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Women in Franchising: Making Valuable Connections

Margaret Butt, Hallmark Canada

Why did you decide to invest in your franchise?

Operating my two Hallmark franchises in St. John’s and Mount Pearl, Newfoundland, is both fun and challenging. Anyone who has spent any time in the retail industry can appreciate the challenges, but running these stores is a particularly happy and rewarding experience, as we get to help people express and deliver heartfelt messages to those they love. Cards meet an enduring human need to connect in meaningful ways with others, a need that reaches across the tools and customs of any point in time. After almost 110 years in business, Hallmark firmly believes, ‘…small acts of kindness, can make a big impact.’ I work to be part of that equation every day.  No other company is better prepared to help people show they care, than Hallmark. We know the importance of feeling loved, inspired, accepted, and truly connected. And we want to share the power of caring – because when you care enough, you can change the world.

What were you doing before franchising?

My family owned Parkdale Pharmacy, which had been a Hallmark partner since 1956, carrying a selection of its greeting cards. Between the experience of the pharmacy and a stint working as a clerk for the city’s general hospital and health care centre, I thought nursing might be a good fit for me. So, after graduating from MUN, I went to nursing school, where I got my diploma and then a full degree. Then I went on to work in critical care and emergency departments at the hospital.

For a while, I continued to work at the hospital, but soon the pharmacy became a full-time job for me. I  went back to school, earning an MBA through an executive program at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., via videoconferencing while still working full-time at the store. This way, I was able to gradually take over the management of the store and my parents could step back from it.

By 1997, Hallmark approved us as a Gold Crown location. This meant we could stock a broader selection of their products, including an expanded selection of Keepsake Ornaments and gifts. We were able to make a real destination out of it and brought new customers in from all over town.

What are the benefits of franchising with this specific franchise? What are some of the challenges?

Hallmark truly is an iconic brand in the greeting card and personal gift space. All Hallmark Canada franchises operate under the Gold Crown program. Hallmark’s Gold Crown stores are a familiar sight for Canadians seeking greeting cards, gifts, and other social expression products. What separates Gold Crown stores from our competition is that our locations are always offering something new.

In addition to Gold Crown exclusive products, we forge partnerships with local small businesses and artisans to offer customers something truly unique. We’re well-known for carrying chocolates from the Newfoundland Chocolate Company. They really have their product figured out and it sells well for us.

Like many industries, the evolution of digital and social media has disrupted the greeting card industry.  What we think is really interesting are some of the findings about millennials that we’re seeing in research conducted by Hallmark. Consumers, especially millennials, tell us that they love paper and tactile experiences because they are rarer and more special.  We feel positive about the industry, especially as millennials are moving into new life stages.

We also know that beyond the many digital connections, it is important that we ensure we provide a warm place where customers want to shop.

Why do you think women should get into franchising?

As a woman, owning my own business is no easy feat. It comes with many challenges, but with that, is extremely rewarding and offers a great degree of flexibility. I also feel that I bring unique attributes – intuitiveness, initiative – to this business that qualifies me to be a successful franchisee. In fact, it’s that uniqueness that propelled me to win Hallmark’s top sales award for the St. John’s location and a national retail excellence award for Mount Pearl. These are accomplishments that I’m extremely proud of as a female franchisee owner.

I also know that I can make a difference. When you own your own business, you feel that you can accomplish anything. The drive to succeed and not have to overcome the obstacles that you sometimes face in a traditional work setting is extremely empowering.

What advice do you have for women who want to buy a franchise?

It is incredibly important that you bring the right skill sets to the table to set you up for success. You must have a basic understanding of the math behind business – it’s a numbers game – and Profit & Loss statements and budgeting are crucial.  You don’t have to be an expert, but you do need to understand so you can make decisions that are right for the business.

It’s also important that you separate your personal finances from your business finances. You want to protect yourself and your family, while also ensuring that your business finances reflect the current health of your franchise.

Bobbie Thompson, Right at Home Canada

Why did you decide to invest in your franchise?

I wanted to have my own business that works with seniors and their families. I looked at a variety of senior home care franchises and chose Right at Home Canada because it aligned with my values. And the CEO was a woman who was passionate about the brand.

What were you doing before franchising?

I worked in the non-profit field for approximately 22 years, eight of those years as Director of Finance.

What are the benefits of franchising with this specific franchise? What are some of the challenges?

Benefits: It has a strong presence in the U.S. (over 23 years), as well as internationally, and I expect that same growth to take place in Canada. The corporate support/structure is fantastic. The individual office can tailor the services based on the need of their community. Challenges: Like anything else, the amount of work you put in will determine the amount of success. Staff recruitment is very challenging, as the need for caregiver is higher than the number of qualified caregivers available. Building up the brand awareness can also be a challenge, since Right at Home is not as well known in British Columbia as it is in Ontario.

Why do you think women should get into franchising?

They can be their own boss. The franchise system can be a lower-risk endeavour than starting a business from scratch.

What advice do you have for women who want to buy a franchise?

Do their research, make sure it’s the right one for them, and talk with other franchise owners. Be prepared for the amount of time it takes to get the business going. Have mentors that they can get advice from throughout the journey.

Lynne Motkoski, WSI 

Why did you decide to invest in your franchise?

In 2008, I was looking for an opportunity in a new and growing industry that I could apply in my local market area, that did not require extensive travel, and that I could partner in with my husband as a type of second career. Having previous experience starting several businesses, I thought I would shorten my start-up phase by leveraging the knowledge and processes that a franchise offers. After becoming overwhelmed with the vast number of choices, I hired a franchise broker who helped me create a list of criteria to evaluate opportunities. After much exploration, my top criteria led me to seek a knowledge-based business with a target market oriented to decision makers. The WSI franchise was a fit. And I had come full circle.

What were you doing before franchising?

Prior to franchising, I worked more than 20 years in financial services. My expertise was in financial planning and solutions with life, disability, and investment products for professionals, business owners, and their families. With additional experience in owning retail stores and direct sales coaching, I had skill sets in marketing, networking, public speaking, and customer service. I’ve always been interested in consulting and how communications are at the core of every business and personal outcome.

What are the benefits of franchising with WSI franchise?  What are some of the challenges?

Benefits: The franchise offers relatively low start-up and operating costs. You develop your own solutions packages and pricing. WSI offers extensive initial training including one-on-one and online small group coaching to learn the WSI consulting processes of marketing, sales, and customer service in the context of WSI INTERNET SOLUTIONS LIFECYCLE®. There is a vetted marketplace of service providers and the latest technology tools to use in creating consulting solutions.

WSI offers many ongoing weekly and monthly opportunities for training and learning. Each year there is a destination conference where suppliers and franchisees from around the world meet to learn, network, and share their knowledge. It’s a fun experience to be part of a global community.

Challenges:  WSI does not offer an out-of-the box product. It is a consulting franchise with many solutions options that might stand alone or be put together into a bundle. There are numerous possible target markets, by industry or by solution, so it takes some time to figure out who your clients are in your target market and how you can help them solve their problem. You are responsible to develop your own leads and customers.

Why do you think more women should get into franchising?

If you want to step into leadership, a franchise is an excellent place to start. Lead yourself first.

It’s an opportunity to create your own business by using the franchisor’s brand name, proven processes, training resources, and support. It is less risky than starting totally on your own.

For anyone, particularly women, who want flexibility of hours as to when and where they work, or who want a change of pace due to life circumstances, a franchise can be a change facilitator.

If you want to be an entrepreneur, but you don’t know other women entrepreneurs, a franchise will provide a community of like-minded franchisees. It’s a guarantee that some will be women!

What advice do you have for women who want to buy a franchise?

Think about what you want your franchise business to give you in terms of income, lifestyle, customers, business location, hours, and team.

Use a franchise broker to help direct your search and compare options. Start looking now. Take time to talk to a few franchisors and franchisees regarding their challenges and successes.

Be prepared to work hard and learn. Whether or not you have industry experience, it’s going to be a bigger learning curve than you think.

Consider developing your franchise with family as business partners or employees. My husband is my business partner in this second career. It’s fun. From our south Edmonton office, we have grown a digital marketing agency, with an in-house team, that services many local clients.

And finally, project and plan your growth. It takes a few years to get a new business established. Your success will be determined by your efforts in marketing, sales, and servicing your customers.


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