Hervé Rousseau has been running the Flûte Bar & Lounge for 12 years, driving effervescent sales at the chic bubbly-focused concept through a range of economic climates. Now, with two locations in New York City and one in Paris, Rousseau will begin franchising the concept in the U.S. next month; franchises became available in Europe this summer. We talked to the French native who spent years in the Champagne houses before launching Flûte about hatching such a venture in today’s economic climate.
NCB: Why franchise Flûte?
Rousseau: After 12 years running this business, I feel I have something to offer to those looking to operate their own Champagne bar. And it’s a very transportable concept; there is a chic and affordable experience for the guest, but no kitchen to equip or operate.
NCB: Still, now is a tough time to launch any new business…
Rousseau: True, but Flûte is a concept that’s been through the tough years. Continuing to operate for 12 years in New York City is rare. We went through difficult times when the economy was bad, and we were open on Sept. 12, 2001. Right now, our locations are running between 0 percent growth and barely a 5 percent decline, which is not bad! We see things improving at all locations and think 2010 will be another growth year. We can prove the concept works even in tough times.
And, there is so much great real estate available right now that the right locations for a Flûte are affordable!
NCB: What cities would be good locations for Flûte?
Rousseau: I see Chicago, Boston and even Washington, D.C., as well as cities like San Francisco or even L.A., where you have a city clientele. But every great party is great because it’s a mix of people, so I think Flûte works best in locations like our Gramercy location in New York, where you have office buildings and then condos where people live and an artsy element right along with a professional one.
NCB: Champagne sales are struggling – even the officials in Champagne are citing severe declines in shipments. How will this impact your plans?
Rousseau: Champagne has been in fashion for more than 300 years, through wars, recessions, everything you can imagine. The guest is more sophisticated now, and understands sparkling wine very well – they know you can have a great experience with it without spending too much money. We believe – because we’ve experienced it over the past 12 years – that the consumer will always have money in their pocket for a drink at Flûte. For $9 a glass, they can have a glass, and with it, a chic, sophisticated and fun experience.
NCB: How will you support your franchisees?
Rousseau: Franchisees need not be from the hospitality industry, but they do need to have a passion for hospitality and a taste for luxury. We are developing our operations and training manuals, and will also send them to the train at the facilities in New York and Paris, and they’ll spend time in Champagne. That’s the fun of this whole concept -- having access to and discovering the world of Champagne. We’ll provide that access.
We also have a great in-house creative department, and we do daily promotions and specials. In July, for example, we ran a promotion with a theme around the “Mad Men” show, with cocktails from that era and great theming. All the promotions will be available to all franchisees. We know in this business you have to be sexy and dynamic – you can’t fall asleep!
Our franchisees will also have access to all the wines and cocktail creations we do [at the corporate-owned locations], so they can bring these great wines and drinks to their guests.
NCB: How is the franchise deal structured?
Rousseau: There is a $45,000 franchise fee, and then 6 percent of sales [royalty] after that. The total cost of developing a Flûte should be $295,000, including the franchise fee but not real estate costs.
NCB: Any interest thus far in the franchise opportunities?
Rousseau: We have 16 candidates in contact with the European franchise team, from locations including Athens and Beijing. Here in the States, we already have two interested parties and the franchise isn’t even available yet. We’ll be marketing it really by word-of-mouth here.
We are confident we’ll sign on one or two agreements in Europe by the end of this year, and will have one to three Flûte locations on their way to opening by the end of 2010.