2017 MVP AWARDS BY HELEN BOND The Wowi Factor From corporate executive to Hawaiian shirts W hen Mitchell York first came across Maui Wowi Hawai- ian Coffees & Smoothies as a possible investment, the corporate executive immediately passed on the brand, vowing he’d never wear a Hawaiian shirt. Turns out the extraordinary laid-back vibe of Maui Wowi was just what York needed to fully depart from his corporate career in magazine publishing and other e-commerce ventures. York signed on as a franchisee in 2002. He even wrote a book on how the move changed his life. Some 50 Hawaiian shirts later, York is the recipient of the 2017 MVP Innova- tion Award for expanding the ways Maui Wowi serves up fresh fruit smoothies and gourmet coffee, ultimately developing the Tiki Hut catering model the brand uses today. York admits he stumbled upon the catering idea after an event planner booked him for a college event. “That was a big success and very prof- itable—and a lot easier than retail sales,” he says. “So I started focusing on colleges and it snowballed. I now have over 150 regular college accounts and it grows all the time. A lot of things in business seem NAME: Mitchell York TITLE: Franchisee NO. OF UNITS: 3 Maui Wowi Hawaiian Coffees & Smoothies AGE: 60 FAMILY: Married, 3 children, 1 grandchild YEARS IN FRANCHISING: 15 YEARS IN CURRENT POSITION: 15 48 MULTI-UNIT FRANCHISEE IS S UE III, 2017 “The franchisee has to think and act like an innovator and business owner no matter what the franchise is.” 2017 MVP AWARDS Innovation Award Why do you think you were recognized with this award? Maui Wowi’s business model 15 years ago was based on selling smoothies at public events—venues like stadiums and arenas, as well as fairs and festivals. I got my first location at Yankee Stadium. A few years later, I saw an oppor- tunity to create a catering model. The franchisor was flexible enough to allow me to specify new equip- ment that would be more transportable. At their request, I wrote a catering operations manual and trained new franchisees. Today, almost all franchi- sees in the system derive significant revenue—and very high margins—from their catering operation. How have you raised the bar in your own company? Growing sales every year, adding new products (like coffee and espresso catering). What innovations have you created and used to build your company? I developed the campus activities market very early on because I believed college students were a prime market for our products. I now have 150-plus college accounts across the country. I established partnerships with our best operators in other regions so we can coop- erate and jointly benefit from this market. What core values do you think helped you win this award? Fairness to employees and partners, courtesy to clients, and remembering that no one needs what we sell. How important is community involve- ment to you and your company? We cater numerous charity events for diseases and causes we feel strongly about. What leadership qualities are most im- portant to you and your team? Everyone needs to be a leader. We are a small company. All our people represent me, and the brand, every day. I try to influence my team to do the right things and not take shortcuts.