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.
Mary Bigler always knew she wanted to own a business, but the right idea never came to her. Then again, that might be because the right idea already existed. Bigler has been a franchisee for Maui Wowi Coffee and Smoothies since 2002. Her journey as a business owner started because she “fell in love” with the product and calls the beverages the best she’s ever tasted. Today, she’s spreading the love throughout Minnesota via retail stores, mobile carts and catering units. Read more below.
Name: Mary Bigler, franchisee and director of regional support in Minnesota
Franchise Owned: Maui Wowi Hawaiian Coffees & Smoothies in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn. I operate one retail store, eight mobile carts and four catering units.
Q: How long have you owned a franchise?
I have been a Maui Wowi franchisee for over 13 years. We started in 2002 and now we operate one retail store, eight mobile carts, four catering units, and support six other Minnesota franchisees.
Q: Why franchising?
Since I was about 12 years old, I wanted to own my own business. Because I never had a great idea for a business concept, franchising made sense.
Q: What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?
Throughout my teen years, I held several jobs waitressing, cleaning hotels, and price-marking clothes at a department store -- that was before bar codes! Later, I worked in the office at my family’s roofing & sheet metal company until I had my first son. In my twenties & thirties, I was a stay-at-home-mom and worked part-time managing bingo halls and charitable gambling for local Catholic schools.
Q: Why did you choose this particular franchise?
I fell in love with the product. Maui Wowi Hawaiian has the best smoothies I have ever tasted. My kids liked the smoothies as well and it was a company that I knew could really grow. I wanted to be involved in a business at its beginnings with the potential to grow significantly larger. I saw that it could be a terrific family business, and we wanted to sell something we enjoyed and felt good about.
Q: How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?
I would estimate we spent about $94,000 total. We spent $60,000 of it on a 10-unit franchise agreement (Empire Builder), $30,000 on equipment, $3,000 on inventory and $1,000 on miscellaneous necessities.
Q: Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?
Going into it, I did a lot of research online and read a lot of books to give me more insight into building a business and how to be successful. The existing Maui Wowi franchisees were a huge help when we were just getting started and we continue to receive support from the system today.
Q: What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?
I could not quite pinpoint where I should channel my focus. There were certainly plenty of opportunities within the franchise, but figuring out which opportunities to initially emphasize was my greatest challenge. The physicality of the job also caught me a bit off-guard as well. Being in the event business, we frequently have to set up and take down equipment. It was more laborious than I expected, but I really liked that part of it -- and still do.
Q: What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?
I have a whole laundry list of advice items but it all starts with doing your homework and researching the franchise with due diligence and an open mind. Prospective franchisees also must be prepared to work hard, especially during the beginning stages. Then, once you become a franchisee, concentrate on following the proven system within the franchise as perfectly as possible. Your best teachers and coaches can be your fellow franchisees. Finally, be grateful to everyone who helps you along the way and cultivate good business relationships wherever you go.
Q: What’s next for you and your business?
I want to continue to dominate the event business with our smoothies in Minnesota and help other franchisees grow their businesses. My goal is to see Maui Wowi Hawaiian in every possible large venue and event center in Minnesota, and we are getting to that point. It has been exciting to be a part of developing more opportunities for Maui Wowi Hawaiian.