Three women find success owning franchised businesses
Many women fantasize about leaving the world of 9-to-5 and becoming their own boss. Dreaming and doing are two vastly different things, however, and leaving an established career with a steady income to start from scratch can be scary. The following women bit the bullet and followed their dreams by purchasing and developing franchises in the San Antonio market. Their risks paid off, and they in turn give back to the community through a variety of charitable endeavors. It’s a win-win for these successful franchise owners, their customers and the community they serve.
In 1999, Diane Sinclair opened the doors on her first Great Clips salon franchise in Seguin. Today, the stylish, savvy businesswoman is in the process of opening her 19th location of this select service family salon. It’s a big departure from her days as a full-time environmental lawyer with the Valero Corporation (she still serves as an independent attorney for the company), but it’s one that has allowed her to fulfill her goals of doing more within the community. If you’ve ever set foot in a Great Clips, one of the first things you will notice is the absence of “attitude.” This is not the place you go for a $200 haircut and highlights. It is the place to go, however, if you are looking for a quality cut from a highly trained and educated stylist at an affordable price. “We are not pretentious,” says Diane, who credits the salon for her own chic “do.” “We are a great value, and we are family friendly. We want families to be comfortable, and pricing is a big part of that.”
Diane first discovered Great Clips in her home of California. After applying her corporate legal skills to extensively researching the company, she was impressed with what she calls their “recipe for success,” as well as their support team — an important factor in a franchise business. “The company stresses consistency among the franchises, from the customer service to the cuts to the look of the salons,” she explains. Stylists are hired and trained on a five-step system specific to Great Clips in order to maintain that level of consistency, and all new stylists are nurtured and partnered with seasoned stylists before they are allowed on the floor. They are educated in the Great Clips method of customer service, which places the emphasis on the client — not the stylist. An online check-in option and mobile app reduces any wait time, and consultations are an integral part of the experience. “We want to do what YOU want,” stresses Diane. “We will consult and communicate with you to make sure that you get the cut and style you ask for. People want to feel good about themselves, and we want to help with that.”
Diane’s desire to help people look and feel better extends far beyond the stylist’s chair. She has leveraged her franchises to immerse herself in philanthropic efforts designed to spread that “feel good” vibe. Through her corporate connections, Diane became involved with Haven for Hope and began lobbying for the organization to add a salon to their services. “I thought it would be the icing on the cake to what they do,” she says happily. To show her commitment, Diane and Great Clips donated all the necessary equipment to make the salon functional. Once a month, the Haven Hair Care Salon is staffed with at least five Great Clips stylists who work tirelessly from 2 until 7 p.m., cutting and styling anywhere from 90 to 110 adults and children in need. Her staff also serviced the residents of Prospects Courtyard, a designated area of Haven for Hope that offers the homeless a safe place to sleep.
“I believe in partnering and being active participants within the community,” explains Diane, adding that it is a philosophy she learned from her corporate days. “Valero is a great role model in community service.” In addition to the work she does through Great Clips, Diane is personally involved with Dress for Success, an organization that aims to turn disadvantaged women into empowered professionals. Diane currently serves as the chair of sponsors for that organization’s annual fundraiser, A Taste of Success Casino Night, taking place Oct. 24. “I believe in the idea of helping people get back on their feet,” says Diane. “We are a part of this community, and this is a small way that we can help people transition back into society.”
When she isn’t making San Antonio and its residents more beautiful, Diane and her husband/business partner enjoy spending their time traveling or playing a round of 18 holes. And while owning and operating 19 franchises is a busy job, it is something that Diane says she would happily do all over again. Her advice to anyone considering biting off a piece of a franchise? “Make sure the business is sustainable in a normal economy, and not just a passing fad,” she cautions. “Know your business model, stick with it, and adhere to your core values, and the rest will fall into place.”
Blood, sweat, tears and a lot of dough went into Lisa Fullerton’s dream of opening her own Auntie Anne’s franchise in 2000. She quit her high-paying corporate job in Austin, pulled her kids out of school, sold her home and moved to San Antonio, a city where she knew no one. Her decision had many people shaking their heads in disbelief.
But that’s just what this determined businesswoman did, and today she is serving up delicious Auntie Anne’s pretzel treats at five different locations, including the San Antonio Airport, where she also owns a Cinnabon store. “The average life cycle is a little more than eight years for a food franchise, and we are going on 14 years,” says Lisa proudly.
So how does the managing director for an international behavioral science firm in Austin become a success story in suburban shopping malls? It all started when her neighbor in Round Rock tried her hand at pretzel making. “My neighbor was Anne Beiler, who went on to become Auntie Anne,” laughs Lisa. “She used to cut and perm my hair, and she served me the lemonade that I still serve in the stores today.” Eventually, Lisa went to work as the CFO for Anne’s daughters, who owned five stores in the Austin area. She went through the process to own a franchise, and when the opportunity to open her flagship store in North Star Mall presented itself, Lisa jumped at the chance. “I had my 9- and 12-year-old children working behind the counter in those early days,” she recalls.
Today, Lisa’s son is working in the accounting department of the business while attending college, and Lisa’s sister serves as the marketing director. As for Lisa, although she had a hand in all aspects of the business for the first three years, she has since grown the administrative side to a point where she can delegate and focus on other aspects of the business besides simply operations. Namely, on philanthropy. “Anne’s motto is ‘you give to get to give again,’ and that’s one of the main reasons we aligned ourselves with her business,” explains Lisa. Last year, she was able to contribute a total of $10,000 from donations collected at all five locations to Alex’s Lemonade Stand, a charity that raises money for the treatment of childhood cancers. Through Operation Gratitude, her airport Cinnabon location puts together goodie bags for deployed military personnel and also provides free products to the military traveling home for the holidays.
Closer to home, Lisa is a former board member of Clubhouse San Antonio and remains active in this organization that serves individuals with mental health issues, often employing them as samplers through a transitional employment program. Making life a little better for people is a big part of what motivates Lisa, and that includes her employees, two of whom have been with her for more than 12 years. “I like to try to develop and grow people from within the company,” she says.
Benefits including a health insurance plan, a 401K, profit-sharing and a manager-in-training program all offer incentives to employees to work hard and climb up the corporate ladder. “We want to empower our employees to get to the next level by showing them that hard work can be rewarded,” she explains. “My goal is to be known for treating our employees with dignity, making them feel respected and helping them live a good life by offering these opportunities for their advancement.”
Lisa herself is a prime example of how rewarding hard work can be. Whether it’s for the delicious flavored pretzels, pretzel bites, pretzel dogs or mouthwatering lemonade, there is usually a line at an Auntie Anne’s location. “It chokes me up to see people willing to wait for our food,” she says humbly. “I still love to see people’s faces when they take that first bite.”
KUMON LEARNING CENTER
Former high school teacher Charlotte Immenschuh spent her early days as a franchise owner working 70 to 80 hours a week with a crib in her office to accommodate her newborn. Now this mother of five has the largest Kumon franchise in San Antonio with more than 500 students. “I wanted to reach more kids,” says Charlotte, who taught for one and half years in the public school system prior to opening Kumon. “It was humbling and eye-opening,” she says. “It doesn’t matter what district you are in, the problems in the education system are universal.” Charlotte saw those problems firsthand not just as an educator, but also as a parent. One of her daughters struggled in school, and after doing some research, Charlotte enrolled her in Kumon and watched as her little girl began to blossom. “It transformed her,” says Charlotte of the experience. “She went from being scared and discouraged to being a child with a passion for learning. She’s actually pursuing her own teaching degree now.”
Charlotte, who has a degree in business marketing and comes from a family of entrepreneurs, was so impressed that she began the almost year-long process of opening her own franchise of the Japanese-based business. “I wanted more flexibility, and Kumon allowed me to combine my business, marketing and education experience,” she explains.
Considered “supplemental education” as opposed to “tutoring,” the philosophy and goal of Kumon is to create peace and harmony through education. Charlotte explains that it is based on a time-tested and proven structured linear progression that is more than 50 years old. Not just for struggling kids, it teaches organization and time management skills so that children can become independent learners. “It is all about quality instruction and education,” she says. “It doesn’t follow trends.” Although there is a set curriculum, each child is individually tested and receives a personalized plan based on his or her own needs. They also receive a lot of love and support from Charlotte and her staff. “These kids become a part of our lives,” she says happily. “We go to their birthday parties, graduations and other events.” Because education is such a part of her own life, Charlotte is always ready to do what she can through Kumon to foster a love of learning in the community,. She provides supplemental materials to schools in need, as well as charitable organizations like Camp PJ, where she created summer backpacks filled with school supplies for the children served by that organization.
Last year, as part of a Leadership SAISD group project, Charlotte helped secure the joining of the YMCA with a couple of local middle schools to provide them with a Youth in Government program. “Kumon will stay on to get it up and running,” she says.
Between her own children, two of whom have special needs, and the children of Kumon, Charlotte has to do quite a bit of juggling to keep both her business and her home running smoothly. A passionate cook, she prepares meals in advance so that her family can enjoy a sit-down dinner together in spite of the hectic after-school hours when Kumon is the busiest. “It’s very important to me that we sit down as a family for dinner,” she says. “Plus going to the grocery store relaxes me. It’s a great escape.” Other forms of “escape” for Charlotte include hunting, traveling and reading extensively.
But at the end of the day, it is learning and sharing her love of learning that is her passion. “The biggest reward for me is seeing a child realize his or her untapped potential,” she says happily. “Can’t is not allowed here.” “Can’t” is also not a part of Charlotte’s own vocabulary. Her goals include working more with children who are at risk or who have disabilities, and she aspires to write a children’s book series. “I wasn’t afraid to open a business in my 20s,” says the enthusiastic entrepreneur. “I can’t wait to see what the next 20 years have in store.”