March 18, 2021

Women owners dish on business savvy, savings, and service

Chick-fil-A's Danica Anderson, left, said it's important to save, to be ready for when a rainy day comes. "I think all of us felt that way about COVID-19. When we first shut down dining rooms ... I was grateful for the discipline I’d developed before."

Women business owners not only have to prove they’re up to the task, they also need to exude confidence and leadership ability, and make sure all their team members, male and female, buy into it.

They have to be knowledgeable about every facet of the business: the financing, operations, purchasing, sales and marketing, supply chain processes, and team management and development.

And they must know when to let go and trust their employees with their businesses.

These are the realities shared by three quickservice franchisees in PRIME Strategy Inc.’s Women’s History Month webinar series, “A Conversation With HER.” The Multicultural Foodservice & Hospitality Alliance, a division of the National Restaurant Association, endorsed the series.

Bringing your ‘A’ game to the business

The latest webinar in the series engages three quickservice concept franchisees: Danica Anderson, Chick-fil-A; Emily Elwell, Domino's Pizza; and Tanya Hill-Holliday of McDonald's, who talk how they’ve succeeded in a business typically dominated by men. The webinar, moderated by Microsoft’s Libby Saylor Wright, covers several topics, including mentoring, challenges during the pandemic, and preparing to finance your business opportunity.

Elwell, who started at Domino’s as an assistant manager and today owns 11 franchised restaurants in Missouri, with her husband, says she never really saw herself as a female franchisee.

“I just saw myself as a franchisee,” she says. “Sometimes that meant pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I’m naturally an introvert, but I knew that hiding in the back of the room taking notes wasn’t good enough for the business world. I had to push myself through the front door, shake everyone’s hands, and introduce myself. For me, it really was about stepping into the room and making sure I was seen.”

The lessons of mentoring and letting go

Anderson says the support she received from the owner of the Chick-fil-A franchise she originally worked for helped her become a better employee, and fed her dreams of buying her own unit one day, which she did in 2016, in Oak Creek, Wis.

“I am an example of women bringing other women along,” she explains. “Before I’d worked with my boss, Lauren, I’d never dreamed of owning my own business, never considered the idea of franchising. I knew I was a leader; I’d established myself in leadership roles since my very first job, but she created a platform for me to grow, trusted me with her business, and allowed me to dream things I hadn't before. She became one of my closest allies and confidantes. That relationship shaped how I lead in my business, how I teach young people, particularly females, to dream bigger.”

Caring for ‘internal’ and ‘external’ customers

Hill-Holliday, a 10-unit McDonald’s franchisee in Philadelphia, talks about the importance of empathy, connecting with her team during the pandemic, and letting them know they were cared for and protected during these challenging times. She explains she had to take care of her “internal” customers so they could take care of her “external” customers—the guests.

“We changed a lot of our processes, ramped up safety, sanitation and security,” she says. “But, at the end of the day, there absolutely was a silver lining; we made sure everyone felt safe, whether working in our business or as a patron. It was a challenge, but it paid off.

“We made sure they knew we cared, that we were there to help them through this weird time,” she continues. “We had moments where our team would panic and wouldn't want to come to work, but we talked them through it and tried to give the managers the presence of mind to think through everything. That brought us through to the other side.”

Spend or save? The answer’s easy

The panelists also address the issue of business financing. All advise operators to be prudent when it comes to saving money and judicious when spending it.

  • “Be disciplined,” Elwell says. “You have to be able to say no and grow your savings account. Make sure you have liquid capital. Also, whoever you’re talking to, whether it's a lawyer, accountant, banker, or insurance person, make sure they’re someone you can have a conversation with, someone you’re comfortable with. We found that person at our local bank here, and the relationship has really grown. I’m confident that no matter what our financing needs are, we can pick up the phone and have a conversation.”
  • “I’ve had this business for almost six years and have to say that Chick-fil-A, as a franchising model, is a bit different,” Anderson says. “It doesn't require as much liquid capital, but we do pay a higher franchising fee. So, some things about our franchising model make it a little more accessible. At 25, when I started, I wasn’t independently wealthy, so I was really blessed to be able to navigate that. I have to say you must prepare for when the rainy day comes. I think all of us felt that way about COVID-19. When we first shut down dining rooms and were questioning if our businesses would stay open, I was really grateful for the discipline I’d developed before.”
  • “Don't wait until you get to the fourth leg of the relay race to start saving money,” Hill-Holliday adds. “Start saving right out of the starting blocks. If you have a vision of someday becoming an entrepreneur don't spend all of your money. Start saving early. Spend a little, save more.”