Pivoting an Emerging Franchise Brand Back to Success—Benjamin Woodruff, co-CEO, WOOPS! Macarons and Gifting

Think back to March of 2020 as the economy is getting shut down and imagine you have a business that is 80% mall based. What would you do? How would you address the situation? 

Our guest today, Benjamin Woodruff, shares with us how he navigated this exact situation. Benjami is the co-CEO of  WOOPS! Macarons and Gifting, and he shares how his franchise system shrank by 50% and looked like it could be on the pathway to going out of business. But, in spite of the circumstances, their average unit revenue increased by 1.5 times. Ben shares how he and his company did it in our episode today.


Ben is a very experienced franchise development specialist & executive who has worked with and consulted on hundreds of marketing and franchise recruitment programs since joining the industry in 2008. He has strong experience in finance, franchise development, and franchise operations. Since 2015 Ben has been growing the WOOPS! Macarons and Gifting franchise brand and currently services as co-CEO & Partner.

For those who don’t know our story, we were a rapidly growing franchise brand who very quickly reached 50 locations nationwide heading into 2020. With 80% of our businesses operating out of mall locations we almost lost it all. Throughout COVID we shuttered 25 stores and lost nearly 50% of our revenue. A devastating blow for a young, emerging brand. Over the past 21 months we’ve fought, scratched, crawled, and pivoted our way back to relevance and stability.


This episode is powered by Big Sky Franchise Team. If you are ready to talk about franchising your business you can schedule your free, no-obligation, franchise consultation online at: https://bigskyfranchiseteam.com/ or by calling Big Sky Franchise Team at: 855-824-4759.

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Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (00:00):

Welcome to the Multiply Your Success podcast, where each week we help growth-minded entrepreneurs and franchise leaders take the next step in their expansion journey. I’m your host, Tom DuFore, CEO of Big Sky Franchise team. And as we open today, I’m asking for you to think back to March of 2020. Right around then as the economy is starting to get shut down nationally, globally. And imagine you have a business that is 80% mall based. What would you have done in that situation? How would you have addressed it? And our guest today is Benjamin Woodruff and he shares with us how he navigated this exact situation. Benjamin is the co CEO of WOOPS, Macarons and Gifting. And he shares how his franchise system shrank by 50% and it looked like it could be on the pathway to going out of business. However, in spite the current circumstances they were in, their average unit revenue increased by one and a half times. Ben shares with us how he and his company survived and thrived through that situation. You’re going to love tuning into this interview, so let’s go ahead and jump right into it.

Benjamin Woodruff, WOOPS! Macarons and Gifting (01:12):

Thank you Tom, for having me today. Greatly appreciated. My name is Benjamin Woodruff, I’m the co CEO and partner here at WOOPS, Macarons and Gifting. We’re a young emerging franchise brand and excited to talk a little bit more about our journey today.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (01:30):

Sure, thank you. Thank you so much. And just for background here, what is, WOOPS, give us a little overview on that.

Benjamin Woodruff, WOOPS! Macarons and Gifting (01:38):

Yeah, absolutely. So WOOPS is a very fun, energetic brand. Our main product line is the French macaron, a very tasty light French pastry, pre pandemic, which we’ll probably get into a little bit more in the podcast. We had a bakery here in New York City and we’re making other products and importing various products from around the world. But as we leaned out a little bit through COVID, we wanted to focus on becoming the best macaron company in the world. And that’s 95% of our product sales are our French macarons. And we’ve tried to create a great product and a very approachable brand as well.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (02:27):

Yeah. Well and thank you for sharing that. And one of the things when we connected, we actually met out in New York here and had a chance to connect over at a franchise expo. And one of the things that stood out, what you shared with us in your experiences, you had this great surge of growth and experience that growth and then the coronavirus hit. And so one of the things and why we wanted to have you on is talking about what happened, where you were heading, what were those positive things going on, and then what happened when that pandemic hit and how it impacted your business. ‘Cause it wasn’t positive. And I’d love for you to share some of those trials and tribulations. ‘Cause I think there are some great lessons in there.

Benjamin Woodruff, WOOPS! Macarons and Gifting (03:14):

Yeah, no, I agree. I think looking back now, we’re in the best position that we’ve maybe ever been in, which is pretty exciting. I’ll tell you going into this, it was not a given that we would make it. And I’ll be just transparent and say part of not moving forward was on the table as a discussion point at the very beginning. But you know franchising very well, not a lot of companies grow to 50 locations, even less grow to a 100 locations. We had very quickly grown to about the 50 location mark through franchising. We have a really cool kind of small kiosk model that fits in the malls. It’s about a 5 by 10 space. And then we were also franchising a cafe concept as well. Our main product line being the French macarons and not a huge company, right? About a 50 unit franchise system and heavily based in retail. 80% of our locations were mall locations.

Benjamin Woodruff, WOOPS! Macarons and Gifting (04:25):

And if you can think back to March of 2020, doing business in malls wasn’t a very exciting place to be at that time. So we had to make a lot of tough decisions. We owned through corporate partnerships, friends and family, some corporate owned locations here around New York City. New York City was a ghost town. Our landlord still wanted the rent of course. And so we had to make some tough decisions. We closed the doors on our corporate locations. Sort of an unprecedented thing to do in franchising would be to tell your franchisees they’re free to exit their franchise agreements with little red tape, not knowing at all what the future held for us, what directions we may have to go in to keep the company alive, and…

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (05:23):

So is that what you…sorry to interrupt Benjamin. So is that what you did, you let the franchisees out of their agreement? Is that what you’re saying?

Benjamin Woodruff, WOOPS! Macarons and Gifting (05:30):

We gave them the option.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (05:31):

Okay. Yeah. Okay.

Benjamin Woodruff, WOOPS! Macarons and Gifting (05:33):

We did one on ones with everybody and we were just very honest. We said we’re going to try and create a plan to get through this. We don’t know, it won’t include new franchise development based on where we’re at. We don’t know what the future of retail and mall business looks like at this point, and we’re going to have to try some different things. We looked at three main areas. We looked at launching a wholesale product. We thought maybe trying to get into grocery stores with our macarons might be a good way to go, not knowing the length of the pandemic, et cetera. We already did a lot of corporate gifting. So corporate gifting is huge, it’s a $250 plus billion industry. We already had a lot of products in place for that. So we tried to accelerate our corporate gifting sales as well. And the third main thing we did is we relaunched our e-commerce platform and we tried to increase our sales through e-commerce, online orders, things of that nature as well.

Benjamin Woodruff, WOOPS! Macarons and Gifting (06:47):

So to take a quick step back, we were just very honest with our franchisees and we said, If you don’t want to continue the ride or try and figure out what this may or may not look like, we understand and we’re going to fight to keep the system alive, which we did. And we did. We had about half of them take that option. And I don’t, good, bad or indifferent, it was the right move for each person’s situation, whether to stay in or to go a different direction. And what it netted us was about a loss of 25 of our locations and roughly 50% of our revenue.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (07:31):

Yeah. And I think that that’s a really interesting approach. I mean I like your willingness to do that, albeit certainly was not probably an easy decision to come to, but it’s certainly a franchisee focused scenario. You came in this, looking at this from the vantage point of the franchisee and really making it, giving them the choice to make the best decision for their business and removing a contractual obligation out of it so that they could look at this and say, all right, well what is the best for my business or my specific situation to make that move? And I really appreciate that. I think it gives your franchisees just that comfort of making the move and about half took you up on it and half stayed. So half take you up and go on that. But also half stayed. So now what happens then?

Benjamin Woodruff, WOOPS! Macarons and Gifting (08:31):

Yeah, so politics are different in different parts of the country, right? So we go kind of back through this weird reopening thing where some things were open, some things are closed, but we go into this sort of reopening scenario. Some of our stores start coming back online. And with franchise specifically, we deemed it as, not deemed it, but kind of categorized it as sort of technically like a non non-growth channel. Meaning we weren’t going to add new locations, we discontinued franchise development. But what we did do is we wanted to spend time fixing or growing the actual stores that we had and the people that kept fighting, right? So we looked at really two main areas, Google reviews and average ticket price. And we just got really focused and just kept hammering those home and hammering those home. And so through the pandemic period as we sort of reemerge here, we saw an average ticket price in some of our stores that had gone up close to $10.

Benjamin Woodruff, WOOPS! Macarons and Gifting (09:50):

We saw our franchisees fighting for Google reviews, which went up substantially across the board, which helps with marketing and search and awareness. And interestingly enough, which we didn’t forecast properly, franchise unit economics grew 1.5X throughout the pandemic onto the other side of it, which was kind of a very bright shining light that we didn’t necessarily see coming or certainly wasn’t the forecast that we had heading in, which is exciting. And most credit goes to our franchisees for hanging in, fighting and following a couple simple strategies. And a lot of the credit goes to them for the rise in the unit economics for sure.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (10:43):

Yeah. Well and you mentioned e-commerce, so in franchising e-commerce, as soon as I hear that, my initial thought is thinking, okay, well how did those revenues get shared, if at all? Some franchisors, all e-commerce sales go back to corporate, other franchisors, if it’s in your zip codes or your kind of general territory, they can kind of figure it out. Then there might be a revenue share. So how did you figure all of that out and how did that happen for your franchise situation?

Benjamin Woodruff, WOOPS! Macarons and Gifting (11:15):

E-commerce is complicated and franchising, very complicated. I will say we were trying to stay alive. It’s never been our intention to try and compete with our franchisees for business. Online is very complicated, digital is very complicated. And occasionally, you do get somebody that goes online versus maybe going in a store. But also, I will tell you with our e-comm strategy, digital marketing, you’re constantly trying to grow your user base and people that sort of enter your digital world, right? So one of the other very, very tough decisions we made at the beginning of the pandemic was in a very difficult time, in a very difficult place. Not only did we go through the thing where we lost the locations, but in addition we also started collecting a local advertising fund because we weren’t collecting it before and it wasn’t being spent and there was no local marketing being spent.

Benjamin Woodruff, WOOPS! Macarons and Gifting (12:24):

So as we go into this difficult time, we decided to ask for that fund at this time as well. So throughout the pandemic, fortunately the store sales increased and then in addition to, we were launching a ton of local marketing for them as well. So Google reviews go up, we’re launching individual local landing pages for them and pushing everything back local. And then also with our e-comm platform as well, we do push back to the local levels as well. So the whole design is to try and get as much we can sort of back to the local level.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (13:06):

Yeah, and I think your focus on, again, it’s evident that there’s a clear franchisee focus and I appreciate you going that direction. What is it, when you think about your effort to focus on the franchisee, ’cause in your scenario would’ve been very easy for you to say, well I have to save my stores and I have to keep all the royalties coming in and no one’s let getting let out of their contract and everybody’s going to pay all the fees and all the everything we’ve already agreed to, even though businesses we know it has been shaken and changed up, so much has changed. What was it that kind of led you to have that mindset with your franchisees in this way? Because it’s not every franchisor or business leader is going to come in with that thing. It’s very easy to think very me centric first. So what was it that was that we centric focus for you, for your franchisees?

Benjamin Woodruff, WOOPS! Macarons and Gifting (14:11):

Yeah. I think there’s one main thing. We are, our entire partnership group. It’s kind of unique. We’ve all actually been franchisees before, so we have quite a bit of franchising experience as a franchisor but also as a franchisee. So that’s just generally always been our mindset. And in a way, sometimes there’s things you want to do that pull you back, that mindset. It was a very difficult balancing act when you’re just, ’cause at the end of the day, if the system doesn’t stay off at all, it comes crashing down anyways. So you are kind of inching forward, inching forward, making these decisions, trying to consider all angles for sure. But as we head into 2022, we’re excited, we’re relaunching franchise, we are putting more resources into operations, we’re launching the local marketing, we’re trying to build a better system and a better system to franchise as we keep moving forward here.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (15:21):

Sure, certainly. Well, and I would imagine too, as you’ve come out of this, those 25 or so franchisees that are still in the system that are thriving now and doing well are going to help with validation. I can only imagine that to be the case, to say, well Benjamin and the leadership team were great and they gave us an option. They really helped us through all of these shutdowns and lockdowns and everything else that was going on in the world at the time. I can only imagine that to be the case. How has validation changed?

Benjamin Woodruff, WOOPS! Macarons and Gifting (15:53):

I guess we’ll know better when we get into it. I think it’s a lot better though. I think one of the things that happened when some of the folks exited, some of them were maybe folks that were going to end up in a resale situation anyways. But overall, I think, you try and build culture and franchising, it’s a little bit different than trying to build it within a company or corporation because there’s different dynamics there. But increasing sales, making sure franchisees are successful are always the things that lead to good validation. We’ve got several great leaders on the franchisee side that we’re very excited about that are showing tremendous results. So I feel confident as we get into more store openings that we will get some solid validation and definitely look forward to that.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (16:50):

Yeah, yeah. I love it. Well this is a great time, Benjamin, for us to make a shift here and we ask every guest the same four questions and the first question we ask every guest is, have you had a miss or two in your career or in your current business that you could share and something you learned from it?

Benjamin Woodruff, WOOPS! Macarons and Gifting (17:11):

Yeah, I would. I’ll go back to my career. I am the co CEO of company now. When I started my career, I struggled in school a lot like getting high school, college, and I think my biggest miss is not realizing what my strengths were. So I’m not going to ever be the smartest guy in the room. I’m never going to score the highest on an IQ test. But I am very good at project managing. I’m very good at sales and development. I’m extremely good at communication, have a high, I guess now the term is emotional intelligence. So my miss is not even understanding what I guess emotional intelligence was 25 years ago, or I don’t know if it was a thing then, but not embracing my strengths and rather worrying more about my deficiencies and where I fell short. Which I think slowed me down a lot of my career and held me back a lot in my career until I kind of realized who I was and what I was good at. So I would say that was probably my biggest miss for sure.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (18:29):

Yeah, yeah. Well and how about on the other side? Let’s talk about a make or two. You’ve had quite a career and something you’d like to share.

Benjamin Woodruff, WOOPS! Macarons and Gifting (18:41):

Yeah, for me a make, kind of goes to our company and then also it’s a little bit career as well. I started my career in franchising. It’s been about 15 years ago now. I started selling lead generation services and franchising. So franchise portals, lead gen, which is really how I learned a lot about franchise developments, franchising, attended IFAs, franchise leadership conferences, all of those things. And I had a really good sales career, was financially I guess pretty successful in my role. And I decided to walk away from that to start my own consulting thing. ‘Cause I thought I knew enough about franchising and I could help brands grow. And I went from a nice comfortable work from home, a couple of days income to zero income.

Benjamin Woodruff, WOOPS! Macarons and Gifting (19:45):

I did well my first year, WOOPS, was one of my first clients. And in conjunction with the great team and partnership team that we have here, there was just immediate synergy for us and a great working relationship. And we have a team of partners here that kind of have reciprocating skill sets that sort of complement each other and landing here and then growing this brand very quickly and then almost losing it all and then getting back I definitely think is the big make of my career so far. And hopefully there’ll be some more to come.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (20:32):

Yeah, great. I love it. I love it. And let’s talk a little bit about a multiplier. And I love this question. We get such a great cross section of answers from our guests, but what kind of a multiplier have you used as you’ve grown?

Benjamin Woodruff, WOOPS! Macarons and Gifting (20:48):

So there’s probably two. On a personal level, my multiplier is, I know you’ve seen a lot of this on LinkedIn and everywhere else, especially at the end of the year, but is just a pretty religious routine in the morning, getting up early, immediate workout, kind of getting the body moving, getting rid of some of the stress, getting a good sweat and just that providing better clarity for me throughout the day for decision making, whatever else is going on. Meetings, working with team members. So on a personal level for sure, that morning routine exercise, trying to eat right, those things we see all the time, they work.

Benjamin Woodruff, WOOPS! Macarons and Gifting (21:41):

So on a personal level, it’s that on a business level it always the people that work on your teams. My mentality is kind of like if you follow Gary Vaynerchuk, it’s like work for your team. I’ve spent the last two weeks all day long trying to figure out better ways for people on our teams to be successful, maximize their potential. When we look at a lot of the goals that I look at aren’t necessarily my goals, but for example, one of the gentlemen, my sales team wants to buy a beach house when he retires and I want to help him buy a beach house. So having people that believe in you and that you work for are huge multipliers in life and in your business.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (22:37):

Yeah, and the final question, Benjamin, we like to ask every guest is what does success mean to you?

Benjamin Woodruff, WOOPS! Macarons and Gifting (22:46):

Yeah. It’s definitely not financially driven for me, success for me is really just waking up and doing what I want to do every day. I’m very fortunate, we work very hard and we get up and work very hard every day, but in the day it’s getting up and doing what you want to do every day. And the other kind of part B to the answer is it gets back to the previous question, seeing a junior level person go to a senior level person and helping them get there. Seeing someone in your sales team have a successful month or quarter and helping them get there and just seeing the people in your organization have success for sure is definitely a driver for me and definitely what I would define as success without a question.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (23:43):

Yeah, yeah. Well, and Benjamin as we bring this to a close, is there anything you were maybe hoping to share or get across that you haven’t had a chance to?

Benjamin Woodruff, WOOPS! Macarons and Gifting (23:53):

I don’t think I missed anything, I’m excited. I mentioned this a little earlier that we are franchising again here in 2022, which is the space that we’re all in. I honestly sat here in March of 2020 and I’m not sure whether I would’ve ever said that again. So we’re super excited about that. We’re wrapping up a few things legally and getting some more marketing systems together, but excited to be franchising the brand, excited to be franchising a better model than we franchised pre-pandemic and very proud of our team for getting us to this point to be able to do that again.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (24:40):

Benjamin, thank you so much for a fantastic interview and let’s go ahead and jump into today’s three key takeaways. So takeaway number one is when Benjamin shared with us that they had grown about 50 franchise locations and they had done that quickly through a small kiosk based model with 80% of those locations based in malls. And I think the takeaway there is be prepared. You never know what might be coming your way. Takeaway number two is that they, when the coronavirus went into full force and the shutdowns were happening, they gave their franchisees the opportunity to exit out of their business or exit out of the franchise with no penalty and they lost 25 locations and half their revenue during that time period. I thought that was an interesting take just to allow the franchisees to get out at penalty free. And takeaway number three is that they looked at two areas for growth opportunities that they hyper focused on for their franchisees.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (25:45):

Number one was Google reviews, and number two was increasing the average ticket price. And when they focused on those two areas, their average franchisee increased one and a half times over pre-pandemic numbers. I thought that was just a fantastic takeaway in terms of what being focused can do for you.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (26:07):

And now it’s time for today’s win win. So today’s win-win comes from when Benjamin and his team became hyper focused on franchisee success and franchisee’s success metrics. I found it very interesting that at a time when it would be very easy to be me focused as the franchisor Benjamin and his team decided to be, we focused with the franchisees and that focus allowed them to grow, increase average unit economics, develop new offerings, their e-commerce business, their corporate accounts, and corporate gifting business, and put that in a great position, the company into a great spot to continue to grow and move forward. And so that’s the episode today folks. Please make sure you subscribe to the podcast and give us a review. And remember if you or anyone you might know might be ready to franchise your business or take their franchise company to the next level, please connect with us at bigskyfranchiseteam.com. Thanks for tuning in, we look forward to having you back next week.

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