Opinions are the writer’s own and not those of Blavity's.
Launching a new business at any time is no doubt a big task. Add a pandemic to the mix and you have a whole new landscape to tackle.
This past year, I embarked on an exciting and somewhat scary new journey. I became a franchise owner for the first time. While I’m not entirely new to entrepreneurship, franchising was a very new domain for me.
During the height of the pandemic, I was the last franchisee to sign on with the PJ’s Coffee of New Orleans franchise in March 2020, right before the U.S. shut down. Becoming a franchise owner was a lifelong dream of mine and embarking on this with PJ’s Coffee was very fortuitous. I grew up in New Orleans with a PJ’s location across the street from my high school. Never did I imagine I’d be achieving this goal under the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Opening a business in a pandemic was a true test of my grit. I had to be flexible and agile to successfully open my franchise in North Dallas, Texas, in February of this year — and I’ve learned many valuable lessons along the way. I hope to share what I’ve learned with other Black millennials who may be interested in franchising to build wealth for their families and communities.
Know Your Net Worth
First off, I can’t stress enough the importance of knowing your personal net worth. You must know where you are financially. You need to be clear on your assets and liabilities. It’s important to see it all on paper and create a clear picture for yourself, so you won’t be surprised later when seeking financing or investing. Being exposed to your true numbers is crucial.
I took out a half-million-dollar loan and absolutely wanted to make sure I was doing so in the most viable way possible. As did my lender.
An Employer Mindset
If the type of franchise you are opening requires you to employ people, you need to start thinking and operating like an employer ASAP. I’m blessed to have a great team of people at my coffee shop. They want the business to be successful because they respect me as a leader.
Focusing on retaining your employees is a must. It is expensive to hire and train, so I hire intentionally and ensure that I am developing my staff continuously to maximize retention. All business owners must excel at people leadership; your team is looking to you for the vision. My PJ’s Coffee location in North Dallas now has 15 employees (and growing) at an 1,800 square foot location featuring a drive-thru, which brings us to the next lesson.
Location Is Everything
Even before the pandemic, I was considering a location with a drive-thru, but it was not a mandatory site attribute. However, once the pandemic hit, a drive-thru location became an absolute must in order for me to proceed. We live in a world increasingly driven by convenience, and that was on overdrive during the pandemic. When everything else was closed, drive-thru locations were the only things open.
For three months, I tracked drive-thru line increases in my area through a detailed market analysis, inclusive of an understanding of surrounding neighborhood demographics, as well as thoroughfare traffic volume. I wanted to make sure I was making a decision based on facts. From a competitive market outlook, I saw how drive-thru businesses were thriving despite the pandemic and were in high demand. Using this data, I moved quickly to find the right location with a drive-thru, which was becoming a hard-to-find commodity. I knew that if I didn’t act immediately, I would miss the opportunity to secure a viable location for good.
Still A Start-Up
Next, it’s important to remember that franchising, even with the support of the parent brand, is still a start-up. You’re given a general road map, but you still need to roll your sleeves up. A franchise doesn’t mean it’s ready to go out the gate. You need to treat this like any other new business launch. Being a franchisee may make some aspects of your pre-opening smoother, but when the first customer comes through the door, you are still a start-up and there is plenty to learn, from operations to inventory, marketing, staffing and more.
Outsourcing Is Key
Knowing what to outsource is also key when it comes to opening a franchise. You can’t do it all!
Whether it’s payroll, legal or sanitation, know which aspects of your operation can be outsourced to other service providers who have expertise in areas you do not. If you’re holding on to too much, it will take energy away from your other responsibilities. Outsourcing will also give you time back, and there’s nothing more valuable than time. Use that time to scale your business and generate more revenue.
Know Your “Why”
Doing your research is a must before launching into a franchise. You need to know if there’s demand for what you’re planning to offer and you need to mitigate risk. But you also may need to do some soul searching. I decided to open my franchise because I had a burning desire to be an owner. I knew I had attained a lot of knowledge through my professional career in corporate America, working with Fortune 500 organizations, and needed to channel it into something that was my own. There’s also something about the ability to pass down expertise and legacy to my family. I also wanted to be a part of a cohort in the Black community focused on building generational wealth.
The pandemic definitely brought its fair share of challenges, like supply chain delays and labor, but I’m proud to say that thanks to a lot of strategic focus, my franchise has been doing well. My goal is to expand into more franchises in the future, but more importantly, I’m now on a mission to share my experiences with other young, Black entrepreneurs. I want to make it known that, as a community, the franchise game is open to us, too.