Her Mother's Footsteps

When her mother retired, Kathy Dodson decided to take over her Decorating Den franchise.

By Devlin Smith

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Kathy Dodson was always interested in design, but a passion to work with children led her to instead study social work in college and eventually become a caseworker for a county mental health program. While Dodson was in college, her mother, Yvonne Meissner, also became interested in design and bought a Decorating Den interior decorating franchise in 1989.

Five years ago, Dodson was ready for a career change, so she joined Meissner's Austin, Texas, franchise as a decorator. "It was right here to come into," she says. "Decorating Den does all its own training, so, without having to go off to school somewhere, I could start and learn the business from [my mom]."

Once Dodson joined the franchise, Meissner started talking about possibly retiring and passing the franchise on. Dodson began handling the books for the franchise, learning the administrative side of the business in preparation. "We'd always talked about her passing the business on to me some day far in the future," says Dodson, 33. "I didn't have a feel for when that would be; I figured it would be further down the road."

Last year, as the two were talking about their plans for the franchise, Meissner suggested the time to retire had arrived. Dodson says, "I was interested in moving the business out of our homes to another office or something more convenient for me, and somehow it came up that this might be a good time to make the [ownership] transition. She was ready to get it out of her house and not have all the packages come to her anymore. The timing just worked out for both of us."

In April 2001, Dodson became the franchisee and Meissner, the decorator. Because she had spent five years working on various aspects of the franchise, Dodson was able to bypass new franchisee training. "We discussed it, and determined I was doing 90 percent of the work already," she says.

Back in Austin, business ran pretty much as usual after Dodson took over. She and Meissner continued to serve the same areas they always had within their territories. The only noticeable change to customers was on the franchise's letterhead--Dodson's name is now listed as owner. "It wasn't a huge step," she says, "because we had been gradually making the transition anyway."

Fortunately, moving from her mother's employee to her mother's boss has also gone smoothly. "It could have been a lot more stressful if my mom was more controlling or felt [the franchise] was still hers, but she let me take over and do whatever I want," Dodson says. "It made it very easy for me to take over, because the previous owner is right there and I can always ask questions. It's been an ideal situation for me."

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