When Michelle Huxley was looking for a career change, she and partner John Church visited trade shows, considering opening a food truck. When they decided that idea wasn’t appealing, though, they started talking with a friend from Athens who was a franchisee with a company that had no presence in the Mid-Ohio Valley: Kona Ice.
Church told me that he and Huxley were drawn to Kona for a number of reasons, the main being the fact that the company treats its franchisees like royalty. The company has been rated highest in franchisee satisfaction in the food industry for three years running and this year became number one in the country among all companies. Church said that the top companies on the list are usually small because it’s easy to make fifteen or twenty people happy. Kona, on the other hand, has more than 830 franchises around the country. Adding to that satisfaction for Church and Huxley is the fact that company’s founder, Tony Lamb, is a 1987 graduate of Parkersburg High School and, while he doesn’t give them special treatment, they have easy access to him when they need advice or guidance.
Another large draw for the pair in deciding to buy into the company was its ethos of not just making money but instead of becoming a part of every community in which it has a presence and always giving back through schools and other nonprofit organizations. Church said they are taking that idea a step further in that they have become an official Partner in Education with PHS. Barry Kuhl, the business teacher at the school who oversees the entrepreneurship class with which Kona works, said that that they have received in excess of $1500 back from Kona through sales at the school. “I set a goal of $5,000 in sales for this year,” Kuhl said, “and we’ve already exceeded that.” Their biggest event, the Toughman Contest, took in more than $1300.
But while their relationship with PHS is unique, Huxley and Church work with many schools and organizations throughout the valley. It is that drive to help as many folks as possible that has created their top challenge: not being able to be everywhere at the same time. Church told me that, while he’s gotten better at it, it is hard to say no when a worthy organization comes calling. But the reality is that they have limited personnel and only four pieces of equipment, so they just can’t fulfill all the requests they get. And they get many because of how easy they are to get along with as well as the fact that they give back up to 25% of sales to the organizations with which they work. For example, Church said there were several weekends during football season when they had six or more requests from schools to sell at games. They obviously couldn’t fill all those requests.
Another challenge Church and Huxley have faced is specific to franchisees in West Virginia. Church said that, because of archaic codes regarding school nutrition, the Mountain State is literally the only state in the Union in which Kona Ice is not considered a nutritious snack. In 49 states, West Virginia being the only exception, Kona, which is sweetened with a natural plant extract and includes vitamins and minerals, is eligible for sales on campus during the school day. Because West Virginia is still using legislation it borrowed from California that is a decade old and out of use everywhere but here, they are limited to sales only outside the school day, which makes it more difficult to work with Kuhl’s students directly. But they have definitely not let that stop them.
So, next time you are out in the community and you see Kona Ice being sold, give them a try. It tastes good and it’s not bad for you. And, even more important, it’s a company that is genuinely focused on doing good.