purposes.
Remember this last sentence.
- The franchisor states that they will consult with the
franchisee by telephone. If the franchisor, in its sole
discretion, offers additional assistance to a franchisee then
the franchisee will be charged an hourly fee, plus travel,
lodging and meal expenditures. In other words we don’t make
field visits to franchisees, but if we do then the franchisee
- When it comes to a franchisee territory Cold Stone discloses
that there is no exclusivity, moreover another Cold Stone
franchise or corporate owned locations may be located across the
street or even in the same building.
- Two Cold Stone Area Developers and one Cold Stone
Senior VP had filed for Chapter 7 under the U.S. Bankruptcy
Code. This is not intended to cast dispersions on individuals
who seek relief under our bankruptcy laws, however, I don’t
recall in my entire franchise career of seeing three individual
Chapter 7 filings by franchisor staff in one disclosure
I could have included additional items on this list but it really isn’t
necessary to my point that this was a flawed franchise program.
Here are some important things we can learn from the history of Cold Stone
- When a franchisor earns a significant income from franchisee
purchases, yet, provides virtually no field support. Be wary.
- An arrangement that penalizes a prospective franchise for
using a real estate broker that is not part of a so called
approved list is patently unfair. The term mandatory should be
substituted for approved.
- A franchise agreement that provides a franchisee no
protection whatsoever from competition from another franchise or
corporate unit and allows them to be in the same building. In
terms of the amount of the franchisee investment this lack of
protection was unfair. There is no territory exclusivity
- Beware of the fast growing franchise programs that are on
everyone’s Top 10 lists but can’t produce many profitable
- A bevy of area developers coupled with fast track franchise
growth can be a warning sign.
- Franchisor staff that included individuals with prior
The numerous failures of Cold Stone Creamery franchisees could be laid at the
feet of the franchisor, franchisee counsel and yes, even those franchisees who
were caught up in the hype of what was then a “hot” franchise opportunity. After
all, there was enough disclosure in the franchise documents to set off numerous
I can’t comment on the current Cold Stone Creamery Franchise Disclosure
Document and its franchise agreement; however, I do know that if I had reason to
review the 2007 UFOC for a prospective franchisee I would have told them to walk
away in double time.
© 2012 FranchiseKnowHow, LLC
Ed Teixeira is the President of FranchiseKnowHow, LLC. He can be reached at