With the recession coming to a close, it’s a great time for women in franchising. So many women have lost their jobs in the bad economy that now more than ever, becoming a franchisee means fresh opportunity. And women who previously stayed at home are finding that starting their own business is a good way to compensate when a spouse loses his job. Women who once may have seen franchising as going out on a limb feel they have less to lose. And though it’s possible to fail as a franchisee, there’s a certain sense of job security involved: Once you become your own boss, you’re in charge of your destiny.
“The opportunities are just going to get greater for women,” says Dina Dwyer-Owens, former chair of the International Franchise Association and chair and chief executive officer of The Dwyer Group, a franchise holding company her father founded. “There are so many more opportunities in franchising today than there were 30 years ago when I began,” explains Dwyer-Owens, who estimates that franchising currently covers about 80 industries, which practically guarantees that all women will be able to find a franchise concept they feel compatible with. More choices also mean the option to work from home and greater flexibility in hours.
Mary Rogers founded Computertots, a children’s technology franchise, in the early 1980s for just that reason — she’d started a family and wanted to have a flexible schedule. Rogers has since moved on, cofounding Abrakadoodle with Rosemarie Hartnett in 2002. Abrakadoodle franchisees run their businesses from home, offering art programs to children at schools, museums, community centers, and other public places.
Rogers and Hartnett agree that certain factors make franchising ideal for women, who tend to have natural networking, collaborating, and multitasking skills. Home-based franchises have low overhead, which makes it easier for women who don’t have a lot of capital to get financing and become business owners. Like Dwyer-Owens, Rogers and Hartnett are very involved in the IFA, which has a lot of resources for women franchisees. Some of these include MinorityFran, the Women’s Franchise Committee, and the Women’s Franchise Discussion Forum. Hartnett says that over the years not only has women’s participation in women’s franchising events increased, but so has the number of men offering their support at events.
Part of the reason women have been drawn to franchising, says Dwyer-Owens, is the training and support. “Women are collaborators,” she says, “so having a support team to rely on is really beneficial.” Plus, franchising is a quick-start vehicle, so women making the leap to owning their own business — whether from the corporate world or from home — can do so without years of planning.
As for that old-fashioned glass ceiling, as far as Dwyer-Owens is concerned, it’s mostly a state of mind. Growing up, Dwyer-Owens had two sisters and three brothers, and her father had equal expectations for all his children, boys and girls alike. “I’ve never let myself have that mind-set,” says Dwyer-Owens. But she concedes that she has spoken with women who’ve come up against barriers. “Take action!” urges Dwyer-Owens, who emphasizes that women need to boost their confidence levels and, if they are in an environment where restrictions are put on women, go to a different place. According to a 2008 to 2009 study by the Center for Women’s Business Research, 40 percent of all privately held firms in the U.S. are women-owned, proof that backward attitudes about women and business are becoming more and more a thing of the past.
The latest statistics from the IFA show that approximately 25 percent of franchisees are women. “There’s really no glass ceiling in franchising,” says Rogers, who notes that there’s been a lot of progress in the last decade, with an increasing openness to women in leadership roles. However, she still sees an underrepresentation of women in management roles, something she hopes will change in the future.
According to the Center for Women’s Business Research statistics released in December 2009, 42 percent of women business owners who responded are seeing an improvement in net earnings. As the economy continues to mend, it’s probable that more women will step into management roles by becoming franchisees.
Dwyer-Owens says that there’s really no magic market for women deciding which franchise to become a part of. “We’re all different. They just need to look for the business they’re most interested in and have a passion for, whether it’s plumbing or facials.” As is the case for all potential franchisees, women should complete their due diligence before entering into any agreement. And, of course, once they’re there, they need to network, network, network.
Be sure to visit the AllBusiness Women in Business center for more articles, resources, and expert advice on succeeding as a woman in today’s competitive business world.
Carrie Brenner is a writer and editor based in Southern California.