Ladies in Waiting

Golden Opportunity

Cheri Romonosky knows all about financial hurdles-and breakthroughs. She was an unemployed former McDonald's manager with very little savings. Still, she was able to qualify for buying a Back Yard Burgers franchise.

"I was ready to accept a job with another McDonald's when the phone rang," says Romonosky, 42. "It was a friend telling me to call the bank."

Romonosky did, and discovered that Roger Herrin, president of Community National Bank, wanted to give her a chance to buy a franchise. "One of the [bank] directors, Jo Dullinger, ran several McDonald's of which Cheri was the manager," says Herrin. "We'd taken over a Back Yard Burgers in Paducah, [Kentucky,] and I thought it was a good match for Cheri." While Romonosky was amazed she got the funding to buy the franchise, she didn't come empty-handed. She had 22 years' experience working for Dullinger.

"I told [Roger] that this place has to carry itself, because we didn't have money to sink into it. And it has," says Romonosky, who says sales the first year, which ended in January 2002, were $550,000. Revenues have increased 25 percent, and she expects to do even better during her second year.

Getting more women like Romonosky and Russotti into franchise systems may have started as a response to external pressures, but the changing dynamics in franchising-the shifting demographics of cities and saturated suburban markets--have forced franchisors to rethink their game plans.

An SBA study found that as of 1999, 22.5 percent of franchises offer minorities direct financial assistance, while another 50 percent offer indirect help. Most of those programs include women as participants. Industry insiders see that as proof that women are becoming an increasingly valued resource for franchises--and franchises are doing whatever is necessary to get women into business and keep them there.

Cynthia E. Griffin, former Entrepreneur senior editor, is a freelance business writer living in Los Angeles.

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This article was originally published in the November 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Ladies in Waiting.

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