Episode 3: The Power of Word-of-Mouth Marketing in Franchise Growth with Bennet Maxwell of Dirty Dough

Episode 3: The Power of Word-of-Mouth Marketing in Franchise Growth with Bennet Maxwell of Dirty Dough

May 15, 2024



Bennett Maxwell, founder of Dirty Dough, shares his journey of building a successful gourmet cookie franchise. He discusses the importance of mental health and mindset in finding joy and fulfillment in life. Bennett highlights the key strategies that have contributed to the rapid growth of Dirty Dough, including leveraging word-of-mouth marketing, building a strong brand, and focusing on local store marketing. He also emphasizes the significance of measuring marketing efforts and making data-driven decisions. Bennett's podcast, Deeper Than Dough, explores the emotional and personal aspects of entrepreneurship and success.


  • Building a successful franchise requires a focus on mental health and mindset.

  • Word-of-mouth marketing and referrals from current franchisees are powerful lead sources.

  • Local store marketing plays a crucial role in driving sales and customer engagement.

  • Measuring marketing efforts and making data-driven decisions are essential for success.

  • The podcast Deeper Than Dough explores the emotional and personal aspects of entrepreneurship and success.


Shane Murphy (00:01.738)

All right, welcome back everybody. We are thrilled to have Bennett Maxwell with us today. He is the founder of Dirty Dough, which is one of the fastest growing gourmet cookie brands in the country. And Bennett also has a podcast, Deeper Than Dough, where they discuss finding joy and fulfillment in life by really focusing on mental health and mindset. Really excited to chat with you today, Bennett. Thanks for coming on and sharing a bit of your story with us.

Bennett Maxwell (00:28.324)

Yeah, Shane, I'm excited to be here.

Shane Murphy (00:31.09)

Well, maybe as we kick things off, can you tell me a little bit more about your background and the story behind Dirty Dough?

Bennett Maxwell (00:39.143)

Yeah. Um, grew up in Utah, uh, one of nine kids to a single mom. So that was a little, a little crazy. I was seven of nine. Um, and I, without being rude, I think you stop treating your kids the same after maybe kid number four, right? You're just like, oh, they'll survive. Um, so I mean, it turned out in my favor that in elementary or junior high, whatever.

If I wanted money, it was kind of, you know, go knock doors, sell lawn aeration. A week ago, my dad reminded me, and I still don't actually remember. He's like, I swear it was you. Um, I was selling snow shovels door to door in junior high. So it kind of got me in that entrepreneur mindset. Um, and that's kind of what my background has been is, is sells. I did cutco, served at two year Mormon mission, which is great communication skills. Came back, did pest control, direct TV, Vivint, solar, started solar company.

Shane Murphy (01:17.439)

It's out.

Bennett Maxwell (01:34.599)

bought dirty dose, sold it, sold the solar company focused solely on dirty dough that's been almost three years. So dirty dough is an existing company started at the end of 2018 out of someone's apartment delivery only. He posts on Facebook saying I needed an investor to open up a storefront. So I invested in 2019, which led to the first store opening in 2020. And then at the end of 2020, I was pushing them to franchising it. Um, I lived in San Diego. I wanted to.

open a franchise in San Diego. And he said, you know, I'm looking to get out of it. So I bought it from him with the goal of centralizing all of the production and creating, and then advertising ourselves as the most simple food franchise concept. So we produce all of the cookies, their stuff, they're unique. There are three layers. You can't get them anywhere else. So you got a unique product.

And then quality control is mainly done at corporate. I ship you the dough. You put it in the oven, press start ovens are programmed. Every cookie cooks for the same time, temperature and fans. But so it's, it's really been a push for simplicity to lower the barrier of entry to entrepreneurs. Um, and also, you know, build brand awareness, the quicker that you can expand is dependent on the number of franchisees you sell and the way that you support them and, you know, gets it a lot easier if you simplify your systems.

Shane Murphy (02:49.398)

Yeah, and Dirty Dough has accomplished things that I've never really seen in other franchises as they've tried to achieve the type of scale that you have. Like the number of franchisees that have raised their hands and said, yes, this is interesting, I wanna be a part of this has been phenomenal. And not just that, but the stores are also successful. And so you've kind of taken all of these things and put the pieces together.

And I've really seen time and time again that message of this is the simplest franchise This is a simple process get involved if you want to be an entrepreneur and get in the game Here's a way to do it and that message has rung out loud and clear I'm curious When you got first got involved and took over How it sounds like that was the very first storefront is that right?

Bennett Maxwell (03:47.279)

Yeah, it was in Tempe, Arizona. So I bought the company in January of 21. And then at the, in December of 21 is when we franchised and we, you know, we immediately sold a few stores. First store opened in June of 2022. Um, so that was, yeah, June of 2022 is kind of when it got real. Cause that was the first store, you know, even though it was a franchise, now I was the owner and that was the first store that opened and then we ended that year with seven, um, open. And then.

Shane Murphy (03:55.775)


Bennett Maxwell (04:15.951)

In 12 months went from seven to 70 and we have another 40 something under construction with a total of maybe 460 franchises sold and you know, it'll take about five years to develop all those because somebody will buy a handful of franchises, you give them five years to, to open those all. So yeah, it's been, it's been quick. It's been wild. It's been crazy.

I barely sleep some nights and then other nights I'm just like, man, look at what I've accomplished. And then other times I'm like, I want to crawl in a hole and die. So yeah, it's, it's a roller coaster, which I think I'm used to because I did straight commission sales for five years, which led me to a solar company that was also a sales and marketing, same thing. You only get paid on commission. I mean, anytime you're a business owner, it's all about on sales, but, um, I think.

my background prepped me for the emotional roller coaster and taught me how to at least be better at stabilizing that emotional roller coaster. I mean, that's what I kind of pitched when I was recruiting people in solar. The good to great, the difference is.

don't let your highs be too high and don't let your lows to be too low because you're not going to do it. You're like, I made 10 grand and then you sell another one. You're like, I made 20 grand today. And then the next day, both of those cancel and you're like, I'm negative 20 grand. Like not only did I not make money, I'm in the hole. So it's, it was really starting to learn how to regulate, you know, the highs and lows at that point.

Shane Murphy (05:42.226)

I think that's such a crucial point to the conversation because especially in the restaurant and food industry, like there is so much passion. There are more people who are like passionate about their business in this space than I've seen in almost any other industry. And when you have that type of passion and belief in your business and you're really in it and you're working in the business, not just on the business, your identity starts to be a part of that business. And those highs

are great, but those lows can completely destroy you if you're not careful. So I think that's incredible advice for any restaurateur out there is to manage those emotions and manage those highs and lows really well.

Bennett Maxwell (06:26.331)

Yes, it has been, and it's been very helpful. And that's kind of the first time that I've, I mean, I like that comment of people are really passionate in the restaurant industry. I don't know if I've noticed that, um, more than other ones. And I also would classify myself as still because of my lack of operational knowledge, like I'm working on the business, not in the business. I don't, I don't know all of the weeds. And I also feel like it's an advantage that I purchased the business rather than creating it. Cause I don't.

I'm not emotionally attached to grandma's recipe, right? It's not grandma's recipe. It's whatever, I don't even need to like the cookies. I don't freaking care. It's just, as long as the majority of the people like it, we get good reviews. And I think, and again, I'm going, maybe a little bit different because I'm so new to the industry, but I feel like that's been an advantage to me to not be so emotionally attached to, I guess, the operations of the business. It's still, I still, you know, it's impossible to.

detach myself emotionally from the success or failure of the business, which I'm trying to do, but that's a whole nother, but at least operationally recipes, I think that that's a big advantage to not have to push a product and be not emotionally attached and be able to change processes and products to adapt to whatever the economy is at that time.

Shane Murphy (07:42.082)

Certainly, no, that's fabulous insight. In this world, there are two different, like distinct types of marketing that you probably get a lot of exposure to. One is that like franchise sales side and marketing to prospective franchisees, which, you know, restaurants typically have two paths. I either build this as an independent brand and as time goes on, I build.

location and expand location to location and probably live in that you know one two five or six units and that's kind of where I reach my scale the other side if you want to go far beyond that is franchising the business actually engaging other people to come in and Work on work in that as a franchisee Can you talk for a moment on what it's like

selling franchises at scale and the type of engagement and marketing that has kind of led to your successes in selling franchises and scaling a business from that angle.

Bennett Maxwell (08:50.715)

Yeah, as of last week, we've never sold a franchise from a paid lead source. So about two years ago, I joined a mastermind and the thing that I got out of the mastermind was post daily no matter what. So I started building a personal brand, never posted on LinkedIn, you know, two years ago, but I started posting, built up maybe a few thousand followers, leveraged the software to do some outreach. And then we were in a lawsuit which gave us national attention. And I kind of already had that, I guess the bedrock. So...

The majority of the, like, the number one lead source is from this, from my personal social media, from podcasts, from getting the story out and things like that. So the good part about that is it's free, other than my time. The bad part is it's hard to scale it up and down because it's not, you know, just throw more money at it. But that's how the franchise leads have all.

came in and then as you grow and you get more stores, now we're in 20 something states, so more and more coming from referrals from current franchisees as well as, oh I visit a store, I heard about you rather than, I mean really two years ago nobody had heard of us because we had one store in Tempe, Arizona. So it was a pretty rapid progression.

Shane Murphy (10:04.962)

Yeah, and so that's fabulous. You've leveraged word of mouth amazingly. Now, Franchisee is probably not going to purchase a franchise unless there is some business success in the existing stores, which often means you have to get the first one at least operationally functioning and efficient and have some replicatable processes for others to participate in.

Bennett Maxwell (10:26.904)


Shane Murphy (10:35.258)

Um, can you speak to like the, the role of marketing at the store level and maybe even how that's evolved as time has gone on from the, the single store in Tempe through having, you know, 70 locations and hundreds in the pipeline.

Bennett Maxwell (10:55.611)

Yeah, so there's, as a franchise or franchisee, you're paying two fees to corporate. Your royalty, which is used to run corporate and support you, and then it's typically called the brand building fee. And they use that terminology rather than marketing because it's for brand building. So there's difference between a national brand and local store marketing. And franchise, it's very easy to be like, wait, I'm paying.

2% or 3% or 4% whatever that is, where's that money going? It's like, okay, well, what is, you know, you're paying a few grand a month, a grand, like there's not that much money to begin with. There's only 50 stores right now, whatever the number is, like do the math, it's not, we can't pour it into local store marketing because who's going, what funds are gonna cover?

marketing on the website and SMS and email and then the photography and getting that out and all of the graphic design and that's what franchise They're like, oh well corporate just like that's what the marketing the brand building budget is for So you'll like I just heard a complaint about another franchisee from a brand that they're struggling right now but The parent I mean the corporate is here in Utah and they got a bajillion billboards. So it's like wait Why are you guys using our you know?

national brand building fee just in Utah. That's the only place that you, and so I could see that frustration. It's always a battle back and forth, but it's here's your brand building fee. We'd love to spend as much as we can and direct to store marketing, local store marketing, but you have to cover all the other bases first. So it really is up to the franchisee to do the local store marketing. I've heard it put like.

Corporate's job is to make people recognize the brand. I've heard of Dirty Dough, but it's not to get them to your store so much. I mean, obviously that's the goal, but getting them to the store is local store marketing. So how do you do that? And then you provide the playbook. This is how many samples you should give out. And this is the way that you should go to different businesses and targeting, catering, and then doing partnerships with different schools, do appreciation days. There's all of these other things and you build out that playbook. And a lot of it comes from

Bennett Maxwell (13:05.135)

And I do this on a weekly basis, calling franchisees, having one-on-one meetings and say, what's working, what's not working. And it's both of those, not just what's working, but also what's not working. And then I get on the call with the franchisee. I just got off the call with Texas and I'm in Pennsylvania and it's like, Hey, Katie from Texas told me that this is working and the appreciation, but she put all this money into this other thing and it just was a complete flop, just so you know, and then franchisees also have a group chat that just they're on that they can also share best practices. So I think that's.

Shane Murphy (13:13.57)


Bennett Maxwell (13:32.735)

often overlooked or maybe not contemplated so much. I'm like, you're in business with like literally 200 other people that bought the same franchise and most of them have business experience. Let's leverage what's working and what's not working not only for open dirty doze, but what's worked for your other businesses in the past.

Shane Murphy (13:50.062)

Yeah, and I think the distinction between like brand marketing and local store marketing often gets forgotten, but they have two very different functions. And I think you enumerated that very, very well. When you're doing some of these calls with the franchisees, what are some of the common ones that you hear are the most successful?

Bennett Maxwell (14:15.067)

Yeah, one night I just spoke with the Colorado franchisee and he said, wrapping my vehicle, like wrapping his truck, that teal blue, dirty dough, he's like, and here's the deal, how do you even know that's working? You will never know if you don't train your employees to ask, welcome to dirty dough, how'd you hear about us? Or whatever the script is, right? And he's good at that. And he goes, we get people on a daily basis coming in for a truck. I mean, because they said that they saw the truck on the freeway, I was like, oh.

Shane Murphy (14:21.486)


Bennett Maxwell (14:41.095)

very unique. Another franchisee in Indiana has shared every Friday they do appreciation days. So they pick teachers, nurses, hairdressers, firefighters, whatever, and it's a free chocolate chip cookie. Show your license or credential, whatever. And it's like you'll give out 50 cookies, but your sales increase by one to $2,000. It's like, yeah, it's worth it. Fundraising is also a big one getting into schools. And you know, you get a

I think Logan Utah just did a 10,000 cookie catering order through the school district, you know, so it's like those are a few that just, you know, came up top of mind and there's several others, but I think, you know.

Those are good three that I've shared with other people and I've seen them implement it and some have greater successes and you know, it doesn't apply to all markets. Like Utah market is very different. Mailers work more in Utah. We're good luck paying for Facebook ads because you're competing with a bajillion other freaking cookie companies. You're never going to get a freaking return.

Shane Murphy (15:41.898)

Yep. Yeah, you know, it reminds me, I had a personal experience with dirty dough where, oh gosh, this is probably this is probably two years ago or so, but there was like a local store opening where I where I lived and my family went and it was our first dirty dough experience and they gave us like this card and on the back it said

Hey, interested in catering for your business? And just putting that in front of me, I was like, oh, that sounds fabulous. These cookies are different than other cookies that I've had before. Let's do a catering order for my company. And for a few months, we had like once a month, dirty dough catering just coming in. And they leveraged that store opening really well. They actually engaged me as a customer.

to try and get my repeat business, which is the heart of local store marketing. Sometimes it's about how do you get your existing customers to keep coming back? How do you get them to tell their friends? How do you get them to do a catering order for their business? And often you have to experiment with all these things. That franchisee experimented with wrapping his car and it's working really, really well. And I loved that you highlighted, you have to ask, hey, how did you hear about us?

Bennett Maxwell (16:43.358)


Shane Murphy (17:08.83)

or you're never gonna get some of those insights.

Bennett Maxwell (17:11.119)

Yeah. And we went through a pretty big shift just in December. Most everything was Facebook ads, Instagram ads, and then, you know, you could track the ROI and it's like, you spend a dollar, I get 10 cents. I don't want to do that anymore. Marketing companies like, no, because it's a bit of a brand awareness, blah, blah. Well, and then we partner with Craveworthy, a management company and bring in the former CEO of Jimmy John's is our CEO. And he's like, bullshit. Nope. Stop. We, we like.

Overnight almost took off all spending besides maybe a little bit, just to advertise the weekly rotations and then directed all of that spending into DoorDash, UberEats and GrubHub, which they don't charge you unless an order is fulfilled. So it's like, I'm not getting charged per click, per impression, whatever, like Google and Facebook. It's only when they check out. And then we allocated all of our spend over there and saw a double digit increase in sales for like two or three months in a row, just from that one little thing. And why did we do that?

I didn't know what to do that, but you know, I brought on somebody that's opened up 2000 restaurants in the last two decades across a dozen brands and he's like, I know how to do it. So I was lucky enough, I guess, to be able to partner with Craveworthy.

Shane Murphy (18:19.614)

Yeah, no, that's fantastic. And the nice thing about that as well is that impacts the local store. It's not just the brand building. And sometimes brand building feels like, it's important, but from the franchisee, they're like, oh, is it really helping me? I have no idea. But when I know it brought me a dollar and I know that I'm spending, it's a positive ROI. Every dollar I spend, I'm getting...

Bennett Maxwell (18:34.183)

Yeah, I could hear it. Yeah.

Bennett Maxwell (18:47.443)

Four bucks. Yeah. Four bucks instead of 10 cents. Four bucks isn't amazing, but it's better than 10 cents. Cause that's what we were at.

Shane Murphy (18:47.59)

eight or ten or four bucks back and you know the metric and like that

Shane Murphy (18:57.07)

Absolutely. Yeah, and that really highlights you. Being able to measure these things allows you to make the strategic decision as well. You might, if you didn't know Facebook was, I spend a dollar and I get 10 cents, you might've been doing that for years and years more, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars when there are more efficient ways to grow sales at less cost.

Bennett Maxwell (19:23.351)

And to be frank, we did. I think we spent like 700 grand on Facebook last year. Because we're like, well, yeah, you can't track it, but what if they see it and then they drive by? And it's just like, whatever, maybe that works. But there's no way it's raising my ROI from 10 cents all the way up to $4. No, there's no way. So we did make that mistake, and we did dump a ton of money into Facebook that was not even close to the most effective marketing. But that's just what I knew. That's what...

Shane Murphy (19:32.843)

Yeah, the billboard effect.

Bennett Maxwell (19:52.727)

I was told to do until I brought somebody in with more experience.

Shane Murphy (19:57.086)

Oh, that's super helpful.

Shane Murphy (20:01.43)

You know, when...

When people are trying to build a brand, what do you think is it that made Dirty Dough a successful brand?

Bennett Maxwell (20:17.103)

Um, when I bought the company and we've really, other than the name dirty dough, like we read the logo, the colors, the fonts, the recipes, the processes, um, kind of everything. And, and I, I think a lot of that was just getting the brand correctly as far as like what relates to people before we were bright orange, like little Caesar's color and it was like, oh yeah, that's because it was Tempe, Arizona college town, this and that, but when we analyze who's purchasing the cookies,

When we went from on campus, like an apartment on campus delivery only to the, a storefront, even though it was only three, four miles away, the branding wasn't the same because the customer base wasn't the same. It was 25 to 50 year old moms with kids and they don't relate to a bright orange box and they don't want to gnaff the bright orange box. So a lot of it was realizing what our customer was. And then we did the analysis of here's seven different color palettes.

which one, you know, how does it make you feel on all this? And we are actually targeting the customer. And then once we did that, we, you know, the same thing with the logo. So a lot of it was testing and then being consistent with that. And it's not just the brand and logo, but also the messaging. If you go to any dirty dose store, it does have.

a lot of mental health messaging. So before you walk into any store, you'll see on the window says, we care about your feelings. You know, it's kind of cute, fun play on words, but it's, it's what we stand for. And then you walk in and it says the inside matters most because the cookies. Our representation of life that they're kind of dirty, messy, maybe even plain looking on the outside, just a peanut butter cookie and you break it open. There's a chocolate dough with a hot fudge injection, and then each of your packaging has different messaging. So that was all set up. You know, very early on and then.

You know, we're tweaking here and there, but the fundamental base, I guess, was created due to the former CEO and she has a lot of experience in that. And then we just, you know, kind of ran off of that. Where I think a lot of times like the first colors and logo and all that, it was just, let me just pick it. You know, let me just guess. No data, no interviews, no surveys, nothing. Let me just guess and see how it goes.

Shane Murphy (22:24.414)

That's fantastic. And if I understand correctly, you have a podcast that focuses on almost this brand message of it's more than just what's on the outside, diving into mental health and the deeper than dough podcast. Maybe can you share with the listeners a little bit about the podcast and the inspiration and how do they find out more about...

you, the brand, and the message that you're trying to share.

Bennett Maxwell (22:55.011)

Yeah. Um, when I bought dirty dope, run into two companies, miserable, cause it's a lot, um, put my health aside, put my relationships, my family relationships aside, cause I was like, I'm just going to work, you know, because.

because they want me to work, because they want money. I mean, that's like, I didn't ask them. Same thing, like I just guessed. Like they just want more money, which is the stupidest thing. Your wife doesn't really care. Your kids for sure don't give a damn. But that's what I told myself. And it's like, I need to be a millionaire and then I can take my foot off the gas. Well, I sold my solar company and I became a millionaire and I achieved that and I felt freaking great for a little bit.

Anybody can relate to this because how many goals have we achieved in our life? Right? Big or small, doesn't matter. We've all achieved a lot of different goals and every single one without fail, at least in my experience, it's not as satisfying as what you thought and it doesn't last as long as what you thought. Because if it did, we wouldn't just set the next freaking goal, you know? It's just like we would actually like there's no such thing as a goal. If you achieve it, you're going to...

achieve lasting happiness. Anyways, so that caused me to be like, okay, what the hell am I doing? I'm 310 pounds. I don't have a good relationship with my wife. Like we don't fight. We're roommates is kind of what we are. I started seeing a therapist and I started diving in deep into like psychology, into consciousness. I got into psychedelics and that it's like, I narrowed it down to what I'm after. And I honestly think most people are after the same thing. It's joy and fulfillment. You know, it's not happiness per se because you're never gonna be happy all the time.

But just being happy isn't enough. Anyway, you have to have that progression and that fulfillment. So, and then I threw in, so anyways, I formed my mission statement, finding joint fulfillment despite life's dirtiness. And then had the company adapt that, so the company is an extension of how I'm achieving my mission statement. And then I created the podcast about a year and a half ago, and it's been real fun. I mean, it's interviewing business owners, but not talking about.

Bennett Maxwell (24:56.351)

It's like, okay, you sold your business for $100 million. Then what the hell did you do? What was the emotional and how did you detach your self-worth from your business's self-worth when you no longer had a job? And that's the types of things that we focus on. And it's, I don't know, it's fun. It's been super fun.

Shane Murphy (25:13.87)

Well, that's fabulous. Thanks again for coming and sharing your story and those insights on marketing for both from the franchise angle and at the local store level. And thank you for sharing that mission with the world. I think that's fantastic, and we're very blessed to have you here and sharing it with us. So thanks again.

Bennett Maxwell (25:34.791)

Thanks, Shane, appreciate it.

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