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Q&A: Yogurt chain leapfrogs competition

Al Harris May 9, 2011 40

In about two years, Derek Cha and his wife, Mi Jung Kim, have grown their local frozen yogurt operation from one location to 10 — with just as many new outlets planned for the next year.

In 2009, the couple opened Sweet Frog, their first self-service frozen yogurt shop, in Short Pump. They have expanded to Chesterfield, Richmond, Charlottesville, Lynchburg and Williamsburg. Over the next year, Cha says, they plan to develop another 10 locations, pushing into Northern Virginia, Virginia Beach and North Carolina.

Customers fill a bowl with any number of frozen yogurt flavors and add as many toppings as they like. The cost is 39 cents an ounce.

BizSense caught up with Cha at the company’s corporate store in Carytown to talk about how he grew so quickly and his plans to expand the business.

Richmond BizSense: Where did the idea come from?

Derek Cha: My wife and I started this company. We are both Christians and were praying for another venture. We were doing another business but because of the economic slowdown we were looking for a new business. There are similar types of [frozen yogurt] businesses in California and New York, so I decided to get into this industry.

RBS: What was the other business?

DC: It was a picture framing business in Short Pump.

RBS: How have you been able to expand Sweet Frog so quickly?

DC: The Carytown location is our corporate location. The rest of them are owned by others, and we license the concept and name. The license fee is 4 percent of sales. We develop the locations and sell them. We are working to become a franchise.

RBS: Did you plan on growing so quickly?

DC: We knew that once a lot of people knew about us and saw our concept and tasted the yogurt we were going to open up stores, but not this fast. We are growing faster than we could have dreamed of.

We operated the first one a full year and during this time received several inquires wanting us to do another location. On July 7, we opened our second location in Chesterfield on Hull Street, and that one took off stronger than the first one. A whole lot of inquiries came through that took us to our third and fourth stores.

RBS: Why do you think your brand has become popular?

DC: We named it Sweet Frog, using frog as an acronym for Fully Rely on God. Ever since then, through God’s blessing, we have been very successful. The Sweet Frog name is very memorable and catchy, and the logo is a big hit with kids. It is easy for kids to say by name that they want to go to Sweet Frog. The pink and lime green colors make people really happy.

RBS: The frozen yogurt shop is a hot trend in the food world. Is it competitive?

DC: Very. It is a hot trend and one of the fastest growing concepts. We feel we have the edge — our quality of yogurt is fantastic. Before launching, I started tasting all the different yogurts available and wanted to make sure I use certain ingredients to make ours premium.

RBS: You launched in 2009. Did you feel it was a risky time to start a retail business?

DC: I do feel like retail is at a tough point economically, but even in this hard time people are willing to pay $2 to $4 for a fantastic dessert.

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40 Comments »

  1. Eric Perkins May 9, 2011 at 7:06 am - Reply

    “Working to become a franchise”? Looks like they might already be one. If there’s a fee, a trademark, and training/marketing assistance involved, then as Jeff Foxworthy would say, “You might be a franchise.”

  2. Karen Cole May 9, 2011 at 7:34 am - Reply

    Congratulations to them and their family. What a great success story!

  3. Bill Morris May 9, 2011 at 8:46 am - Reply

    Derek sponsored our girls winter indoor soccer team this year and the girls were thrilled to wear their Sweet Frog uniforms (which he supplied at no cost.) We all love Sweet Frog and probably go there more than we should. I suppose they are a victim of their own success because there is often little room to move at some locations and seating can be hard to come by. Note to Derek: Larger spaces with more seating for future locations. Also, “$2 to $4 for a fantastic dessert” sounds great. I wish that was what we spend for our 4 children, but it’s closer to double that. Perhaps it’s the overflowing toppings, but I’d challenge anyone to create a $2 Sweet Frog dessert that’s not a half empty cup. All that said, I’m certain we’ll be back soon to enjoy our family’s newest favorite treat. Best of luck Derek and thanks again for the t-shirts!!

  4. Igor May 9, 2011 at 9:32 am - Reply

    This is a good story and I am happy for them but as Eric mentions it sounds like they are already a franchisor and should probably start worrying about complying with all those pesky franchise registration/disclosure requirements…

  5. Annie Marino May 9, 2011 at 10:39 am - Reply

    The concept is sound. The product is tasty. And the self-service aspect is nice. But why don’t they have the courage to make it 100% clear that F.R.O.G. stands for “Fully Rely On God” and the God of the Christian Bible as well? Are they afraid that this will hurt their sales? If so, why don’t they also pray for divine assistance in addition to the marketing campaign dollars. Again, a great concept, but be clear who you are as a Christian is my suggestion.

  6. Champe Granger May 9, 2011 at 11:30 am - Reply

    We were in the Carytown shop on Friday and it was a mob scene – good for you guys. The ambiance is fantastic – very hip and trendy. As a friend said you are ‘Making yogurt cool again:)’

  7. Henry Clifford May 9, 2011 at 3:55 pm - Reply

    We went to their Chesterfield place on Friday. My kids kept asking for “Sweet Frog.” I had no idea what it was. I walked in. Holy cow. A salad bar for fro-yo. Genius. I wish these folks all the best and hope the barriers to entry keep the copycats away for as long as possible!

  8. Rachel Price May 9, 2011 at 5:30 pm - Reply

    @Annie Marino – SweetFrog is very clear about the foundation of their business. They have the acronym “Fully Rely On God” posted in all of their stores and this article is further proof of how open they are to talking about their faith as a major aspect of their business.

  9. Mary Lee Schultz May 10, 2011 at 11:53 am - Reply

    I love their yogurt. The flavors are great and it is healthy. Thanks for giving me an alternative to Ice Cream.

  10. Annie Marino May 11, 2011 at 8:45 am - Reply

    @Rachel Price – thanks for the reply, but in the interview above, Mr. Cha said “…ever since then, through God’s blessing, we have been very successful.” So perhaps you can tell me why God would be interested in supporting the sale of frozen bacterially fermented cow’s milk when he, presumably, could just as easily have “held” the earth in place and avoided the devastating 9.0 mag earthquake that killed thousands of innocent people, caused billions of dollars worth of damage and shifted the earth’s axis by 4 inches? Isn’t it the height of arrogance to suppose that God is willing to help you in your little business, but not willing to help all these other people? Remember, Mr. Cha is the one that said this – not me. Thanks again for your time.

  11. SteveS May 11, 2011 at 3:54 pm - Reply

    @ Annie Marino
    I’m afraid you’re in the wrong location to dabate about faith or the lack there of. This is a business news site where you asked a question and it was answered. If you don’t like the answer it’s not our responsibility as readers to give you the answer you want. If you want to use it as a soapbox I recommend you move along. The answers you seek will not be found here.

  12. Annie Marino May 11, 2011 at 4:25 pm - Reply

    @SteveS – Thank you for the civil response. I thought that my question was very relevant to business, promotion and marketing (and how they can/should intersect with personal beliefs). I’ll admit that I was being a little cheeky in my comment , but the general idea of my point remains… are small business owners really well served when they get on *their* soapboxes and make a hidden attempt at religious proselytization? I suppose what I’m really saying is that Mr. Cha should give all the credit to his vision, his hard work and the support of his family (and maybe a little luck), rather than giving some credit to an invisible and unproven deity that seems to get all the credit for anything good that happens… but never any of the blame. Now *that’s* simply bad business sense. :-)

  13. Shelly Sands July 3, 2011 at 10:38 am - Reply

    It sounds to me like they are capitalizing on their religious beliefs to appeal to Christians. That’s fine. They wouldn’t be the first.

    However, this reminds me of the moneychangers in the temple that Jesus got so angry with and ran out of the temple. They are using the name of God to make money.

    I would feel duped if I went in for a yogurt and found that I had unwillingly contributed to their exploitation of Christ.

  14. Annie Marino July 11, 2011 at 8:41 pm - Reply

    @Shelly – totally agree. And what does “Fully Rely On God” (FROG) really mean anyway? Did Mr. Cha fully rely on God when he tried to get his business on the ground. I can promise you, that if he did, he would not be enjoying the success that he is today. Either that, or he does not understand what the word “fully” means. He can’t have it both ways.

  15. Lola July 16, 2011 at 4:44 pm - Reply

    I love the yogurt. Its a healthy alternative to ice cream. I probably go once a week. However, I live in Lynchburg. And though I am Christian, I am ‘anti-Liberty University’. I feel like they are taking over the city. I have heard part of the procedes go straight to them into destroying more of Lynchburg. I actually know people who boycott Sweetfrog because of this. I just wanted to inform and get an answer about this. Thank you.

  16. Suzie Dupree July 24, 2011 at 4:51 pm - Reply

    We are getting a Sweet Frog in our town, Pineville, LA. They are working on construction right now. We can’t wait for it to open! Love the FROG idea!!!

    God Bless y’all!!

  17. Justin Simpson August 24, 2011 at 10:04 am - Reply

    Lola….You listen too way many rumors. Also, how is Liberty ruining the city? If it wasn’t for Liberty you probably wouldn’t be enjoying Sweet Frog once a week.

  18. Mark T Holland September 13, 2011 at 10:02 am - Reply

    Give credit where credit is due. Don’t like the theology? ..don’t support the store.

  19. courtney comer September 26, 2011 at 4:28 pm - Reply

    I just visited Va Beach over the weekend and Sweet Frog was right beside our Hotel so I was curious about what it was and I went in and before I left I visited the place 3 times I loved the yogurt and fresh fruit was awsome.So when I got home to Madison Heights I made my boyfriend drive me to Lynchburg to get another one.I can say im so addicted to these wonderfull deserts..Love them..

  20. Sue Christiansen October 12, 2011 at 5:50 pm - Reply

    I was visiting my daughter in Richmond and she took me to the Short Pump Sweet Frog! It was delicious, the shop is cute and cozy, the colors are vibrant and we would LOVE to become owners of Sweet Frog where we live up here in Northern Virginia. Cha, if you are reading this, please contact us, so we can discuss the future!
    Thank you!

  21. Lisa October 26, 2011 at 5:19 pm - Reply

    I tried Sweet Frog in Lynchburg and absolutely fell in love with it. I also live in Northern Va and would be interested in getting more information about owning a franchise here. Please email me. :)

  22. Lanny Correll November 2, 2011 at 3:52 pm - Reply

    I AM INTERESTED IN OPENING SWEET FROG IN SC PLEASE CONTACT.
    email address – doctorgolf@sc.rr.com

  23. Mandy Kim November 10, 2011 at 11:47 am - Reply

    I am interested in a Sweet Frog Franchise. I am a Korean American born in Daejon S Korea. Looking to establish a business here. I live in Alexandria, Virginia, but I would consider a location in other areas. Thank you for the opportunity.
    Regards,
    MiHyang Kim

  24. Mandy Kim November 10, 2011 at 4:30 pm - Reply

    Dear Mr Cha, and Ms Kim,
    I am interested in a Sweet Frog Franchise. I am a Korean American born in Daejon S Korea. Looking to establish a business here. I live in Alexandria, Virginia, but I would consider a location in other areas. Thank you for the opportunity. Cell 703-731-4230
    Regards,
    Min Jung Kim

  25. George McIntyre January 9, 2012 at 2:09 pm - Reply

    I have a business location and would like to discuss the potential of doing business with Sweet Frog. Thank you, George McIntyre 540-636-6329

  26. Lois February 2, 2012 at 3:27 pm - Reply

    What are the ingrediets

  27. Sandy Chamberlain February 12, 2012 at 2:37 pm - Reply

    Are You Interested in Expanding this Franchise into Australia soon?
    As we might B interested?

  28. Russell Colyer February 20, 2012 at 12:11 pm - Reply

    Hello Mr and Mrs Cha. Have a wonderful location in Chesterfield for a new store. The building has been vacant for about 2 years now and I just know that it would be a success as a Sweet Frog store with lots of traffic. Please contact and congrats for the artical in the Times Dispatch today. 804-512-9641

  29. Julie Berry March 4, 2012 at 9:10 am - Reply

    Please contact me, I’m interested in opening a store.

  30. Roxanne March 5, 2012 at 8:46 am - Reply

    I love Sweet Frog as well as the name and meaing behind it. As a Christian I am happy to support Christian businesses – beside that, it is yummy! I find it interesting that people are critical of the owners for speaking about their faith. I, for one, applaud you!!

  31. David T March 10, 2012 at 3:58 pm - Reply

    Awesome concept, great product, would love to see these colors and this brand in NASCAR. Would not matter how the car runs, with their colors, it would always been seen. plus in todays social mediam, I believe it would take over the nascar garage being a new sponsor to the sport

  32. Rick March 15, 2012 at 7:55 am - Reply

    Annie, Steve: are you saying you can’t be a Christian and run a business at the same time? Just because you disagree with their world view doesn’t mean they can’y operate a business-that’s crazy! By your definition, a Muslim, Buddhist, or atheist can not be be a yogurt shop owner too?

  33. Brandon Millarr June 18, 2012 at 10:21 pm - Reply

    You guys read way too much into this. This is exactly why people don’t advertise their religous views they named the store SWEET FROG because their prayers in their beliefs lead them to this kind of business. Get off their back and if you don’t like it don’t eat there obviously you guys are supporters or you wouldn’t be on their web site. Get over yourself and stop questioning there beliefs and just accept that they thought of a simple but genius business and is offering it to anyone wanting to buy into the franchise. After all I’m sure there are things we can question in your daily lives if you were willing to conduct an interview on your beliefs!

    Great business idea I’m glad you thought of it!!!

  34. George Smith July 30, 2012 at 1:09 pm - Reply

    I am interested in a Sweet Frog franchise opportunity. Please email me with details.

    Thank You Kindly-

  35. Terry Masciana October 7, 2012 at 2:05 pm - Reply

    I AM VERY INTERESTED IN OPENING A SWEET FROG IN N.Y…. DUTCHESS COUNTY. I HAVE THE PERFECT LOCATION FOR A BOOMING BUSINESS. PLEASE CONTACT ME ASAP…. THANK YOU

  36. patricia October 23, 2012 at 2:16 pm - Reply

    IF you have the LORD in you everything will be great

  37. Amjad Syed February 3, 2013 at 2:13 pm - Reply

    I am interested in a Sweet Frog franchise opportunity in Chesterfield / Richmond area . Please email me with details.

    Thanks,
    Amjad

  38. sean February 4, 2013 at 6:40 am - Reply

    Amjad, you may want to the Sweet Frog website. I don’t think BizSense is dishing out franchises from 2 year old articles.

  39. Noreen Freebairn February 25, 2013 at 3:21 pm - Reply

    After reading the story on how Sweet Frog got started i was surprised to see the angry remarks based on Mr.Cha’s business. Based on why he feels his business is successful is totally his right to say. If he feels God helped him and answered his prayers, then cool. Do you realize that Mr. J.C. Penny was a devote Christian, not to mention the clothing store Forever 21, Tyson Foods, Hobby Lobby, Interstate Batteries, Wendy’s hamburgers, In-and- out burgers, Chick-fil-A….i can go on and on. Give the guy a break and enjoy his yogurt because it’s good.

  40. Stuart February 25, 2013 at 6:10 pm - Reply

    After reading the 2-year old dates on the comments I’m surprised you took the time to respond to them.

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