Chocolate vases, squares of vanilla fudge, and sugar-free lemon drops—what better way to grow a business than appealing to the world’s sweet tooth? Margaret McEntire, founder, president, and chief executive officer of Candy Bouquet International, thought so. Her firm is now the largest candy franchise in the world. But it wasn’t always that way. Candy Bouquet started as a one-room operation in 1989, but by 1995, McEntire was looking to expand her business overseas.
McEntire says her biggest challenges have been learning more about business practices in different cultures, gaining key market information, and learning about channels of trade. Educating foreign businesspeople about American franchises is another challenge, and so is describing what a candy bouquet is. The company has had to explain the concept of rolling a candy store and a florist together and making a product that is really all candy.
In 1995, McEntire attended a trade show in Washington, D.C., where she met a trade specialist from the U.S. Commercial Service. That connection led to her participation in a Commercial Service mission to Eastern Europe and introduced her to doing business in foreign markets.
In the years that followed, Candy Bouquet expanded to dozens of foreign countries. The company’s unique franchising system allows individuals to make a single purchase into the franchise and pay no continual overhead. The only requirement is that their supplies must come from the Candy Bouquet warehouse in Little Rock, Arkansas.
“One of the most helpful things I’ve found in doing foreign business is having a person we know in that country to help us out,” says McEntire, referring to the Commercial Service’s worldwide network of trade specialists. She credits much of her success to Dennis Millard, a trade specialist at the Little Rock Export Assistance Center. “When I know a foreign franchisee is coming, I call Dennis at our local U.S. Commercial Service office, and he provides me with solid information on the business practices of that culture.”
Millard has also helped her take advantage of many Commercial Service programs. Candy Bouquet participates annually in the International Franchise Trade Show and has taken part in trade missions around the world. In 1999, McEntire participated in the Women in Business Matchmaker Trade Mission to South America and the Women’s Economic Summit of the Americas in Buenos Aires, Argentina. McEntire is also a frequent participant in Commercial Service global video teleconferencing. She is a regular presenter at the international trade events sponsored by the Little Rock Export Assistance Center and shares her experiences with other businesses that are new to exporting. McEntire also advertises in Commercial News USA, a product catalog produced by the Commercial Service and distributed to more than 400,000 overseas buyers.
With assistance from the Commercial Service, Candy Bouquet has expanded from a single-room operation to more than 700 franchises in more than 40 countries. McEntire says, “Nobody likes to pay taxes but [the Commercial Service] is the best use of my tax dollars.”
McEntire has several lessons to pass along to new exporters:
Find out if franchising is your window to exporting: