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Westerly Sun

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The Malted Barley hopes to franchise throughout New England

WESTERLY — Based on the success of its craft beer and pretzel pairings in downtown Westerly, The Malted Barley will seek to expand its business by franchising locations throughout New England. Owners Colin and Stephanie Bennett said they hoped to award one franchise within the next year, and add an additional one or two locations per year after that.
“We want to be smart about the process and take it slow the first year,” said Colin Bennett. “We’re going to be pretty selective, because it’s important to us to keep the namesake and ensure the franchise owner is someone who is passionate about customer service. And craft beer, of course.”

When the couple first opened their business at 42 High St. in 2011, both said franchising was not a consideration. “Financially, we never even thought about it,” Colin Bennett said. “But within the first week, I had six people ask me if we were franchising, so it started to get the wheels slowly turning.” The Bennetts worked to develop their business from a start-up to a popular downtown hangout for locals and out-of-towners alike, perfecting the recipe for their homemade pretzel dough and 37 beers on tap along the way. After meeting with several different franchise consulting firms, the couple signed an agreement with The Franchise Development Group, based in Buffalo, N.Y., in August 2013. Since then, they have worked with the firm to finalize the legal and operational processes required for awarding franchises. Stephanie Bennett said she was initially opposed to the idea of franchising the business but hoped she and her husband had devised a model that would allow them to preserve the integrity of their idea. “When you hear the word franchise, you just think of this cookie-cutter, soulless entity,” she said. “We don’t want that, and I think we have a lot of great ideas for how to make other Barley locations also have their own sincerity.”

While the original dough recipe, which is featured in the Westerly location in everything from pretzel sandwiches to soups and desserts, will stay the same, Colin Bennett said that franchise owners would have some flexibility in adding to the menu with their own local craft beers and specialty food items. Colin Bennett said he also has worked to develop a series of detailed manuals on everything from inventory, management and start-up training to operational instructions for franchise owners. “Basically, the folks who purchase from us are going to get a turnkey business,” he said, explaining that accepted franchisees would be trained in the Westerly store. “They’re going to be trained in everything from the kitchen to bartending, just to make sure they know everything we know.” Several interested parties approached the couple during the last eight months of the franchising process, according to Colin Bennett, who said he planned to follow up with two interested groups looking to open franchises in Connecticut.

Marc Romanow, a franchise advisor in the New England region for The Franchise Development Group, said he was confident the Bennetts’ idea would attract several interested franchise owners. “What I look for in a business to franchise is a unique business model with transferable, marketable ideas,” Romanow said. “I look for a business that’s well-branded in the area they serve.” Romanow said he often looks at reviews of possible clients’ businesses on Yelp, Inc., a website that offers local business reviews in cities and towns throughout the country. “When I looked at The Barley, I saw a lot of positive reviews,” he said. “I was very intrigued by their business.” Stephanie Bennett also said she thought the business model’s uniqueness would help to make the franchising effort successful. “There’s a lot going on in the craft beer business, but there’s not many franchises for that, especially affordable ones,” she said. “We’re such a small-scale franchise, it’s actually do-able.”

The estimated cost for an interested franchise owner totals between $169,300 and $345,500, according to Romanow. The range stems from several variables, including the size of the space, rent and purchase of new or used equipment and machines, Romanow said. Romanow explained that the franchise firm provides not only legal and operational advice to its clients, but also helps them to find interested franchisees. Over 90 percent of the firm’s clients currently have operating franchises, he said. “We’re very successful as a company,” he said. “And with what The Barley has, I absolutely believe we’re going to be successful with awarding franchises. They’ve got the right attitude, the right experience and background. It’s a win-win situation.” Both Colin and Stephanie Bennett emphasized how franchising would allow them to grow as a business while still having time to devote to their family, including their 16-month-old son, Sam.

“We’re entrepreneurs, but we always put family first,” said Stephanie Bennett, whose parents and three brothers also live locally. “That’s the most important thing.”

nlavin@thewesterlysun.com