Aaron Stone is the first student winner of a Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory franchise through Fort Lewis College’s Applied Entrepreneurship course. Debbie Smith, director of strategic development, and Fred Sabatini, director of operations, from Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory announced the news Thursday evening at the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory University Program Celebration at FLC’s School of Business Administration. Stone, a senior in business administration, had the best business plan of the semester and won ownership of a Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory store.
“I wasn’t expecting this,” Stone said. “I just want to thank you for the sweet opportunity to do this. It was really informative to learn about the different aspects that go into a business plan. All the classmates did a great job and thanks.”
Students in the Applied Entrepreneurship course with Franchise Venture Program option learned the foundational knowledge necessary to explore franchise ventures, and spent the semester creating business plans to compete for the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory franchise in Peoria, Illinois. The students presented their plans to a committee of SOBA faculty, Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory staff, and area business owners, including Sabatini, Smith, Steve Elias, dean of the School of Business Administration, Greg Pope, senior vice president of franchise development at Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, and Jeff Donohue, area supervisor at McDonalds.
Of three finalists, Stone was selected based on his plan’s merit and presentation.
“After a hard semester of work, we are awarding them with a franchise,” said Elias. “How cool is that?”
The Peoria, Illinois, store is currently operational and successful. Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory will be supporting Stone in a variety of ways, from transition expenses and financing to management training. Knowing students don’t have the capital for moving costs or a franchise fee like career entrepreneurs, Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory will be helping Stone and future student winners in a big way with their financing support.
Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory has 351 stores open worldwide, as well as 92 self-serve frozen yogurt stores operating under several yogurt brands. This fall at their headquarters in Durango, students were able to visit and experience everything from making candy, merchandising, cleaning, and helping customers. They also had one-on-one time with Pope, 1990 FLC Business Administration alumnus.
“These three students really put their heart and soul into this class this semester,” Pope said. “We believe this is the beginning of a unique and positive relationship with Fort Lewis College where students, the college, the community & Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory benefit from the opportunity to mentor, support and develop future entrepreneurs.”
Community support networks were critical to students’ learning during the course. Each week a new speaker from a local business would visit the class with pertinent topics for discussion, like finance management and how to develop positive work culture with employees. Students in the Franchise Venture option then applied their learning to their business plans.
The entrepreneurship and franchising course and competition is open to all FLC students with senior standing, as well as recent FLC alumni. The Franchise Venture competition is optional and the course intimately explores franchising and community networking for non-competitors, too. The course will be offered every fall with a to-be-revealed franchise location up for grabs.
“I’m really glad I took this class, it was totally applicable and I didn’t think it was going to come to this at all,” said Bailey Longacre, a senior Economics major who participated in the course and was a finalist in the competition. “It was a good opportunity to see myself as my own boss and a good starting point.”