Finding Success as a Female Franchisee in a Male-Dominated Industry
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
The flooring industry is dominated by men. It’s a fact that Debbie Gartner finds a little funny, considering women make most of the decisions in home design.
As one of the few women in the male-dominated industry, Gartner has turned her gender into an advantage. She has branded herself "The Flooring Girl," complete with her own blog, and enjoys helping other women feel comfortable and confident in their design decisions.
Here's how she figured out the keys to success as a female franchisee in the flooring business.
Name: Debbie Gartner a.k.a. “The Flooring Girl”
Franchise owned: Floor Coverings International in Westchester County, N.Y.
How long have you owned a franchise?
I loved the idea of having a “business partner” that I can learn from and bounce ideas off of for inspiration. One of the best things about a franchise is that there are so many wonderful business owners across the country that you can learn from and share ideas. They are non-competing, as they are in different geographies. As a result, you can search and reapply many best practices.
What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?
I was a marketing director for several Fortune 500 companies. I ran very large businesses in consumer packaged goods, and the marketing and business skills I learned there have served me very well.
Why did you choose this particular franchise?
I loved that it tapped into my marketing and creativity. I loved that every homeowners’ need is different, and that I can see myself doing this for 30-plus years without getting bored.
I also love how I could differentiate myself by being a woman-owned business in a male-dominated industry. The key decision-maker in the home is usually the woman, and I could help her and serve her well. She feels comfortable with me, and knows she can trust me. I help her with design advice and making smart decisions. I enable her to make the best decisions for her lifestyle and budget.
How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?
This is challenging to remember as it was seven years ago, but here’s a guess:
$40,000 Franchise fee
$30,000 Samples and starter kit
$5,000 Licensing/insurance/legal start up
$25,000 Initial marketing
$50.000 Working capital
Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?
I am constantly learning, and I try to learn from a variety of sources. Initially, the learning was mostly from training with the franchise and then in the field observing and asking questions of my installers.
From there, it was tapping into the wealth of knowledge from other franchisees across the country. Then, I would seek advice and inspiration from other complementary fields such as decorators, real estate agents, painters, cabinet designers.
Now, I get lots of ideas and inspiration from my customers. They show me around their houses and I get wonderful ideas for colors, pattern choices, and kitchen layouts. I also read a lot online in places like Houzz, Pinterest and blogs.
I think part of the key to success is to keep learning and observing and then trying new things.
What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?
I started at one of the worst possible times -- 2008 when the economy just started to tank. Thankfully, I survived. I had no idea how challenging that would be. As a result, it probably took me longer to ramp up my business than most. I had to be creative to survive, and in more ways than one. My positioning as The Flooring Girl and my blog at TheFlooringGirl.com were two ways that I helped accomplish this.
What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?
Make sure you have great cash reserves. Often it takes much longer to start making the money than you think it will.
You will make mistakes and lots of them. Plan for that. Everyone’s mistakes are different. Also, sometimes, there are things that you can’t control (e.g. the economy, the weather -- we were hit by two big hurricanes and one of the worst winters I can remember).
You need enough reserves to muddle through the storms and the annual seasonality. The less you stress about money, the more you can focus on your customer.
What’s next for you and your business?
I’m hoping to expand by hiring some design associates (salespeople) so that we can grow and take this business to the next level. We are doing great, and many of my customers love that the franchise is a woman-owned business and treats women well.