Franchise Players

Instead of Spending $100K on College, This Entrepreneur Took Out a Loan to Open Her Own Business

Instead of Spending $100K on College, This Entrepreneur Took Out a Loan to Open Her Own Business

Shannon Lelli

Image credit: Shannon Lelli

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

When Shannon Lelli realized how much a college degree would cost her, she decided that there was a better way to spend the money – and receive an education in entrepreneurship. A decade before Peter Thiel was paying young entrepreneurs to drop out of college, Lelli took out a loan for $100,000 and opened her own Planet Smoothie. Here's what she's learned from forgoing school for an education on the job after 12 years in the business.

Name: Shannon Lelli

Franchise owned: Planet Smoothie in Doylestown, Pa.

How long have you owned a franchise?

I opened my Planet Smoothie store 12 years ago, when I was just 24 years old!

Why franchising?

I was getting ready to attend a private university. However, when I realized how much my degree would cost, I thought “what else can I do with that money?” So, I chose a business loan instead of a college loan.

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What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?

I was working in my family’s upholstery business while trying to find a location for my Planet Smoothie franchise.

Why did you choose this particular franchise?

I decided to buy a franchise at the age of 22, so I was looking for a business that was affordable. I looked at all franchises within my budget, which was $100,000: approximately what college was going to cost.

Aside from the cost, I have struggled with my weight all of my life, and I knew I wanted to open a business that could provide a healthy fast food alternative. Planet Smoothie was the perfect fit because their smoothies provide healthy nutrients from whole foods and can serve as meal replacements. When you find a business like Planet Smoothie that aligns with both your personal and financial goals, coupled with believing in the people and the product – I thought, “It doesn’t get any better than this!”

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

Twelve years ago, it cost about $120,000 to open my first Planet Smoothie store. Costs included a franchise fee of $20,000; $35,000 for build out; and $50,000 for equipment.

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

I visited some Planet Smoothie stores and called every Planet Smoothie owner to get feedback and advice. The franchise team at Planet Smoothie was very helpful. They encouraged me to call franchisees to learn firsthand what the days would be like as an owner of a smoothie store.

I also couldn’t have done this without my parents! They both own businesses, so they encouraged my entrepreneurial spirit, gave me the loan to open my store (which I’m proud to say I have paid back), and continue to give me valuable business advice.

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What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?

I reminded myself that in this new venture, I should take one day at a time. Because I was only 24 when I opened my store, my employees weren’t much younger than me, so it was hard to be the boss and not just a friend. I quickly learned my strengths and weaknesses. I also learned to pay people to do what they do best, so I can do what I do best!

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

Do it. Life is short. Dream big and don’t settle for a mediocre life or a mediocre job. Planet Smoothie has allowed me to achieve my dream of being a stay-at-home mom and running my own business that provides for my family. It’s a dream come true!

What’s next for you and your business? 

I still take things one day at a time. Planet Smoothie has products that all offer a healthy way of living and owning a store is a great reminder to take care of myself. Since opening my store, I have had four kids, lost 60 pounds and am in the best shape of my life. Planet Smoothie has allowed me opportunities to really be a part of my community. I’m at the finish line of every 5k race with Planet Smoothie samples, and I sponsor fitness programs at local elementary schools. I plan to continue reaching out to my community and encouraging people to make healthy choices. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but if I can help one person choose a healthy life, I’ve done my job.

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Edition: November 2016

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