A Franchise of Her Own Meet a few exceptions to the rule that women just don't do franchising--and why don't they anyway?

By Ellen Paris

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Name recognition means a lot these days, and franchisingprovides entrepreneurs with exactly that-a recognizable brand name.In 1998, according to the International Franchise Association(IFA), nearly half of U.S. retail sales came from franchises. Andwith thousands of franchisors based in the United States alone,opportunities abound for those seeking this route toentrepreneurship. From homebased home-improvement services andfast-food restaurants to candy design shops, it seems there's abusiness out there to appeal to just about anyone, whetheryou're a man or a woman.

So it comes as a surprise that, with all these franchisingopportunities ready for the taking, the ranks of women involved infranchising have declined in recent years. A recent study conductedfor the SBA by Women in Franchising (WIF), a consulting firm inChicago that works with women franchisees and franchisors, foundthat in 1995 (the most recent year for which figures areavailable), female ownership of franchises totaled 8 percent, downfrom 11 percent in 1990. By contrast, during those same years, theproportion of solely male-owned franchises increased to 62 percentfrom 60 percent.

The figures are puzzling-especially when you consider the factthat women are starting businesses at twice the rate of men in theUnited States. But Susan P. Kezios, president of WIF, points outseveral reasons for the apparent male/female discrepancy:"Opening a franchise often [requires] higher initial capitalrequirements than starting a business from scratch," she says.And Kezios claims that gender discrimination still exists in thefranchise industry: "Franchising is still basically an oldboys network, and sometimes, when women want to become franchisees,a franchisor will say, 'We want your husband in onit.'" Despite such obvious roadblocks, Kezios insiststhere's hope on the horizon. "In the past year and a half,for the first time, the International Franchise Association hasmade a big push to help women become [more] involved infranchising."

Last year, in fact, IFA hosted several franchise tradedelegations and regional education conferences targeting women.Debbie A. Smith, IFA's vice president of public affairs andemerging markets, says the industry as a whole is beginning toaccept women more and more. Case in point: The IFA's firstwoman chairperson took office this year.

A Success Story

One of the country's largest franchisors, Churchs Chicken,boasts a woman president. Hala Moddelmog, president since 1996,says Churchs recognized the gap forming between men and womenfranchisees several years ago and decided to do something about it."We thought we should get the word out to women thatfranchising is a great way to have your own business," shesays. "You get systems that are in place, training and atrademark, and yet there is still room for entrepreneurship."Churchs also recently launched its own professional mentoringprogram directed especially at women. According to Moddelmog, whopoints out that approximately 19 percent of Churchs franchisees arewomen, "We're recruiting women franchisees as mentors togo to various events and talk to women about franchising."

Moddelmog acknowledges that financing is one of the biggestobstacles for women franchisees. "Hopefully, times arechanging for women getting financing," she says. "Thereare women out there who need angel investors, and we'd like tohook them up with other women franchisees who've alreadycreated their wealth and want to diversify for a small piece of theaction in return."

But the idea goes far beyond just bringing more women intofranchising-the fervent hope is that all the financing andfranchisor effort will incite a new trend that builds on itself.Says Kezios, "More women franchisors will bring in more womenfranchise entrepreneurs."

As for Churchs, Moddelmog says, "It doesn't hurt havinga woman as president."

Meet Mollie Garden

Company name and description: Plato'sCloset is a retail store selling "gently used"clothes, accessories and the like, including CDs and jewelry, forteens and young adults. Garden's store is located in St. Cloud,Minnesota.

Starting point: Started plans in 1999 for a July 2000opening; total estimated first-year costs were approximately$145,000 (including a $20,000 franchise fee).

2000 sales projections: $182,500

Shop around: It wasn't long before Garden, a lifelongshopaholic and mother of two children under the age of 3, hadbecome a devotee of children's resale shops-especiallythe franchise Once Upon A Child. "I always shop them wheneverI see one," she says. "I thought it would be great toopen one myself." But Garden hesitated, and someone else beather to it in her town. Undeterred, she contacted Grow BizInternational, franchisor of Once Upon A Child, to discuss otherfranchising opportunities. Lucky for her, the company had justlaunched another resale retailing concept called Plato'sCloset. "I liked what I heard and saw, and decided to go forit," she says. "And since I was familiar with Once Upon AChild, I felt comfortable with the franchisor."

Step by step: Though Garden believes she's more thancapable of owning an independent shop, the benefits of franchisingoutweighed her desire for autonomy. "I realized that, since Ihad never owned a business, by buying a franchise, the franchisorwould be there to help me with everything I needed to know to opena business," she says, which included, among other things,site selection, store design and layout, and marketing.

Deal her in: Garden also likes the fact that the companyoffers co-op advertising in her area-meaning Garden getsradio and TV exposure she couldn't afford on her own. The dealclincher for becoming a Plato's Closet franchisee was obviousto Garden, a veteran shopper: "For me, name recognition ishuge-at this point, I don't regret my decision atall."

Why aren't there more women franchisors? "Morewomen may not be involved in franchising because it's a littleless creative. Though for me that's what I liked-the factthat it was less scary than going out on my own."

Meet Marsha Conant

Company name and description: Kwik Kopy Printingis a printing, copying and digital services franchise; Conantco-owns a Kwik Kopy in Fresno, California.

Starting point: 1982 with about $100,000 (including a$36,000 franchise fee)

2000 sales projections: $600,000

Risky business: When Conant and her partner, MarilynWatts, 49, went into business together 18 years ago, both knew itwas a risk-neither had any hands-on business experience. RecallsConant, "I didn't know anything about running a businessand neither did Marilyn." But it did help thatentrepreneurship ran in Conant's blood: "My parents hadtheir own business, and it was always a dream of mine to ownone." Help wanted: The pair decided, early on, thatfranchising was the way to go. "We looked into Baskin-Robbins,but decided to open a Kwik Kopy because we knew two women who ownedone and had done well," Conant recalls. Right from the start,the pair realized just how helpful it was to have a well-knownfranchisor behind them. "There were a lot of reasons why wewere glad we franchised," Conant continues. "They reallyhold your hand throughout the start-up process. They had all thesystems in place, including the advertising, which helped us getcustomers initially."

Brand aid: Conant thinks it's important today foreveryone to be part of a nationally known network. "I thinkfranchises are even more acceptable today because they're aknown quantity," she explains. "There are just moresuccessful ones around, while at the same time you see fewerindependent small businesses making it." One reason: Namerecognition.

By the book: For those who decide to buy a franchise,Conant advises following the franchisor's recommendations."If you're going to pay money to have the name, thenfollow their plan," she says. "Their experience andexpertise are also what you're buying."

Did you ever experience any franchisor discrimination?"Until four years ago there was an award called the Man andWoman Kwik Kopy of the Year Award. I kept saying they needed tochange that because they were excluding any store that wasn'towned by a man and a woman. Finally they changed it to the KwikKopy Partners of the Year Award."

Why aren't there more women franchisors? "Ithink fewer women go into franchising because more women openbusinesses that they have long dreamt of opening-and probablyaren't franchises. My dream wasn't a Kwik Kopy but to havea business of my own."

Meet Margaret McEntire

Company name and description: Little Rock, Arkansas-basedCandy Bouquet International, started by McEntire, sells bothhomebased and retail franchises. The company's flagshipproduct: "floral" arrangements made of candy. About 75percent of Candy Bouquet's 400-plus franchisees sell thecompany's candy bouquet arrangements and gourmet chocolatesthrough retail shops.

Starting point: 1989 with $1,000 in McEntire'sgarage; she started franchising the concept in 1993.

2000 sales projections: $5 million to $6 million in soldfranchises; combined $40 million to $50 million in 2000 sales forall franchises

A budding business: Like many entrepreneurs before her,McEntire turned a fun hobby into a profitable business. She says,"I used to make these floral arrangements made of candy andgive them to friends. People started asking me if they could buythem and told me what a cool business this would be." McEntirelistened to friends and opened a small (90-square-foot) shop inLittle Rock, selling her "flowers." Her handiwork gotrave reviews around town. Before long, customers wanted to know hersecrets to making the bouquets. "I realized that if peoplereally wanted to learn how to do this, then I had an idea [thatcould be franchised]," she says.

Growth spurt: McEntire wrote her own franchise documentsfrom scratch and began selling the first franchises for $2,500.Although she didn't need to buy any advertising her first year,she's since grown the business to include franchisees in 48states and relies on both print and Internet advertising to attractnew franchisees. The Internet has proven an effective recruitingtool for McEntire: "That's where I've picked up mostof my foreign franchise sales," she says. Candy Bouquetfranchises now span 29 countries worldwide.

Flower power: The Candy Bouquets themselves sell forroughly the cost of a floral arrangement. McEntire insists herCandy Bouquet chocolate roses covered with colored foil andcellophane are so realistic looking that people can't tell thedifference right away.

Sweet success: Candy Bouquet franchise fees can rangefrom $3,500 to $22,000, but McEntire charges no royalty fees. CandyBouquet franchisees train for a week at company headquarters, wherethey learn to make and market the arrangements.

Share the wealth: McEntire and her husband, Jay (a boardmember), give a great deal back. They're big supporters of theRainforest Preservation Foundation, and McEntire has set up ascholarship fund for her Little Rock employees. She says shelearned two big lessons early on: "I was always persistent andhad the attitude that if I quit when it was difficult, I wouldnever get anywhere. And my husband always told me, 'If you getgreedy, you lose.'"

Why aren't there more woman franchisors? "Ithink a lot of women don't go into franchising because, eventhough they're good with checkbooks, they're afraid to getinto debt by spending that much money to get intofranchising."

Ellen Paris is Entrepreneur's"Management" columnist.

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