After graduating with a degree in communications from California State University, Fullerton, in 2011, Sandy Elliott was unsure of where her degree would take her; she chose the major knowing that it would be transferable in any industry. Elliott ultimately decided to pursue a childhood dream of owning her own wedding-planning business, and she landed a job in special events and catering at a hotel.
Although she learned best practices in events and hospitality, Elliott realized the industry was not for her, so she hatched a plan to buy and build upon an existing business. At 23 years old, Elliott took ownership of the Juice It Up! in San Clemente, Cali-fornia, and she has successfully operated the location since November 2013. Today, it is one of the most profitable stores in the brand’s 82-unit system.
Elliott discusses how young franchisees and business owners can excel in an industry dominated by more senior operators.
1. Follow your habits
I did a lot of research in the beginning when it came to choosing a brand, and would constantly put myself in the customer’s shoes. I would think about my own habits and list the places I frequented as a consumer. A lot of my own habits were surrounded by healthy, active lifestyle concepts. I knew I wanted to be a part of something that works toward making lives healthier and better. It’s what I know and what I love.
After coming to that realization, I knew I needed the assistance of someone who had been in the industry longer than I had, so I hired a franchisee consultant. Performing personality assessments and assessing my core strengths, he brought a few different concepts to my attention, mostly centered on a healthy quick-serve option. After doing some more research myself, I took a closer look at Juice It Up! and learned that it is headquartered in Irvine, California, which is 20 minutes from me. It was clear to me that my chances of success would be greater with a brand that has been established for 18 years, and with one that was so close to home.
2. Embrace the curve
Having no previous experience running my own business, I was expecting a lot of challenges and hard work in the beginning. However, the franchisor was always supportive of me and never gave me any indication that I was too young to operate a unit. The biggest challenges were relationships with vendors, customers, and other business owners. I did feel some pushback and that folks weren’t taking me seriously because of my age.
It didn’t take long to build those relationships, and now I have the trust and respect from those groups in particular because they know I’m serious about this business and take an enormous amount of pride in what I do. There’s still plenty more to learn, but I’m able to show that my young age does not get in the way of running a successful business.
There’s no way I could have done this without consulting help of other franchisees. I would call other Juice It Up! owners daily and seek out an answer or hear how they dealt with an issue. Those other operators are your family with the same model, mission, and goal.
3. Treat your age as an advantage
Being a Millennial myself, I know the connection and importance social media has when it comes to a business. Starting out, I immediately created all of the major social media channels for our location and encouraged all of our customers to get engaged. We ran constant specials on Groupon and other forms of social engagement to keep our customer base growing.
Being both the business owner and consumer at my current age, I use the same sort of channels and tools to research a company, brand, or product I want to know more about. It’s been a bonus to know what my generation is doing because I’m doing the same thing myself and translating it into how it will affect my business and getting customers in the door. Having been so successful in doing so, I’m now invited to speak at franchisee meetings when it comes to social media or other aspects of our business, like catering or community involvement.
4. Be the fresh face in operations
When I first walked into Juice It Up! corporate, I felt incredibly welcomed, and they loved the idea of having a fresh new face within their portfolio of operators. A lot of franchisees have worked, retired, and decided to own and operate a franchise on the side. I think they were a bit surprised when I walked through the doors, but now I have one of the top-performing stores in the brand. Now I’m getting the calls for advice or best practices. I think a lot of other brands can benefit from younger owners and younger ideas.
On the flip side, young prospective owners should not be nervous about getting involved in this industry. It is a possibility regardless of your age. I was able to receive a loan just like any other new business owner and purchase from a previous owner, as opposed to buying from the franchisor directly. Doing my own build-out would have been more than double, and because it was a pre-existing location, I already had the established customer base and brand recognition. The stress of owning and operating your own business is enough. All your focus goes into operation—something I strongly recommend.