Franchise Players is Entrepreneur’s Q&A interview column that puts the spotlight on franchisees. If you're a franchisee with advice and tips to share, email ktaylor@entrepreneur.com.

As the director of marketing at Shula Burger, Carrie LaNoce knew all about the burger brand. So, when she was looking to open her own business, she knew she didn't need to look any further than her employer. Today, LaNoce is both a franchisee and a director at marketing at Shula Burger. Here's what seeing both sides of the franchisee/franchisor relationship has taught her.

Name: Carrie LaNoce

Franchise owned: Shula Burger in Delray Beach, Fla.

How long have you owned a franchise?

I opened Shula Burger in June of 2013 and am thrilled to have celebrated my one year anniversary. That was no doubt an important milestone for me, but also for our brand as a whole. We have used the lessons learned during my first year in business to make important tweaks to our franchise model that have improved the customer experience at all of our locations. I’m excited to see what we can learn in year two and beyond!

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Why franchising?

I’ve always wanted to own and operate a successful business. Purchasing a franchise allowed me to partner with people who are wiser and more experienced than I am. I like the idea of leveraging individual talent to generate group success and becoming a franchisee allows me to do that every day. Additionally, owning my own business represented a huge personal growth opportunity and I jumped at the opportunity to own a business within a franchise model I had helped develop.

What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?

I was working as the director of marketing for Shula Burger, LLC and still maintain that position. This provides me with unique insights into both sides of the franchisee- franchisor dynamic. It has worked out beautifully because I can act as the conduit of information between the corporate office and franchisees like myself. Few brands have that kind of resource and I believe it gives us a huge advantage.

Why did you choose this particular franchise?

From my experience working in the corporate office, I know firsthand the integrity, quality and respect associated with the Shula brand nationwide. Additionally, the parent company of all Shula’s restaurants, Shula’s Steak Houses, LLLP, is a small, family run business that has a recognizable brand name and proven experience building successful restaurant concepts. In fact, Shula’s restaurants are turning 25 this year and we have a lot of exciting customer appreciation events and campaigns that we’ll be rolling out in the next few months.

Outside of that, I specifically chose Shula Burger, the newest brand owned and operated by Shula’s Steak Houses, LLLP, because I was excited for the opportunity to help build a new brand within a company with success and longevity. Also, as a Shula employee, I figured I would put my money where my mouth is and buy into the brand!

How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?

I spent approximately $650,000. This consisted of the physical build-out of the restaurant, including the equipment, FF & E, inventory, franchise fees and other miscellaneous expenses.

Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?

I looked to the executives and employees working at Shula’s Steak Houses, LLLP, my franchisor. The Shula family of restaurants includes 36 restaurants with six concepts across the nation. The majority of Shula’s corporate employees have been employed by Shula’s for at least a decade. It’s great to have the support of loyal corporate employees with deep franchising experience who know how to overcome challenges on every level. It’s wonderful being with a small company because every employee is just a phone call away.

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What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?

I felt an overwhelming sense of responsibility! Coach Shula’s name is synonymous with the word perfection and I did not want to disappoint.

Additionally, I come from a sales and marketing background but quickly realized that this is just one piece of the puzzle. There are so many components that must come together and every decision lies on your shoulders as a business owner. I am fortunate to have excellent people supporting me at the corporate office and supporting me at my Shula Burger location in Delray Beach. Without their help, there’s no way we would have accomplished all that we have so far!

What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?

Carve out the time to fully dedicate yourself to the franchise and know that your family, hobbies, etc. will have to take a backseat for a while. The benefits are worth the effort.   I have had an amazing first year, including sales that were above and beyond my expectations. I have learned just how rewarding (and important!) it is to interact with customers and truly listen to their experiences. This is my favorite part of business ownership and I’m excited to speak with customers more frequently in year two so we can continue to get better at Shula Burger!

What's next for you and your business?

From a business ownership perspective, my intention is to open three more Shula Burger franchises within the next three years. As a corporate employee, we will continue to refine our internal processes and spread the word about Shula Burger. Our goal is to open many more Shula Burgers across the nation as we have done with our other Shula restaurants over the past 25 years. 

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