05 Jul

We Olive branches out

By Melanie Cleveland,

One of four franchises of the Paso Robles based gourmet shop is slated to open later this month in downtown San Luis Obispo, and its owners hope its prime location translates to healthy sales

We Olive, a gourmet shop specializing in olives and olive-related products, will open in San Luis Obispo later this month. Owned and operated by Ray and Marjorie Russell of Paso Robles, it is the fourth We Olive franchise in California since Gary and Dee Dee Brown started the first store in Paso Robles in 2003.

The Russells believe the business offers a healthy product for consumers and hope the store at 958 Higuera St. will eventually generate enough profit so they can quit their day jobs and focus solely on the store.

Ray Russell currently is a facilities manager who commutes every week from Paso Robles to the Silicon Valley. Marjorie Russell works as a hazardous material specialist at Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant.

“It has been my dream to run my own business, stay on the Central Coast and spend more time together with my wife and two girls,” Ray Russell said.

After studying the original We Olive store’s sales in Paso Robles, the Russells are counting on making at least $10,000 a month in sales to start, said Marjorie Russell.

“Nothing’s outrageously priced, there’s lots of pedestrian traffic and every product in the store can be tasted for free,” Ray Russell added.

The Russells said they chose to open a We Olive store because it was relatively inexpensive to invest in the franchise.

“We thought $75,000 to own the whole thing was really reasonable,” Ray Russell said.

To transform the 1,150-square-foot space on Higuera Street into a Tuscan oasis, the couple spends weekends wearing gloves, knee pads and nose masks as they jackhammer the floor to put in their olive tasting bar, remove ceiling tiles, crawl on their hands and knees to grind down the floor, strip out the old carpet and tiles, and stain the newly exposed concrete.

“The challenge is to give the store more volume — and make the space more presentable,” Ray Russell said.

The building — just a few storefronts away from the Court Street shopping area — has been home to three other retail businesses over the last 75 years. A camera and photography store since 1942, Cal Photo was bought by Dave Kastner in 1996 but then closed in 2001.

The store then morphed into Gary and Meg Wallace’s Edge-ware Cutlery and Gifts until they sold the business in 2006 to Jesse Norton’s Mr. Absolute, which offered specialty goods targeted for men. However, the space has been vacant since the spring, when Norton closed his shop and moved out of town after being open for less than a year.

When hearing that We Olive was coming into his old photography space, Kastner said, “This town has been steadily reinventing itself toward more upscale customers. The size and location of the We Olive store will be a good space to sell its high-value products.”

Kastner now works as the film and technology manager and assistant film commissioner for San Luis Obispo County Visitors and Conference Bureau.

Kastner closed his doors despite what he called reasonable rent — about $2,000 a month. (The Russells will pay more than $5,000 a month, according to their landlord, John Rossetti, who co-owns the building.)

We Olive franchiser Gary Brown, who has sold three other We Olive franchises — one in Fresno, and two more to open soon in Riverside and San Francisco — declined to project the sales he expects the franchised store will generate in San Luis Obispo. Nor would he disclose his Paso Robles store sales.

But he believes the San Luis Obispo location will generate at least twice as many sales as his original Paso Robles store, given its downtown location and heavy amount of pedestrian traffic.

How WE OLIVE’S Franchises Work
Paso Robles couple Gary and Dee Dee Brown started We Olive in 2003; the franchises came after customers, such as the Russells, asked how they could start the same kind of store in different locations.

For each new store, the Browns are paid a franchise fee of $18,500. An additional $60,000 to $70,000 is needed to set up the new store, according to the We Olive blueprint and product guidelines.

“We work together to have the same quality, same product and same education in each store, just like a Subway or McDonald’s does,” Brown said.

After the new We Olive store is opened, the Browns will receive a 6 percent royalty on all We Olive gross sales.

Brown declined to disclose his Paso Robles store sales.

For more about Paso Robles’ We Olive store and its franchises, visit www.weolive.com.

[Source] Click here

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