Many women who’ve taken time off work to stay home with their children face the same questions and hurdles when trying to decide if franchise ownership is the right path forward for them. We hear the same questions over and over again. Do I have what it takes? How can I balance taking care of my kids while running a new business? Will it really be worth it?
If any of these sound familiar, look no further than Katie Smith, owner of the Cookie Cutters Meridian franchise. With a degree in accounting and 11 years out of the workforce to raise her four daughters, Katie had the same questions many of you have when she was weighing the pros and cons of franchise ownership.
Hear her inspiring story in episode 9 of the Franchise Rising podcast, or continue reading about it here.
Katie and her family were living a comfortable life in Arkansas when she first reached out to Neal and Alexis Courtney, owners of Cookie Cutters, a hair salon for kids. Her husband was working in his dream job, her daughters attended a great school, and they lived in a wonderful neighborhood.
But, Katie noticed something was missing - a place to get her daughters’ hair cut. They’d been loyal customers of Cookie Cutters when they’d previously lived in Utah, and realized there was nothing similar in their area.
Katie had stopped working in her accounting job when her first daughter was born 11 years ago, but had always had the itch to go back to work. Maybe this was the opportunity she had been waiting for.
With her newborn daughter on her lap, she sent an email to Neal and Alexis to ask about opportunities in Arkansas in February of 2016. This is when it all began.
After several discussions, the Courtneys explained to Katie that Boise could be the perfect market for a Cookie Cutters - it’s a growing city without any competition from other kids’ salons.
Katie presented the idea to her husband. A move to Boise would get them out west, closer to Utah where their families lived, but there were so many unknowns. Would her husband be able to find a job? Was it worth leaving the life they loved so much in Arkansas?
Always supportive, her husband encouraged her to take the plunge. He immediately started looking for a job in Boise, and they moved out west just six months later, in September of that same year. Six months after that (and one week after closing on their house), Katie opened her first Cookie Cutters location, in Meridian, on February 27, 2017.
She’s signed a contract to open two more locations in the Boise area and is working on that now.
This was a lot of change at once. If Katie could go back in time, she probably would have staggered the pieces more. But, she’s learned to always expect the unexpected - no matter how much you plan, there’s no way to truly predict how things will go. And if she could do it, you can, too.
Katie had lots of questions before buying her Cookie Cutters franchise, but the first one was about finances. She’d always thought franchisees had to be very rich, maybe retired baby boomers with retirement money and significant investments.
Katie’s family had some savings, and her husband had a good salary from his job as a nurse anesthetist. They presented their finances to the franchisors, and were told they were financially qualified.
The financial questions extended beyond just buying the business, though. With her accounting background, Katie wanted to be sure she was making a sound decision. Plus, she had promised her husband she would make up for the lower salary he had in Idaho.
Katie did her best to make projections based on numbers she got from other franchisees, including estimates on how many haircuts she could expect to have per day, how much to pay employees, how much rent would cost, and more.
It turned out that her projections were way off - it was really hard to make estimates because the Boise market was different from the other locations where Cookie Cutters already existed. But, that wasn’t a bad thing. Katie was already making money by the year mark, exceeding her own and her franchisor’s projections.
Katie’s other main questions centered around if she could really own the business while being a mother. Her ultimate responsibility is being a mom to her four daughters. Could she really take care of them while running a business? Could she mostly work from home? Would it work to do most of her work in the evenings after her girls were asleep?
The answers were yes, yes, and yes.
Many Cookie Cutters owners are mothers like Katie, and others actually have full time jobs, running their franchise on the side.
But, just because it can be done doesn’t mean it’s easy. Katie hasn’t hired a manager to take care of day-to-day operations because she really wants to get to know her business inside and out. Now that it’s been over a year, she’s ready to hire a manager which will take some tasks off her plate.
But today, Katie’s still doing it all. She can mostly set her schedule around her kids, but she’s always on call. Many of her employees have children themselves, so they all try to work together to accommodate each others’ schedules. But, it can’t always be done. And since she’s not a hair stylist, Katie can’t step in if one of her stylists has to stay home because her child is sick.
This actually has been the most challenging part of business ownership - managing employees. Katie hadn’t done it before, so there was a learning curve. It took about six months to really learn how to manage effectively, always working to go with the flow instead of getting stressed when there’s a last minute change.
How does she manage it all? It’s hard, and she’s still figuring it out.
Katie’s advice for other women looking to buy a franchise is to realize it will take work and time to find balance. She’s had to take a step back from her workouts, lunches with friends, and time volunteering at her church and daughters’ schools, but that’s okay for now. It’s okay to set boundaries, and it’s okay to say no.
Like every business, Katie’s Cookie Cutters has had its ups and downs. The first month was a huge success, but months 2-5 were slower. Then it picked up again in month six.
So, how doe she deal with the down times? She says the support she’s received from Cookie Cutters can’t be beat. She can reach out to other franchisees through their private Facebook group that’s updated daily with advice and ideas.
The franchisor provides support from everything from store design and layout to software troubleshooting. She truly feels the age-old franchise mantra is true, “in business for yourself but not by yourself.”
Of course, this support doesn’t come for free - it’s included in the royalties she pays each month. Katie encourages franchisees to look at their royalty payments as extra value rather than an expense. The support system is so powerful, the royalty fees are more than worth it.
For Katie, one of the most fulfilling aspects of franchise ownership is the example she’s setting for her daughters. They’re seeing first hand that franchising is not a man’s world, and kids learn so much more from what they see you do than from listening to what you say.
A woman can own and run a successful business, so if that’s what her daughters want, they should go for it. “You can do this. You can have that dream of owning a business. You can be in charge,” she says.
Her girls love spending time at the salon, learning the ins and outs of the business. Maybe they’ll each own their own location one day!
Leaving a legacy is one of the main reasons many women get into franchise ownership, and Katie is doing just that as an example of a strong, successful entrepreneur - not just for her daughters, but for all of us who’ve heard her story, too.