Economic Development, Retail, and Small Business & Startups

Female business ownership on the rise

Owners cite flexibility, community impact for desire to become franchisee.

January 26, 2018
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More women are looking to franchise ownership as a career opportunity. According to data recently released by FranNet, a national franchise matchmaking firm, female franchisees rose by 71 percent between 2011 and 2016, while male ownership only rose 26 percent.

In West Michigan, the percentage of female franchise owners rose steadily between 2013 and 2017, based on the number of women FranNet alone helped match with franchises.

In 2013, 14 percent of franchise owners were female. In 2014, it jumped to 43 percent, 2015 saw 53 percent ownership, it went down to 25 percent in 2016 and in 2017, it was 50 percent.

“Ultimately, if you look at those numbers, there’s been pretty much a steady growth overall,” said Brigitte Betser, FranNet consultant for the West Michigan market.

Betser, who covers franchising in Lansing, Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids, Holland, Grand Haven, St. Joseph and Benton Harbor, said most women take up ownership with franchises in hair care, nutrition, tutoring services, fitness and food service.

Based on her own clients, Betser said the main motive for women entering franchising is flexibility. She said a lot of her clients are mothers or have aging parents who need attention, and owning a franchise allows them the flexibility to manage a business, as well as their personal responsibilities.

“There are a lot of concepts that are attractive as far as flexibility,” she said, “seasonal concepts, semi-absentee — that is a manager concept. The owner is taking on a management role, but they have an individual hired on to handle the day-to-day process.”

Impact is another reason Betser gave for the trend, claiming a lot of women she talked to came from corporate roles where they didn’t feel they were making enough of an impact.

Sue Yocum, the owner of Scout and Molly’s, a clothing boutique opening in March at Breton Village, said opening a franchise with the company allowed her to be more influential in her community. She said she spent two decades working for Fortune 100 companies.

“Most franchise owners will tell you it’s about being involved in the community,” Yocum said. “It’s something corporate giving used to do, but you see in the past 15 to 20 years corporations have increasingly distanced themselves from the communities in which they work.”

Yocum admitted representing a major brand for community involvement may sound counterintuitive, but what drew her to Scout and Molly’s was their approach to custom catering for the communities in which they operate.

“With Scout and Molly’s, no two stores are alike,” she said. “Instead of saying, ‘This is how many blouses we’re going to carry,’ you instead identify your clientele and you specifically buy for your clientele.”

Yocum suggested another reason so many more women are entering franchising is companies are beginning to embrace women as leaders.

“I think they’re capitalizing on the skill set that women leaders seem to have,” she said.

For Hillary Tilton, the owner of several Sylvan Learning Centers in the Midwest, franchising has been a family affair. She grew up in the Sylvan business when her parents started 33 years ago. Tilton and her husband now operate six learning centers, plus two satellite locations in West Michigan and seven in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

“I started out running one center as center director. I learned the business from the ground up,” Tilton said. “After that, I started overseeing all of the West Michigan centers. As time went on, I started taking more of the franchisee responsibilities.”

Prior to working at Sylvan, Tilton had a degree in education and worked as a special education teacher, but operating a franchise taught her the business side of teaching.

“It’s the combination of being able to be in education but also balancing that with the business side,” she said. “We help to change students’ lives. We see an increase in confidence. They become more independent in their school work.”

Tilton said she also appreciates the opportunity to mentor other women in their professional goals. She has about 25 full-time employees, many of whom are women.

“I enjoyed helping to teach our employees how they can grow and be a role model and develop professionally,” she said. “It’s kind of a new way of teaching.”

Kendra Townsend is a business owner in Byron Center who also used franchising as a platform to turn her passion into a profession. After working in the transportation industry for about 30 years, she decided to find a way to diversify her income.

“I’m in my 40s and decided maybe I should be building a second income,” she said. “I got hooked up with Brigitte at FranNet, and she did a personality test to see if I was good at franchises.”

Betser introduced Townsend to 9Round Fitness, a personal training center that incorporates kickboxing with high-intensity interval training. With her own passion for fitness and desire to manage her own business, it seemed like the perfect fit.

“I think there are so many people that don’t understand how to meet their health and fitness means,” she said. “And for me, it’s a lifestyle, not, ‘I’m gonna do this for three months and then get off it.’ That doesn’t work. I want to offer more than a gym membership.”

When she opened last year, Townsend became 9Round’s 400th franchisee. She said the company now is close to 600 locations nationwide.

Townsend still maintains her corporate role while managing 9Round Fitness. Given her experience, she said owning a franchise is unique because it gives her the chance to interact with customers and other 9Round owners.

“I’m enjoying helping people. I talk to my members every day,” she said. “I had a handful of people I talked to already lost seven or eight pounds.”

Betser said as more women enter franchising, others may be inspired to follow suit after seeing the opportunities it affords.

“I think in general, we’re going to see a continued thought process for self-employment in the future,” she said. “It’s more risk-averse, and I say that because others have done it.”

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