While many retailers are scaling back expansion plans, and some are even closing existing stores to weather the economic downturn, ice cream seller Baskin-Robbins wants to triple the number of its Arizona locations.
Baskin-Robbins, which dubs itself America's favorite neighborhood ice cream shop - a cheeky assertion in Cold Stone Creamery's home turf - hopes to open 90 more stores in the state during the next four years.
Two-thirds of those new stores are planned in or near Maricopa County, said James Franks, the ice cream chain's national director of franchising.
There are already 45 Baskin-Robbins stores in Arizona, 25 in the Valley, a dozen of them in the East Valley.
The hoped-for Valleywide invasion by the 62-year-old chain is part of a plan to expand the 6,000-store brand globally, Franks said. The Valley is a target market, he said.
"The Phoenix area is still growing, and there are still many neighborhoods we're not in," he said.
The hitch is that the company doesn't own its stores - franchisees do.
So Franks is hoping to find lots of business-owner wannabes that have enough faith in an economic recovery to open new stores. With big companies downsizing and slashing jobs, it's not as difficult as it might seem, he said.
"Many people go into business for themselves during an economic downturn," Franks said. "A lot of people may be looking for new opportunities. And (in a down economy) they can find the right real estate for the right price."
He said he already has several new local franchisees ready to sign leases and others in the talking stages. And he plans to hold a seminar next week in hope of attracting more franchisees and getting fence-sitters to sign on the dotted line.
As for finding cash-strapped customers to spend their money at all those new stores, Franks said the ice cream is so inexpensive that it isn't a problem.
"They might not go to Disneyland for a vacation, but they still come to Baskin-Robbins," he said.
And Franks said he's not worried about muscling in on Cold Stone's territory.
"We've faced a lot of competition in 62 years," he said.