A new partnership offers students the chance to graduate from Fort Lewis College as the owner of an established and successful business – and to learn what’s needed to keep that success going.
The School of Business Administration has teamed up with the Durango-based Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, one of the largest manufacturers and retailers of quality confections in North America, to offer a course in entrepreneurship and franchising that includes the chance to compete to win and own an active RMCF store.
“I couldn’t be more excited about the possibility for someone to participate in this program, leave Fort Lewis College, and go straight into owning their own Chocolate Factory store. People may think this opportunity is too good to be true, but thanks to our partnership with RMCF, it is a reality,” says Steven Elias, dean of the School of Business Administration.
The semester-long course will teach students the foundational knowledge necessary to explore franchise business ventures via a thorough examination of an active Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory franchise store, which the entire class will study in fine detail throughout the term. Also, although the class itself will be a course in the School of Business Administration, it will be open to all eligible students from all majors and not just SOBA students. The course will also be available to recent FLC alumni.
“We've been intentional to open this up to all Fort Lewis students, as well as recent alumni. If you are a student, you don't have to be a senior studying business, you just have to be a senior,” says Michael Valdez, associate professor of Management, who will be teaching the “Applied Entrepreneurship/Franchise Venture” class debuting Fall 2019. ”What we are doing is creating an environment where everyone can be successful, and it does not matter what major you are or what you studied. We're here to serve the entire college and our alumni.”
The most powerful and unique reward from the program, though, will come at the end, when the students who want to compete for the store they’ve been studying will present their resulting business plans to a panel of Chocolate Factory executives, FLC faculty, and Durango community business leaders. The panel will then award the student with the top plan ownership of that franchise.
“At Fort Lewis College, we are intent on creating opportunities for our students and our community, and this is an amazing, hands-on experience for all of our stakeholders,” says Elias.
“It's an amazing opportunity for any college student today,” says Greg Pope, RMCF's senior vice President of franchise development, and who created the course with Valdez and Elias. Pope also graduated from FLC with a degree in Business Administration in 1990. He was offered a position with the company immediately after graduation.
“For any student to get a good job right out of college is remarkable,” he says. “We not only offer the student a job, but rather an opportunity to be their own boss, own their own store, and have fun along the way. It’s a real win for everybody.”
Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory has 370 stores open worldwide, as well as several yogurt brands in 128 locations. The company’s Durango headquarters is also home to its manufacturing facilities and its own fleet of trucks to ship its top-quality candy to its franchise stores around the world.
"We have a store in downtown Durango, where the students can visit and get a feel for the store dynamics. The students can experience everything from making candy, merchandising, cleaning, helping customers, and everything that goes into owning your own shop,” says Pope.
The FLC course—and the prize of winning an actual franchise—will be offered every fall semester, and will be open to both students who want to compete for the store and those who just want to have the unique opportunity to learn about retailing and franchising in such an intimate way as the partnership with RMCF will offer. The program will also be available to recent FLC alumni.
“We provide the entire package for an existing store located somewhere in the U.S.,” explains Pope. That in-depth package, too, extends beyond just the information and exploration of that RMCF store. Just like in any real-world venture, students will also have a business community to guide and encourage their business skills and plan development.
"We're also going to have it set up to where the student who's awarded the store commits to give five percent of profit back to the School of Business Administration for three years, to instill the importance of giving back," says Elias. "Giving back is like paying it forward."
“Support networks have also been integrated into the program,” Valdez stresses. “Every week the students are going to have direct contact with a current franchise owner, a successful Durango business person, or successful Fort Lewis alumni. The environment that we're creating is one where these individuals become the students' mentors.”
Pope concurs with the importance of developing networking skills and the kind of business community support embedded into the class. “That mentor relationship is critical,” he says. This empowers the students to be leaders on many different levels.”
And as for the annual winner of the business plan competition, who after graduation will suddenly find themself owner and operator of a brick-and-mortar Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory franchise? Well, that assistance and mentorship will continue even after the course ends and their new career as a business entrepreneur begins.
“The winning student will be given the keys to their own shop, and we provide financing at a discounted rate, working capital, moving expenses, and more,” Pope says.