Franchising | November 2012 | By Mary Avant

A New Age for Women

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Kat Cole, Patricia Wilmot, and Monica Boyles attend a WFF event.
Kat Cole, Patricia Wilmot, and Monica Boyles (from left) are just a few of the women in the quick-service industry making a difference. WFF
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“It’s about franchised brands touting their successful female franchisees and elevating their successful female executives, so women who are entrepreneurial and want to get into business can do so,” she says. “Franchisors need to speak to women and say, ‘Look, we know you want to be in business for yourself. We know you want to do your own thing. Don’t do it alone. Do it with a franchise, and do it with us.’”

The need for creativity

Unfortunately, women often face an uphill battle in franchising. For example, women franchisees can have a much more difficult time obtaining financing.

The IFA Educational Foundation’s report shows that while 24.9 percent of franchised businesses bringing in annual receipts of $50,000–$99,999 are owned by women, just 22.7 percent with gross revenues between $100,000 and $249,999 and 16.9 percent between $250,000 and $499,999 are female owned.

The fact that women typically run smaller businesses can potentially lead to less favorable lending conditions, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce Economics and Statistics Administration’s (ESA) “Women-Owned Businesses in the 21st Century” report released in October 2010. The report also shows that many women don’t apply for loans in the first place, simply out of fear that they’ll be turned down.

This trend not only makes it more likely that fewer women will turn to franchising, but also means that when they do, they’ll be starting out with less capital and are less likely to take on additional debt to expand their business than men. Indeed, the ESA study shows that from 2002 to 2006—even before the recession—women launched businesses with just 64 percent of the capital men brought to the table.

To make the transition into foodservice franchising a bit easier, an increasing number of women are looking at the option of joint ownership, choosing to work with a male partner, be it their spouse, sibling, friend, or business associate.

Smiling Moose’s Bridges found her footing in the franchise business by partnering with a male who was already involved in the brand’s franchise system. She says the move helped pave her path to franchising. When she opened her first unit two years ago, she was Smiling Moose’s first female franchisee; today, one-third of the brand’s franchisees are female.

“When I signed on, there were no women in the upper management, no women running stores,” Bridges says. “So I think they were looking for that female presence in their stores.”

Another factor that may be leading potential female franchisees to turn away from the business is the fear of stifled creativity. In general, women are known to be more creative and innovative than men, which can make the idea of working in a franchise—where they follow a set of practices, rules, and standards set forth by the franchisor—seem off-putting.

Moddelmog says that while more women are going into business, they aren’t tending to go into franchising at the same rate as men, possibly because they want to shape their own business.

“One of the goals I’ve had in my career is to make sure that women realize that they have an ability to use their creativity within a franchise situation,” Moddelmog says. “They certainly have the ability to use their creative problem-solving skills; they have the ability to use their leadership skills; and I’d like for women to have a better appreciation for the chance for truly creating wealth for themselves when they buy into an operating system and a brand that’s already there and already successful.”

Goldsmith says Red Mango’s franchise support staff is always open to new ideas and a set of fresh eyes to help figure out ways in which the business can operate more effectively and efficiently. “They listen and hear you out, and they discuss why they would or wouldn’t do [what you suggest],” she says. “They appreciate the fact that women do think about things that may not have been thought about before and bring things to the table.”

The land of opportunity

Though women still struggle to gain the same footing as men in the franchise world, the IFA predicts women and ethnic minorities will be the majority of franchise owners in as little as 10–15 years. Brewer says the IFA’s goal is for “franchising to mirror the changing demographics in the United States” as a whole.

She adds that as the economy picks up and access to credit thaws, “more women will be willing to give franchising a second or third look.”

In addition, because there are now more women in leadership roles in the franchising world than at any time in the past—from executive roles like president and CEO to franchise development and sales positions—women will begin to look at female-led franchises and think, “I can do this, too,” Cole says.

Brewer says the addition of females to brands’ franchise development staff can go a long way in recruiting women. “When you feel as though you’re supported from all levels,” she says, “then you’re going to do better and you’re going to be the best person possible.”

With more brands now taking notice of female franchisees’ upside, Olson says, this will continue to catapult their level of involvement in the franchise world.

“Opportunities are out there and brands are becoming more aware of the qualities of women leaders and the quality of having women in the ownership structure of your franchise system,” she says. “That will only continue to increase.”

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