In July 2004, Dresdene Flynn-White purchased an Action International franchise in Alpharetta, Georgia, becoming the franchise's first African-American female franchisee. The position did not daunt her, nor did the franchise's lack of a minority program. What mattered was whether the core culture of the business-coaching franchise embraced diversity and welcomed change. So she called female Action International franchisees worldwide with some questions before making the purchase. Says Flynn-White, 56, "I wanted to know about the receptivity to diversity and to women, and I was thrilled with the response I got."
Thus, Flynn-White set out to fulfill her goal of serving minority business owners throughout Georgia. Along the way, she has discovered that her ethnicity and gender actually work in her favor. As an African-American, she can easily establish a natural connection with minority clients. And as a woman, she's been able to persuade even white, male business owners to let down some of their barriers. Says Flynn-White, "It's about relationships, and getting people to open up and say, 'I need help.'"
Flynn-White overcame one of the biggest obstacles--the approximately $100,000 in startup costs--with money she saved while working in positions such as vice president of human resources for national initiatives at Kaiser Permanente. However, she says there are enough resources available to help all minorities realize their dreams, including Count Me In, a New York City-based organization geared toward helping women establish their economic independence. Says Flynn-White, "If it's the franchise for you, if you've done the homework and you say, 'Yes, this is what I really want to do,' then dig in and find the resources to get what you need." Flynn-White's goal is to end the year with $100,000 in sales.
Hispanics may still be considered a minority, but they're quickly acquiring a new level of prominence. In June, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that the nation's Hispanic population had reached 41.3 million and accounted for about half the nation's population growth of 2.9 million in the past year. Some franchises, such as Church's Chicken, and are starting to focus their marketing efforts on this growing population. But are other franchisors also stepping up their marketing and recruitment efforts?
Antonio Swad, 49, founder of Pizza Patrón, a carryout pizza franchise that markets exclusively to Hispanics, sees Hispanic ownership and management as crucial elements in connecting with customers. "These franchisees make a connection with our customers that another operator just can't make," he says. Meanwhile, Swad is trying to eliminate one of the biggest obstacles for Hispanics--access to funding--by working with banks to establish special lending programs. "My goal is to be the number-one brand of pizza among my core customers," he says, "and a byproduct of that would be to have a majority of our franchisees also be from that community."
Swad prides himself on being a pioneer in marketing to and recruiting Hispanics, but believes Hispanic business owners will soon be commonplace. Says Swad, who expects to end the year with more than $20 million in sales, "The window of opportunity for what we're attempting to do is as wide open as it's going to get."