Step inside of Spinners, a self-serve yogurt shop at 3031 Grand Ave., and one gets the impression the store was developed by some savvy franchising company that put years worth of effort into developing a cutting-edge retail concept.
It’s a store of cheery colors, where choices abound. Soft-serve dispensers line one wall where customers serve up their own cones or bowls. At a counter, customers can help themselves to dozens of toppings, such as blackberries, kiwi fruit, nuts and chopped candy bars. Custom-built stainless steel light fixtures and large photos of fresh fruit contribute to a happy, family-friendly atmosphere.
Julie Diehl, who owns Spinners with her husband, Dave, said people have approached them, asking about how they could get their own Spinners franchise. But Spinners is no cog in a corporate machine, and neither is the Diehls’ other local business, Pita Mill in Shiloh Crossing.
Dave Diehl already had extensive experience operating the Orange Julius franchise in Rimrock Mall, Fuddruckers in the Heights and a combined Baskin Robbins and Orange Julius store in Texas when he decided on a business expansion.
Eventually, the Diehls opted to go with their own concept rather than invest in a franchise.
Frozen yogurt has fallen in and out of favor over the past 30 years. Sales took off in the ‘80s as yogurt was marketed as a healthier alternative to ice cream.
It fell out of favor for a while but has staged a comeback in recent years with the advent of self-serve shops that allow customers to create their own portions add their own toppings. An Internet search shows around a dozen yogurt and ice cream shops operating in Billings.
Diehl is glad that he and his wife decided to follow their own path into the market.
“I’ve been in this business for a long time,” he said. “For me, franchises don’t have a lot to offer me, so I don’t need their help. I was a food broker and have owned restaurants for 23 years, so I have more knowledge than what a yogurt franchise could offer me.”
When they set about developing Pita Pit and Spinners, the Diehls had an advantage because they were familiar with current trends, they knew where to go for equipment and supplies, and they knew how to run a business.
The menu at Pita Mill is a cut above what’s offered at similar casual restaurants, Diehl said.
There were some challenges that had to be addressed along the way. Diehl had registered the name Spooners in Montana, but later changed the name to Spinners after learning that a Colorado restaurant chain had previously registered the Spooners name nationwide.
“If you don’t have a lot of experience, it’s nice to have that franchise,” Julie Diehl said. “They give you a blueprint, help you with materials and help you build up to code.”
Many franchises help out with national advertising and promotion. But the Diehls have followed a strategy that relies on local promotion and social media, and so far things are spinning along.