From Award-Winning High School Entrepreneur to Edible Arrangements Franchisee
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.
Aislinn Smith made her first appearance in Entrepreneur Magazine in 1995, as a high school student and owner of a small dance studio. Smith had won the Johnson & Wales Young Entrepreneur Award, which allowed her to earn a scholarship for college. While Smith left the dance business, her entrepreneurial spirit is still strong. Here's what she's learned since she became an Edible Arrangements franchisee ten years ago.
Name: Aislinn A. Smith
Franchise owned: Edible Arrangements of Poughkeepsie, N.Y. and Kingston, N.Y.
How long have you owned a franchise?
I purchased the Poughkeepsie Store in March 2005, which I opened in July 2005, and purchased the Kingston store from a previous owner in November 2007.
Growing up, my mother was the owner of a small business (Smith Environmental Laboratory) and I watched her grow from a small one room operation to a larger company all on her own. It was a tremendous challenge. Although I have always admired her successful career, I remember what she sacrificed to do it on her own. Owning a franchise presented me with an opportunity to own my own business and still have the professional support of an amazing team. As a young woman also looking to start a family, it was my attempt to find a life/work balance that would allow me personal growth, freedom and support.
What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?
Before purchasing my first franchise I was working as a long-term care administrator in Massachusetts. It was a very demanding career with responsibilities for 7-day/24-hour operation. I did not see it as possible to start a family in a career like that. While working one day, an Edible Arrangement was delivered to the residents and they LOVED it. The socialization and happiness it introduced to the room was contagious and so I made a comment that “maybe I would go join those happy fruit people." Ten years later, I can say that I am very happy to be here.
Ironically, I owned my first business while I was in high school (a small dance studio, Hyde Park Dance Arts). This business was one that earned me the Johnson & Wales Young Entrepreneur Award, which I received in 1995, as a senior in high school and allowed me to earn a scholarship for my bachelor’s degree. There was an article featured in Entrepreneur Magazine about myself and the other winners. That was almost 20 years ago now.
Why did you choose this particular franchise?
Edible Arrangements is an amazing product with an amazing concept: healthy Happiness. I love the fresh feel of the products and the enthusiasm that people have when purchasing and receiving our gifts. It was very easy to be attracted to the company, but it was after I met the Founder, Tariq Farid, his brother Kamran and other team members that I bought into the vision. The company was founded on hard work and dedication and it is a team I am proud to be a part of.
Additionally, as a young mother, Edible Arrangements allows me to connect with the community and my family life in a very positive way. Our store is involved with local scouts, community groups and schools and I find this to be a wonderful way to create a life/work balance that works for me. My daughter is very happy to visit the store (and eat fruit). Plus, I usually smell like fruit and chocolate now.
How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?
The initial SBA loan that I secured to open Poughkeepsie was for $140,000 and I had only $20,000 as working capital for my first year. It was tight and costs ran over a bit, so used personal credit cards. However, the FDD from Edible Arrangements was very accurate and came quite close to providing a true outline of start-up costs. I know that stores are priced higher now, as our store front design, equipment and technology have improved.
Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?
Advice is given freely from my mother on a daily basis, which I sometimes take. I also greatly respect the opinion of any business owner I come in contact with. In the beginning, I was reading Entrepreneur Magazine constantly to build confidence and just to feel connected to other like-minded individuals. I found that the most compelling reason to move forward with this company was the consistent positive response to the Edible Arrangements product.
What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?
I opened my first store while I was going through a divorce and moving back to N.Y. from Mass. I had anticipated that the store would be quite difficult to open; however, it was not. Opening went very smoothly and the store was built beautifully and very quickly by the preferred contractor we used. At one point, the bank did threaten my financing when they learned I was going to be a “single” woman. However, with persistence and a strong business plan I was able to convince them.
A week after opening, I did have an unexpected challenge. I became very ill with an abscessed tonsil and was not able to talk or work for a full week. My team was brand new and they had only been open for one week. I was devastated. Although I would never have planned for them to be alone for their second week, I see it now as a wonderful opportunity. The team started to believe in themselves within two weeks of opening and I gained a huge confidence in them. I went back to work very proud.
What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?
“Try it, you might like it.” There is a very strong chance that you may not stay with the franchise forever, but if you don’t try, you will never know.
That said, I will also always tell people to know before you go. You have to really know what you are investing in and who the company is. You also have to really know who you are and what support you have around you. There will be times when you need personal support, just to deal with the moment.
What’s next for you and your business?
I am excited to say that we are in the process of re-locating or Poughkeepsie store this May to a much larger and premier location. This will allow us to expand our product line to include the Edible To Go items. We are also adding a Cultivating Community Room to the store. My vision is to have a happy, healthy, fun place to introduce children and others to healthy eating habits and gift giving. It will be a wonderful opportunity for my daughter and myself to spend more time together.