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.
When Brittany Nguyen was only 21 years old, her mother unexpectedly passed away. Despite being enrolled as a full-time student in college, Nguyen decided the best way to honor her mother was to take ownership of her Children's Orchard franchise. It wasn't easy at first, but today, Nguyen has been running the children's clothing franchise for more than four years. Here's what this resilient entrepreneur has learned.
Name: Brittany Nguyen
Franchise owned: Children’s Orchard of Fountain Valley, Calif.
How long have you owned a franchise?
I have owned the Children’s Orchard franchise in Fountain Valley, Calif., since March 2011! The franchise was actually my mother’s for 15 years before my ownership and before she suddenly passed in 2011, due to a severe blood infection called Sepsis.
What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?
Before I took over my mother’s franchise, I had just started working full time for a mortgage company. At the time, I was hired for an administrative assistant, but began completing loan modifications while also attending Irvine Valley College, part-time. Additionally, I worked alongside my mother as the store manager from 2008 to 2011.
Why did you feel it was your responsibility to run this franchise, and how did you make the decision to do so?
After my mother’s sudden passing in 2011, my father and I discussed the store’s future. In my mind, it was without a doubt that I needed to continue what my mother had poured so much of her time, energy, and passion into, and become the new owner of Children’s Orchard of Fountain Valley. Deep down, I knew my mother would have been so proud to witness me continuing in her footsteps with confidence and strength. She would have been so happy to know I put all of my heart and soul into the store she grew and built from bottom up.
My mother’s passing came as a complete surprise to everyone. Although my fiancé and I have done our best to save for our future, we did experience some financial hardships transitioning to newer income requirements. Additionally, I was only 21 when I took over the franchise and was still a full-time college student. Although I was terrified at the time of the challenges I knew I would be facing, with the help of Children’s Orchard and the training they provided me, the transition was so much smoother than it could have been. I learned to convert my emotions during that hard time to ones of confidence.
What are some of the things you didn’t know before and had to learn as a new business owner?
There wasn’t a day that went by where I didn’t learn something new about retail. Even though I had some experience with customer service and product placement, I realized there were many more aspects that contribute to a healthy retail business. Fortunately, my experience managing the store with my mother proved to be very valuable in some of the knowledge I needed to tackle my new role.
I must say, one of the biggest lessons I learned occurred when employee was found to be embezzling funds from the store. It was extremely heartbreaking to discover. I have since learned to hold my employees accountable regardless of personal matters and to keep my relationship with my employees strictly business professional.
Where did you get most of your advice and support throughout this process?
My father and my fiancé played a huge role in my transition as the new owner, as did Children’s Orchard. My father helped guide me in the right direction while still providing me the space I needed to express myself and to contribute my thoughts and plans for the business. This provided me with self-motivation and allowed me to truly feel like an entrepreneur. I also received a lot of valuable support and training from the Children’s Orchard corporate office and other Children’s Orchard owners in my area, which provided assistance with questions and tips that were specific to our industry. I’m grateful for the strong network of people in my life.
What were the most unexpected challenges and obstacles associated with taking over the franchise?
There were parts of the family business I wasn’t initially a part of and areas I wasn’t accustomed to. Some of those included general finances, employee management, sales tax, permits and other legal matters, as well as learning to balance a social life with work. Fortunately, my experience managing the store with my mother proved to be very valuable during those challenging points.
My biggest challenge, however, was when I needed to take a step back and consider where our industry was headed and how I needed to gear my business to ensure profitability and success. When I decided that an update to our core operations was necessary, I found myself feeling guilty for changing big aspects of the store that would take away my mother’s “feel” in the store. Changes such as removing my mother’s appointment process and adding walk-in buying hours for customer convenience proved to be very beneficial to our financial growth. Other changes such as upgrading our technology at the POS and buying area, as well as growing our social media platform also helped expand our reach to our community.
If you could give one piece of advice to other business owners who are/could be faced with a similar situation as yours, what would you want them to know?
I would love to tell all young business owners and entrepreneurs that although your age and experience may come in to question, your success is what defines you. I base my financial success on my hard work ethic, high energy and determination to be successful. I also feel it is very important to have strong financial balance and acumen, to work closely with your franchisor, and to treat each employee with respect. I believe great customer service comes from employees who enjoy their work.
What’s next for you and your business?
My 2015 goals include a minor renovation to the store’s sales floor with the goal of increasing sales to a point where I can look into expanding the size of my current store. Although the store has been at this location for almost 20 years, I have realized that a larger location would allow me to dramatically increase our item counts. As for me personally, I’m extremely excited to be marrying my high school sweetheart in October of this year – he’s my rock.