Franchise Players: How This 'Computer Mom' Became Franchisee of the Year This 60-year-old mother, grandmother and franchisee has been defying stereotypes as a powerful woman in tech since 1999.
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CMIT Solutions, an IT service provider, has plenty of franchisees that fall into the IT stereotype: young and male. But the brand's 2014 Franchisee of the Year, did not fit that mold. She did, however, earn a 10-minute standing ovation when she won the honor at CMIT's annual convention.
Shirley Peterson, a 60-year-old mother and grandmother, has worked with CMIT Solutions for 15 years. Back when Peterson joined as one of the first franchisees, the company was called Computer Moms IT, and was comprised of stay-at-home moms and dads who provided guidance to new PC users. Now, the company focuses more on small- and medium-sized businesses IT problems, but Peterson is just as much of an asset as ever. Here's how she has continued to stand out as the company has evolved.
Name: Shirley Peterson
Franchise owned (location): CMIT Solutions of Fort Worth, Texas
How long have you owned a franchise?
I purchased my CMIT Solutions office in 1999. I have owned and operated my office for the past 15 years.
Prior to launching my CMIT Solutions office in Fort Worth, I worked for a franchise in the medical recruitment sector. This experience drove me to explore opportunities in the franchise industry. I was attracted to various components of the franchise model including the training and ongoing support, access to an established business model and, most importantly, a network of peers (fellow franchisees) to provide advice and moral support through a company intranet, annual conferences, and franchisee associations.
My role with Dunhill, the medical recruitment franchise, required me to use a computer in an era when few people owned and/or operated computers. Before long, I was providing guidance to family and friends on how to operate their own personal computer. The demand for support was overwhelming. Eventually, strangers were knocking on my door asking for assistance.
Thus, when I discovered Computer Moms, a franchise comprised of stay-at-home moms (and dads) that provided guidance to new PC users, I knew I had found my niche. I signed on in 1999 and began operating in the Fort Worth market.
In 2001, Computer Moms began selling territories, so, as you would guess, I bought the territory in Fort Worth, my hometown. Two years later, Computer Moms was renamed CMIT Solutions to reflect the transformation of the business from a computer support provider for residential customers to a fully managed IT service provider for small and medium-sized businesses.
What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?
Before opening my CMIT Solutions office, I worked in the medical sales recruitment industry. I enjoyed my work, but I was looking for an opportunity to be my own boss and pursue a career that I was passionate about.
I'm also a wife, mother, and grandmother. My husband is a retired aircraft mechanic. Together, we have three children and six grandchildren.
Why did you choose this particular franchise?
I was attracted to CMIT Solutions for a number of reasons.
For one, I liked the idea of helping clients use technology to achieve a competitive advantage. The business offered a broad menu of technical support and IT services that all point toward one goal: helping businesses run smoothly and be more successful. We are the affordable outsourced IT department to help small and medium-sized business get the most out of their investment in technology.
On top of that, I liked the ownership, the camaraderie within the franchise network, access to world-class technology partners, and ongoing training and support from the home office. In 2007, for instance, I lost two technicians within a short span of time. I was struggling to find qualified job applicants to fill the positions. Corporate found two technicians to fill in while I continued my search for two full-time employees. I was able to hold on to all of my accounts and continue to seek out new business. This is just one instance of the level of support I have received since I put opened my office.
How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?
I spent $10,000 on the franchise. Five years later, we took out an additional $50,000 to cover the territory, labor, marketing/advertising, and other miscellaneous expenses.
Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?
The home office has always been an importance resource. I participated in ongoing training sessions at the corporate headquarters for the first several months of opening the business.
In addition to the brand's leadership team, I receive mentorship from the 140-plus franchise partners that are based around the country. I am constantly reaching out for insight on everything from client relations to marketing.
And, finally, other business owners in the Fort Worth market have also been important resources. I am constantly learning from clients and other members of my professional network.
What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?
The hiring process has been a challenge. It's difficult to find people that share our passion for our clients and the continued growth and success of our office. Luckily, we have an exceptional team in place that continues to achieve great things.
The other unexpected challenge of owning and operating your own business is keeping up with the accounting. When you are wearing multiple hats, you can get backlogged on invoices. We have made a conscious effort to bill all of our clients on time.
What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?
My recommendation is to explore your options, conduct interviews with current franchisees and franchisors, and gain a firm sense of the business, the people, and the opportunity.
Keep in mind that business ownership isn't for everyone. Know what you are getting into before you sign up -- and, most importantly, choose an industry that you're passionate about.
What's next for you and your business?
Our growth has accelerated over the years. We are looking to hire two new team members. Additionally, we are considering expanding our office within the next year to accommodate the need for additional in-house personnel.
Other than that, my office essentially runs itself. I spent the first ten years growing the business. Today, I am reaping the rewards of that hard work. I am standing back and watching my team excel. Nothing has been more gratifying than watching my team succeed. I look forward to handing over the business to them when the time is right.