Headshots of Diverse Franchisees
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Women at the Helm

A report published in December 2023 by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business indicates that women business owners contribute $150 billion to the Canadian economy annually and employ thousands of workers. As we celebrate International Women’s Day (March 8) with this year’s theme “Inspire Inclusion,” Franchise Canada is shining a spotlight on three female franchisees who add to this positive nationwide impact.

By Kym Wolfe

Kate Uchendu, COBS Bread

With a background in nursing, Kate Uchendu was no stranger to long work hours, at all times of the day and night. So when she first opened her COBS Bread store in Scarborough, Ontario, in 2021, she was prepared to be in the store baking at 4 a.m. every morning, then switching to front-of-house customer service and connecting with people in her community.

“I remember all those sleep-deprived nights when the bakery first opened,” says Uchendu. “I was definitely not fully prepared for the kind of overwhelming response the bakery received in the community. It was wonderful, but it was exhausting.

“Without the support of my area manager, the franchisee who trained me, and other franchisees who supported me with ingredients and even staff in those early days, I don’t know what would have happened. The entire COBS network is very committed to the success of every franchisee.”

At COBS, everything is baked fresh daily. Each day when the store closes, any remaining items are distributed through local organizations to families in the community. “We bake enough to ensure we have a few of everything left at the end of the day—that is built into our business model—and there is a huge demand. There are nine charities that my store supports,” says Uchendu, noting that this practice aligns with her own personal values. “As a new immigrant to Canada in 2003, I benefitted from programs and services offered in the community, and I feel a strong commitment to giving back.” One such program was emergency childcare offered through a local community centre, similar to the organization her location now supports with its End of Day Giving program.

Uchendu also appreciates the company’s commitment to franchisee financial health. “COBS is constantly providing tools that support productivity and operational efficiency, and therefore profitability. Opening in the middle of the pandemic meant significant staffing challenges, but we have fine-tuned our screening and retention strategies and it’s much more stable now.”

Franchising with COBS Bread can be challenging, simply because it requires a huge commitment of time and energy to run a bakery seven days a week—every day except Christmas and New Year’s Day—says Uchendu. “A passionate, motivated self-starter who loves to follow established systems will succeed in this business.”

Uchendu now has six full-time bakers, so she doesn’t need to be on-site at 4 a.m. every day, and she fluctuates between six and 12 part-time sales staff. She still shows up daily, works long hours, and remains passionate about her business and is looking to open a second COBS store once she finds the right location.

COBS Bread franchise logo

Marnie Farn, Lice Squad.com

Marnie Farn, a Métis woman who lives in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, recalls that when her daughter picked up head lice, there was no local business service to help her deal with it. Years later she decided to fill that gap, opening her Lice Squad.com franchise in 2014. She’s found that customers not only appreciate the lice removal service that she provides but also the all-natural shampoo and other products that don’t use harsh chemicals like traditional lice treatments.

Initially, Farn was still working full-time and didn’t have a brick-and-mortar location. Her mobile Lice Squad.com service took Farn and her consultants to homes in the Saskatoon area and to hotels where out-of-town customers stayed when they needed her services. By 2017, business had grown to a point that she was able to cut back to part-time hours at work and was ready to open a clinic. In 2021, Farn left her full-time job to dedicate more time to her business.

Growing the business while working full-time was challenging, but it did give Farn a way to build slowly without having to rely solely on income from Lice Squad.com. She received ongoing advice, information, and support from franchise founder and president Dawn Mucci, the Lice Squad.com head office team, and other franchisees, not only during start-up but on an ongoing basis. “Dawn is a visionary, and everyone in the office is amazing!” says Farn. “We also have meetings about once a month with all of the franchisees, where we can bounce ideas off each other.”

She also sought out resources in her own community, something she highly recommends to anyone who is exploring entrepreneurship. That led Farn to connect with Women Entrepreneurs of Saskatchewan (a non-profit dedicated to helping women start, grow, and scale their businesses) and SaskMétis Economic Development Corporation (an economic development hub for the Métis Nation in Saskatchewan).

Farn feels that to operate a successful Lice Squad.com franchise, people who have experience dealing with head lice in their own family will be better able to empathize with clients and understand their stress. “They are often emotional and devastated when you see them,” she says. “You need to be able to reassure them, and education is a big part of what we do.” She usually deals with mothers and feels that woman-to-woman support is a factor in her success. “Women want to talk to other women. It’s a comfort thing,” she says.

Lice Squad.com Franchise Logo

Sarah Tollestrup, Wendy’s Restaurants of Canada

Sarah Tollestrup was born into a family business that has grown significantly in her lifetime, and she is now part of the ownership team. “Our first Wendy’s opened 37 years ago in Lethbridge [Alberta] with my grandpa and Aunt Martie, who is still actively part of the business,” says Tollestrup. The family now owns and operates seven Wendy’s locations in Alberta, and store number eight, a new build, will be open by the end of 2024.

From a very young age, “I always wanted to be part of the family business—I love the people, the daily challenges, and that every day is exciting and different,” says Tollestrup. She also describes herself as “a huge rule follower” and is a big fan of Wendy’s operational tools and systems and its commitment to food quality, safety, and freshness. The key to success, she says, is to “build a strong team and really trust the system—it works! There is a great corporate team that guides us to make sure we are both supported and driving operational excellence.”

At the same time, she says, “I am always trying to be a leader in the industry, to adopt the most current technology and invest in new equipment, and being adaptable, ever-changing, in response to the current environment.” She appreciates that Wendy’s has been receptive to thinking outside the box when it comes to smaller rural locations, rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach. For example, her newest store is part of Wendy’s newest restaurant design, Global Next Gen, and will have a smaller footprint and different layout than a typical Wendy’s, which is a better fit for the local market.

Wendy’s currently has 72 Canadian franchisees, many multi-unit owners, and more than 425 restaurant locations across the country. There are female corporate leaders in all areas of the business, including operations, development, and IT, and Tollestrup feels that the company has created an environment that actively encourages and supports women to be part of and grow with the brand. Tollestrup relies on a number of strong women on her own leadership team, including Liza Granada, her general manager in Brooks, Alberta, who was recognized as one of the top general managers for Wendy’s in 2023.

Wendy's Franchise Logo