BYU students put off school to start soda shop in Arizona

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Two BYU students spent their summers working six days a week and clocking in 110-hour work weeks, and they’re not investment bankers or accountants. Chase Wardrop and Dylan Roeder jumped on the soda shop craze, opening a store in Arizona to a community “thirsty” for the new trend.

Wardrop and Roeder have been friends since the third grade, so starting a business in their hometown of Gilbert, Arizona was the perfect fit for these two business partners.

They first considered opening a shaved ice shop, but Arizona has stricter codes than Utah. “You can’t just throw out a shack in a parking lot, so that fell through,” BYU finance student Wardrop said.

BYU students Chase Wardrop and Dylan Roeder inside The Soda Shop, the new business they started in Gilbert, Arizona. Deciding they wanted more “real-world” experience, the two students took a break from school to start the popular new soda stop. (Dylan Roeder)

Roeder, an information systems student, had similar thoughts.

“We were pretty ignorant,” he said. “The (snow cone shack) idea immediately got blasted. Any number of ideas … went nowhere.”

The two were familiar with the various soda shops in Utah and they said Arizona has similar demographics. “It’s hotter year round, so we decided we wanted to start one that was unique to Gilbert, our home town,” Roeder said.

After meeting with a few mentors, the duo became more excited with the idea. So much so, that Roeder made the decision to postpone his schooling during Winter 2015 semester to get things started on the shop.

“School was tough because I felt like I was being pushed in a certain direction … I wasn’t ready for that, I got kind of nervous and scared,” Roeder said. “I thought, ‘I don’t know if I want to work for this or that company,’ so this was my way of doing something productive in preparation to help me figure out what I wanted to do without being pushed into something.”

Wardrop also felt that this was an opportunity for some real-world experience.

“I think school is pretty impractical,” he said. “In finance (classes), we’re looking at businesses with millions of dollars, and that’s not practical. How many of us will be valuing companies with numbers that big?”

Wardrop said they started a business to know what questions to ask to help in the learning process. They said they wanted to know firsthand, and for Wardrop, he said it’s easier to learn things when he can apply it right away.

Thus began the long process of building a business for these two 25-year olds. Once they found the location, they had to figure out how to finance it. They went through the loan process, raised money through investors and got everything permitted. And it took a lot of time.

“We were working from 8 to 6. It was a full-time job every day figuring out details, doing research, studying the industry,” Wardrop said.

Even with the money they raised, they were short on funds.

“We did a lot of the construction ourselves,” Roeder said. “The counter tops, the pallet wood wall, the floors — we did all of that.”

The Soda Shop interior. Wardrop and Roeder did much of their own construction including the wood wall, the countertops and flooring. (Chase Wardrop)

The Soda Shop had its roots, but there were plenty of hiccups the pair would have to face.

“We thought we could get it up, going and running in time to go back to school in September,” Wardrop said. “But once July hit and we still were not finished with construction I thought, ‘Well, I guess I’m not going back to school in the Fall.'”

Roeder enrolled in a few online classes so he could stay in Arizona, but Wardrop’s wife, Chelsea, needed to return to BYU to finish her third year of law school. Chase Wardrop needed to stay in Arizona, so he had no other choice but to arrange for his wife to fly in every weekend.

When asked if she was nervous with the arrangement, Chelsea Wardrop responded, “Chase has always had an entrepreneurial mindset. When we were freshmen in college, he and his cousin rented out Hokulia Shave Ice for the winter and started a hot chocolate stand called Fancy Cocoa. He definitely has the drive to build something that is his own.”

Chelsea Wardrop said she told herself, “Whatever it ends up being, it will be great.” She said her husband is a hard worker, so she knew it would work out.

So the partners continued on through the fall. Chase Wardrop and Roeder had a very specific direction they wanted The Soda Shop to go in.

“We wanted to create a fun environment,” Wardrop said. “Growing up in Gilbert, there was not a lot of cool hangout spots for high school kids, no cool date spots. We want you to come inside and enjoy it. Honestly, if you are going to pay $3 for a soda, we wanted to make it look high quality and feel nice. We wanted it to be the Starbucks, not the Chuck E. Cheese, of soda.”

After a few soft openings, Wardrop and Roeder invited bloggers, photographers and a local dance studio to come try out the new shop. “That really got the hype going,” Wardrop said.

“Our goal, from what we saw Utah locations do, was 300–400 cups a day,” Roeder said.

He said the shop’s opening day “demolished every expectation” he had about the excitement of the store.

“It crushed our wildest dreams, and we doubled our conservative projection, which was what we thought we could eventually build up to,” he said.

Customers line up for hours on the opening day of The Soda Shop in Gilbert, Arizona. Deciding they wanted more “real-world” experience, two BYU students took a break from school to start the popular new soda stop. (The Soda Shop Facebook)

For the grand opening, The Soda Shop opened from 5-11 p.m. and had a line that was 45 minutes to an hour long the entire night.

Wardrop said they had a little over 1,000 customers come through, and it keeps building.

“We had (the local) Fox News come out and report live from the shop and now (the local) ABC news is starting an article on us. It has been crazy,” he said.

With so much success, the next hurdle for the duo is to try to figure out how to keep the shop running so they can make it back to school in the winter. And with so much experience, this may have been the greatest summer internship the two could have had.

“It all was rooted in the desire to start a business,” Roeder said. “It’s not because we are huge fans of soda … we wanted an experience. We wanted to learn outside of a classroom. We wanted to get out of our comfort zones and do something that neither of us were really familiar with … Both of us really had a desire to learn how to do business, how to work and how to make things ourselves, and that’s really what got us going.”

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