Mrs. Fields Cookies are famous around the world for baking cookies made to a traditional recipe with no colours and no preservatives. There are almost 500 Mrs. Fields stores in 19 countries, including 17 stores in Australia. Mrs. Fields Cookies Australia is now looking for new franchisees to join this dynamic and growing company.
Mrs. Fields Cookies commenced operations in Australia in the 1980s, as a subsidiary of the Franchisor, Mrs. Fields Cookies of the United States. In December 1994, Cookies Australia Pty Limited acquired the Australian Master Franchise rights to Mrs. Fields Cookies from the United States.
Seeing an opportunity for growth of the concept in Australia, Debbie Benefield (pictured) and her husband Andrew acquired the Australian Master Franchise from the previous owners in 2006.
Mrs. Fields Cookies Australia is proudly a 100% Australian owned company based in Sydney. It has set about rationalising, revitalising and “Australianising” the business and a totally new look concept was developed specifically for the Australian market.
Debbie Benefield told Australian Women Online, “We have refined the systems that were in place when we bought the business and introduced new products into our stores.”
Debbie’s knack for marketing and consumer relations brought a refreshed presentation to the stores, a more Australian flavor. Some of her new concepts include the Cookie Club (free membership) which gives customers a special deal every time they shop at a Mrs Fields store; the Kids Holiday Pack, which includes a Disney Character Drink and three mini bites; and an array of gift packaging ranging from heart shaped cookie tins to porcelain Santas full of cookies for the festive season.
“We are just about to completely revamp our coffee. Our new supplier has a world champion Barista to help train our staff,” she said.
Another exciting product introduced into the Australian stores is the ‘Cookie Cake’.
Debbie explains, “The Cookie Cake is a big cookie the size of a pizza and you decorate it with whatever you like and it’s all iced for you in the store. You can go off and do your shopping and when you come back, it’s ready.”
The Cookie Cake is becoming an increasingly popular alternative to traditional cakes at birthdays and other celebrations. Since it’s introduction into Australian stores, Mrs. Fields Cookie Australia has experienced 15% growth in the first 3 months of 2008.
“The cookie cakes make up thirty per cent of sales in the United States. The previous owners of the master franchise did try to introduce the concept into the Australian stores but didn’t implement it well,” said Debbie.
Debbie revealed that 10 out of the 17 Mrs Fields stores are managed or operated by women.
“Mrs. Fields stores are great businesses and a lot of them are run by women and our best performing stores are all run by women. We offer flexibility for women because if you can manage your staff effectively and we’ll be there to help you with that, you don’t have to be there all day. Quite a few stores have managers in them and their is the potential to own more than one store.”
“With Mrs Fields franchise Kiosks starting from just $199 000 and Cafes from $240 000, they are affordable and are easily managed by women due to the excellent systems in place. I truly believe that women are actually better at creating that warm and homey atmosphere for customers to relax in, which is a key ingredient to the success of our stores,” said Debbie.
“My vision is to triple our store count in 5 years with 10 new stores due to open in the next 12 months alone.”
“We have a new store in Plenty Valley (Vic), which opened in late May and have already got two other ones in operation since we took over.”
And new franchisees couldn’t be in better hands. Both Debbie and Andrew have an extensive background in running successful businesses in Australia.
After working for her father as a radiator repairer, Debbie went on to manage the second location of the family business. Then shortly after her marriage to Andrew, Debbie started a bridal ware business from home.
“I started a bridal business with $200 and turned it from a small business selling second-hand bridal dresses out of my lounge room into a two store operation turning over $1 million per annum in less than 5 years. I employed not only a manager and sales staff, but also Andrew,” said Debbie.
The couple sold the bridal ware stores when their two children, Sabine now aged 8 and Darcy aged 5, were born. As a stay-at-home mum, Debbie started an online scrap booking business whilst husband Andrew worked his way up the corporate ladder, becoming the national retail manager for Caltex with over 800 stores to look after. Andrew has also worked for a number of other well known franchises in Australia.
With a background in franchising, Andrew was the obvious choice to run Mrs. Fields Cookies when the couple acquired the Australian Master Franchise from the previous owner in 2006. These days Debbie works as the national marketing manager for Mrs. Fields, dividing her time between working in the office and working two days a week at home.
I would like to thank Debbie Benefield for speaking with Australian Women Online.