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Desert Oasis

Profits are no mirage for this New Mexico fast-food mogul.

Running her own multimillion-dollar corporation probably wasn't top-of-mind for Melodie Marnell when she and her now ex-husband bought a single Burger King franchise in 1976. Just getting by was the top priority.

Her ex-husband, a onetime crew member at Burger King worked his way up to a corporate position, got the idea to buy a franchise, and the duo moved from Miami to an underdeveloped Roswell, New Mexico. "We didn't have a lot of choices at the time, and they needed a franchisee there immediately," says Marnell. "There was certainly room for growth in this area."

Apparently so, Twenty-five years later, Marnell, 48, has gone from going along for the ride to owning 13 Burger King franchises in and around Roswell-last year, her Melodie Corp. brought in $12 million in revenue. After gaining some experience and buying out her ex-husband, Marnell kept the ball rolling. She recently purchased eight Taco John's restaurants in the vicinity of her Roswell headquarters.

Marnell has obviously learned a thing or two about franchising, including knowing when to say enough is enough. "I suppose if I were being real aggressvie and just wanted to grow for growth's sake, I could have taken on a partner somewhere else in the country, but I'm not interested in that," she says. "I'm enough of a micro-manager to keep in the parameter I'm comfortable with."

One thing that makes life more comfortable for Marnell is proximity. She stresses how important it was to find locations close to her home. The fact that none of her stores is too far from headquarters makes it easier for her to successfully-and sometimes personally-manage her stores as well as her life as a single parent to four children.

Marnell also says surrounding yourself with dependable employees can help make franchising life easier, whether you want to buy a single franchise or a dozen. "I've invested in a [solid staff]," she says, "to help me balance my business and my family."