LAKELAND | An optometrist turned candy shop owner says she never thought opening a Rocket Fizz franchise would be a life-changing moment. She was wrong.
Marianne Banales, 47, owns three Rocket Fizz Soda Pop & Candy Shops, one in Tampa, one in Lakeland and one in Sarasota. And at 8 p.m. tonight on CBS, she appears in the reality series "Undercover Boss."
Robert Powells, co-founder and president of Rocket Fizz, a store chain with 54 locations in 18 states, went undercover to discover what his business does well and what needs to be improved.
Banales' Tampa store was one of his four stops.
And Banales never suspected anything.
"We're all the way out here in Tampa and this show and corporate Rocket Fizz is in L.A., Camarillo actually, a small town, so it was kind of unreal to be picked," she said.
Powells used the alias Lee and told Banales he was a contestant on a game show and she would be his coach. Banales said she never recognized Powells because when she met him before he was in disguise and, strangely, she said, avoided eye contact.
"Later I found out that he was nervous that if he looked me in the eye that I would know who he was. But I did mention that he doesn't make eye contact with me," she said. "But toward the end we really bonded because this is an emotional episode and you'll see why.
"Then I really liked him and I wanted him to win. I was going to go to bat for him and then they tricked me and told me I was on ‘Undercover Boss.'"
Banales opened her first Rocket Fizz in Tampa last March, but said she wanted to open another store somewhere with more of a community feeling. So she turned to Lakeland. The Lakeside Village store has the strongest sense of community of all three locations, Banales said, and she likes to spend two days a week there. Lakeland's Rocket Fizz opened in June and she said there is nothing like looking out on Town Center Drive when the Christmas tree is lit up. The Sarasota location opened on Black Friday.
Powells said going undercover allowed him to see problems he didn't know about.
"It was a great experience," he said. "I learned a lot about the company being undercover. It helped me in so many ways, just learning parts about the company I was unaware of."
Some of the tasks Banales worked on with "Lee" was taking inventory and processing a shipment, a job that takes Banales two full days because of the store's outdated system.
Banales has to search the store to see what items are sold out and go through all the shipments to make sure everything she ordered arrived, plus look up prices and stock shelves.
"That's two full days away from customers," she said. "The company got knowledge about our inventory system and how it was kind of archaic. Being that it was archaic, it was putting me, the owner, in the back of the store a lot doing stuff in inventory instead of being out with the customer, where I really want to be."
Banales has not seen the episode but plans a viewing party with employees. Visitors in Banales' Lakeland store said they will be watching the episode tonight.
Jeremy Cook and Nicole Petix had never heard of Rocket Fizz before their visit to the store Wednesday but said they will definitely be back and will tune into CBS for the episode.
"I love all the nostalgia going on in here. It's awesome," Petix said.
Banales said that is a typical first reaction.
"Most people, the first thing they say is it's overwhelming or it brings them back to their childhood or they start asking for specific candies from when they grew up," Banales said. "I love being out here to help them with that."
At the end of each episode of "Undercover Boss," bosses meet with their employees to discuss what they learned, and the employees are sometimes reviewed. Banales said she remembers watching episodes and not every boss had good things to say about employees' performances.
At Banales' meeting, she remembered laughing at Powells' reveal but then a nervous feeling took over.
"My mind started racing because I thought, ‘Oh, no, it's "Undercover Boss." I've seen that show. Sometimes there are bad stores,'" she said. "And then I started thinking, ‘Was that me?' "
To find out what happens to Banales, tune into CBS at 8 tonight.