How a 27-year-old new CEO plans to revive the fro-yo craze at 16 Handles

If a dark-haired man is stacking a pile of chocolate chips and grated coconut on top of your Chocolicious chocolate at 16 Handles in Times Square, he might just be the CEO of the whole thing. Chain.

His name is Neil Hershman, the newly appointed 27-year-old CEO of 16 Handles. And rolling up his sleeves working the weekend shift at the brand’s flagship company happens to be one of his favorite parts of the job. He say Luck that all 16 flavor choices can overwhelm customers; The fun part is explaining that you can take all of them, he said.

“They’ll come back with these cookies,” he said, “and you don’t realize that before someone could stack such fine cookie dough on top of a cup. “However, they made it. That always makes me really happy because then you will see them sitting outside…and they will take pictures with their fro-yo in Times Square.”

It’s a moment Hershman wants customers to enjoy not only in New York City, where 16 Handles is based, but across the country—and possibly, someday, around the world. Right now, he’s focused on expanding the franchise across the east coast with plans to add stores in Florida and Boston while also looking at markets in California.

Trying to move 16 Handles across the country is certainly ambitious, but it fits Hershman’s style. In his teens, he became a master diver and a trained pilot. And even though he’s only 27 years old, he’s been in the business for decades, ever since he sold gum to family members as a child. He left his hedge fund career after college after a Kickstarter campaign for cold coasters raised $150,000 within 20 days. Hershman started investing in 16 Handles in 2019, becoming the company’s CEO this past August.

Building a fro-yo empire will not be an easy task. The first 16 Handles opened in the East Village in 2008, with nine direct competitors within a three-block radius, said Solomon Choi, founder and then CEO, tell Refinery29. That was the beginning of the fro-yo boom of the 2010s—“a time when consumers focused on ice cream substitutes that were tastier but better for you,” says Choi, adding that The novelty of self-service and personalization are also attractive factors.

The brand has 40 stores during the peak of the cold season, down to 30 by 2022, Refinery29 reported. It reflects the rise and fall of fro-yo; The industry’s revenue grew at an annual rate of 22.7% from 2009 to 2014, earning $1.8 billion, according to an IBISWorld report. But the market size of fro-yo stores has decreased since 2014, hit a low in 2020.

However, Hershman may have some advantages when it comes to staging the return of 16 Handles. For one, the fro-yo market is is expected to grow from $1.69 billion in 2021 to $2.14 billion in 2021, thanks to the growing number of health-conscious consumers during the pandemic and new varieties of fro-yo flavors. And 16 Handles flagship store raked in $1.2 million in sales last year. Hershman has also enlisted the help of minority investor and YouTube prankster Danny Duncan as Creative Director to help appeal to a larger audience: Generation Z. Consider the nostalgic desire their own—and other generations in difficult economic times, Hershman may succeed in reviving the fro-yo craze.

The Rise of the Dessert King

Having lived in New York City for a few years, Hershman says he frequents the 16 Handles’ East Village location. That was his first thought when he wanted to enter the food industry, which has always fascinated him.

He clearly saw that, despite having loyal customers, no one really invested in 16 Handles. “I just see so many opportunities to clean it up and make it a better customer experience,” he said, adding that he wants to be part of a growing brand. “It was just the wrong leadership at the time.”

He contacted 16 Handles management three years ago, and together they outlined a plan for Hershman to take over some of the company-owned stores. He said he invested $125,000 to become a franchisor in first place—Murray Hill. With a Small Business Management loan to finance the rest of the costs, he took profits from one store for his next acquisition.

One store turned into three, and then Hershman built two. As the pandemic hit, sending NYC’s real estate market down to record lows, he took advantage of cheaper rents to double down on the brand and opened a flagship store in Times Square earlier in the year. 2021. During this time, he begins his takeover of New York City desserts, opening two Captain Cookie stores and three Dippin’ Dots stores.

With nearly a dozen dessert shops under his supervision, Hershman was poised to take over as CEO of 16 Handles a year later.

He felt that not doing so would be a missed opportunity. “I can take all of these changes, make it better, and in the process turn the company into a much more valuable company,” he said. “But otherwise, I would be like sitting on this basket of eggs and watching them never hatch.”

An innovation, social strategy and many partnerships

What Hershman initially hoped for was “some little simple things” that had turned into a larger passion project.

He’s not worried about customer loyalty: “We’ve got the secret recipe,” he says, adding that he’s more focused on developing a customer expansion strategy and the actual position of the brand. That started with his partnership with Duncan, who is overseeing the brand’s overall vision to appeal to different demographics and experimenting with marketing campaigns. With 6.8 million followers on him YouTube on the channel, Duncan was able to appeal to a younger, male audience—the demographic Hershman was looking to speak to.

Hershman said it is working on the early stages of a new social strategy to engage Gen Z, declining to comment further on specifics but promising that it will help turn 16 Handles into “a brand.” really big”.

Even so, Hershman admits that the ultimate success of a brand is more than just having a good social media presence. “It’s also really about building the right place at the right time and having comfortable places for people who feel safe, open, welcoming and delivering good products,” he said. learn more that the store will be upgraded soon. Building more stores will “slowly rebuild that hype.” He also highlighted new partnerships with brands like Oatly, a dairy alternative that appeals to health-conscious people.

But 16 Handlebars may get even more organic boost thanks to a surge in nostalgia during the pandemic, which entails heartbeat during times of uncertainty or economic turmoil, especially among the younger generations. The fro-yo trend of the 2010s after the Great Recession is back fad from the 1980s. In a post-pandemic world with a recession looming, fro-yo could beckon a return to simpler times.

Hershman recommends young entrepreneurs at similar crossroads to keep their faith. “It’s cliché, but jump up, take the risk. And never really give up.” He points out his journey, explaining that there are many spots that seem impossible to close or get funding and many sleepless nights.

“If you’re not willing to die on your hill, sometimes there’s nothing you can do,” he said.


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