If you want to know how the state of women in franchising has changed in the past 30 years, there’s no better person to ask than Catherine Monson. The CEO of graphics and sign services franchisor FASTSIGNS International has been involved in franchising industry since 1980. Starting in franchise sales at printing franchisor Sir Speedy, she quickly rose through the ranks and in 1999, became President and COO of PIP Printing (owned by Sir Speedy parent Franchise Services Inc.).
In January 2009, Monson joined FASTSIGNS; in April, received the Bonny LeVine Award at the IFA Convention. The award, named in memory of PIP’s co-founder, annually honors a female franchisor or franchisee who demonstrates outstanding accomplishments and is a role model for women in the industry. Monson has worked in all aspects of franchising, including operations, franchise development, sales, training and marketing/communications; is a former member of the Board of Directors of the International Franchise Association (IFA); and is active in several IFA committees.
Q: In general, do you think women have certain strengths that make them well suited to opening a franchise compared to an independent business?
Monson: Opening a franchise, when compared to an independent business, is a great opportunity for anyone because of everything that comes with it. When buying a franchise, you have the power of a proven brand behind you, as well as the structure and support that your franchisor provides.
In regards to women, I think it truly depends on the individual woman — what her strengths and weaknesses are, and what her goals are for the business.
Q: What are some of the challenges women franchisees faced back in 1980 that they no longer face?
Monson: The biggest challenge in 1980 was that many franchisors were skeptical in even awarding a franchise to a woman. Most women simply weren’t given enough credit.
Now, not only are more women becoming franchise owners, but there are is more diversity in [the franchise opportunities] available, which means that a woman who is looking to start her own business via a franchise will have a better chance at finding something that suits her.
Q: Do you think franchising in general is still an old boy’s network? Do women have to fight extra hard?
Monson: Progress has definitely been made, but I still think that in any industry, women need to be reconciled with the fact that they may have to fight a little harder.
For example, there are 38 IFA board members, five of whom are women, and the board represents CEOs and presidents of franchise companies across several industries. This is a fair representation of the business world, in my experience. The IFA itself has a diversity initiative and has goals to continue achieving further diversity. However, outside of the IFA, I know that may not always be the case.
The beauty of starting a franchise is that there is no glass ceiling to break through because you are your own boss. In a corporate environment, women have to work harder and smarter — that is reality. When you begin your own franchise business, the environment is what you make it, and is within your control.
Q: How have women franchisees evolved over the years?
Monson: Many women franchisees today have more corporate experience, as well as management experience, than in the past. We also see more women buying franchises on their own, without their spouse. In April, for example, we sold a FASTSIGNS franchise to Laurie Sigillito in Durango, Colorado. She is the sole owner and operator — and has been doing a fantastic job with the business. Laurie came to FASTSIGNS with a background in technology and business development. That is definitely not something that was seen very often, if at all, when I started in franchising.
Q: Do you think there is still a need for franchisors to offer incentives to encourage women as franchisees, or have women gone “mainstream”?
Monson: More women are starting their own business through franchising compared to the past. However, I think there is still a need for franchisors to encourage and target women. To me, that means not only providing incentives to get started, but also making sure support is in place to help that business to succeed.
For example, the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) is a great organization that focuses on women-owned businesses and supplier diversity within corporations. They provide programs, certifications and opportunities for women-owned businesses. WBENC is an example of the kinds of support woman-owned franchises need.
FASTSIGNS considers women-owned businesses the same as minority-owned businesses. We offer women, as well as minorities and veterans, a franchise fee reduced by 40 percent.
Q: Is financing still a special concern for women?
Monson: In today’s economy, financing is a concern for any franchise candidate. It is difficult for anyone — married, single, male or female — and we are all facing challenges because of it.
Q: Are younger women franchisees today (say, women in their 20s) different than their older counterparts? If so, how?
Monson: Each age brings a new set of challenges as well as the opportunity to learn and grow. I think that women in both age groups bring something significant to the table.
One aspect that sets younger female franchisees apart is that they were more exposed to the idea of women achieving business success and independence. These women have also been exposed to diverse technologies at a younger age, and are more savvy in aspects such as social media marketing.
Q: What are some of the projects or issues the IFA’s Women’s Franchise Committee is currently working on to help women in franchising?
Monson: The IFA has a mentoring program where matches are made between mentors and ‘mentees’. The match is carefully put together based on the mentee’s needs and areas that they wish to develop.
The IFA also has Women’s Franchise Committee regional meetings to reach out to women. For geographic areas where there may not be a Women’s Franchise Committee regional meeting, there are webinars and online tools available. (Find more information about IFA resources for women on the IFA website.)
There is also a leadership conference the day before the annual IFA Convention that provides great learning opportunities.
Q: What do you think the future holds for women in franchising?
Monson: I believe it will only continue to get better. The number of women becoming franchise business owners will continue to increase, and previous barriers that may have stood in the way will continue to get knocked down.
Karen Axelton is Chief Content Officer at GrowBiz Media, a content and consulting company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Get more insights on small business at www.smallbizdaily.com.