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Franchise opportunities run the gamut from pooper-scoopers to dating services, but even more startling than the diverse options is the age at which entrepreneurs are getting started. There's a new breed of young franchisees who are energetic and ready to go. These go-getters may be young, but they are definitely in control.
At age 16, Catherine PeÃ±a manned the blender at her local Smoothie King, whipping up fresh fruit smoothies. Little did she know these tasty concoctions would become the recipe of her life. By the time she was 18, she had worked her way up to store manager. At 22, with her mom as her financial backer, PeÃ±a purchased her very own location in Corpus Christi, Texas, thereby becoming the youngest Smoothie King franchisee-a title she still holds at the age of 25. "I feel like I was bred at Smoothie King," PeÃ±a says.
Wisdom comes with age, but also with experience, and PeÃ±a is using her many years as a Smoothie King employee to her advantage as a franchisee. She also uses her youthful energy to survive the 90-hour weeks that her business requires. Although she frequently has to decline late-night social outings with friends, all it takes is a look around at all that is hers to remember why she does it.
PeÃ±a got a head start in her professional life and intends to maintain her lead. With projected 2006 sales in the six digits, her vision is to open four more locations within seven to 10 years. And as life takes its course, her customers are becoming permanent fixtures. In fact, guests she served when she was 16 still return to support her now that she's a franchisee. It's the old-and new-guests that keep her passion alive. "I had a little girl come in and draw me a picture. She was just thrilled to bring me her picture," says PeÃ±a. "That's what I live for-those smiles."
On a Roll
When it comes to entrepreneurship, Adam Wong hasn't wasted a moment. After all, by the age of 26, he had already founded two computer-related startups. But he says he tired of "chasing the internet millions." "I realized I was throwing darts at a dartboard and really had no fundamentals behind the decisions I was making regarding business," he explains. So Wong went in search of a franchise that would fit well in his Hawaiian community. He found Great Harvest Bread Co., a bakery specializing in freshly milled, whole-wheat breads. Says Wong, "Some of the philosophies that Great Harvest had were right in line with the local way of doing business-of sharing and being generous with your community. It's what we call the 'aloha spirit.'"
Wong's first challenge was convincing the franchisor that despite his age, he was the right fit and that Hawaii was the right location. In November 2003, he opened Hawaii's first Great Harvest Bread Co. franchise on the island of Oahu. The franchise was met with overwhelming success, and by the end of its first year in business, it had placed among the company's top 10 in single store sales with $720,000.
Wong, now 30, has since become a partner in two additional locations and is currently negotiating to become Hawaii's developing agent, a role created specifically for him. Wong may be young, but he's wasting no time in following his dreams.