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Alumna Profile

Jenny Brown Buha ’93 / It’s always 32º for marketing director of frozen yogurt chain

Jenny Buha and stepdaughters
Jenny Buha poses with her stepdaughters,
Claire, left, and Laura Burr Buha.

“This is a happy business to be in.”

That’s how Jenny Brown Buha ’93 describes her work as director of development and marketing for 32º, a Birmingham-based frozen yogurt bar with 17 stores in nine states throughout the eastern U.S. and an ambitious plan for expansion.

Buha did graphic design for Pizitz Management Group, owner of 32º and the largest U.S. franchisee of Great American Cookie Companies, for three years before joining the yogurt company in March 2010—three months before the first 32º store opened.

“Everything you see in our stores—from signs to cups to wallpaper—I created,” she says.

Buha was promoted to her current position in 2011 and now focuses primarily on franchising. The first 16 32º stores are company-owned, but its newest location—in Louisville’s Summit shopping complex—is a franchised operation.

“Franchising provides a lot of advantages to an individual or a group of partners who want to open a business,” says Buha. “They get a brand name, graphics package, marketing resources, negotiated pricing for food and equipment, and other support that gives their business the best chance of success. Our management group has a different perspective because it’s a franchisee itself, through our Great American Cookie stores. And unlike most franchisors, 32º doesn’t charge markup on any of the products we sell to our franchisees. Our only source of income is a royalty fee that’s based on their sales, so we’re totally focused on helping the franchisee increase sales.”

32º is unique in other ways as well, according to Buha. For example, their yogurt is shipped frozen instead of as a powder base to be mixed with water in the store, which makes it unusually creamy—never icy. The company offers something for everyone: sugar-free and gluten-free yogurts; nondairy sorbets for those who are lactose intolerant; nonfat and low-fat choices; Greek yogurt, which is thicker and creamier than regular frozen yogurt and contains more calcium and protein; and Only 8, a totally natural product made with eight healthy ingredients that Buha says has a near cult following.

Even with such an extensive lineup, Buha is always on the lookout for new products that will create a reason for customers to drive past the competition and come to 32º. “Research and development are essential,” she says. “We have a pipeline of new products that we’re introducing about every quarter.”

An example is the Twister, which allows customers to fill their cups with whatever they like from the 16 yogurt flavors and 50 toppings that are available daily, and then bring it to the counter to be blended.

“Our process doesn’t puree the fruit like most similar methods do,” Buha explains. “It will pop some of the berries and add juice, but it doesn’t crush them.”

32º’s newest product is Bottomz baked goods, launched last fall to create an option for customers who might not be as likely to visit a yogurt shop during colder months. Customers can order either a warm, freshly baked chocolate lava cake, fudge filled chocolate chip cookie, or apple pie in the bottom of their yogurt cup, and then they add whatever frozen yogurt and toppings they desire.

“If they were plated differently, Bottomz could be served in a five-star restaurant,” says Buha.

In addition its distinctive products, 32º builds its business by partnering with the community—especially schools. Spirit nights, when a store donates a percentage of its sales to a nearby school, are extremely popular. The Teachers Offering Positive Reinforcement to Students (TOPS) program, where teachers are provided with coupons for a free cup of yogurt to give to students who do exceptional work, promotes positive behavior. Buha points out that when students come in to redeem their coupons, their family members buy yogurt, too.

Buha relies on the skills she learned through her psychology major at Transylvania when communicating with customers, employees, and franchisees. “I have to customize everything I do to the audience,” she says. “My Transy classes helped me understand how people think and why we do the things we do. That knowledge is unquestionably an integral part of my career.”

Although competition in the frozen yogurt business is fierce, Buha doesn’t foresee another boom and bust situation similar to the one that occurred in the 1990s. That’s because today’s self-serve aspect and extensive options of flavors and toppings make frozen yogurt more than a purchase—it’s an experience. She does, however, expect an eventual consolidation, and that will present a perfect opportunity for 32º to grow.

“We’re here for the long haul,” she says.

Buha is married to Jason Buha, head men’s golf coach at Birmingham-Southern University. She travels with him to meets and enjoys running into fellow alumni Brian Lane ’90, men’s golf coach at Transylvania, and Tommy Campbell ’91, men’s golf coach at Centre College. The Buhas have four children: Lane, 12; Grant, 10; Claire, 10; and Laura Burr, 7.
—Martha Baker 

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