FAN of the Year Perspective: Why It's Important to Join the Franchise Action Network and Get Involved

You, the tireless, hardworking franchise owners of this nation, are needed to step forward and tell your story to lawmakers. Don’t wait, do it now. It all starts with a “yes.”

By Mara Fortin

Did I really think I could make any kind of difference? Who was I? Washington D.C. seemed very far away. Okay, I guess it was far away since I live in San Diego. I knew that I had a lot to say, the experience to back up what I had to say, and enough grit and gumption to get up there and say it. So why did I keep questioning whether anyone really wanted to hear from me or even care, for that matter?

If this sounds like you and if these thoughts have run through your mind on more than one occasion, please hear me out. It has been a wild and crazy ride from San Diego to Washington and everywhere in between over the last 18 months or so, but I wouldn’t change a moment of it. Even with all of the challenges we face as small-business owners, some internally and some handed to us so nicely from our local, state and federal governments, we have an avenue to speak up through IFA’s Franchise Action Network. 

Our elected representatives care and they are listening. Yes, they are listening to you and want to hear your small-business story.

From bakery owner to business advocate

Here’s a little bit of my story and how I went from lawyer to bakery owner to small-business advocate. I moved to Las Vegas in the 1999 after finishing law school at the University of Arizona. I passed the bar exam and by the fall was working in my dream field. I enjoyed my practice and my clients. What I didn’t enjoy was the very long hours billing for someone else. I saw very little return for my herculean efforts, and at times the weight of it all became overwhelming and affected every part of my life and marriage. 

In 2004 I gave birth to my first daughter, Kendall. Due to the demands of my practice and other circumstances, my maternity leave was cut short after only two weeks and I returned to work full time. I didn’t complain about it, but I did suffer for it. Two years later I had my second daughter, Karyn, and vowed to take more time off. But alas, circumstances had not changed much with my employer and I found myself in almost the identical position. That was enough for me.  

Two amazing ladies had started a great bakery concept in Las Vegas called Nothing Bundt Cakes. I had my first bundt cake as a law clerk and had them at both of my baby showers. I was hooked. The cakes were amazing! My husband and I contacted the owners to inquire about franchising. We didn’t hear anything back for quite some time. Finally, we got an email response; they were ready to start franchising. We were thrilled! And completely clueless! 

And so began a 10-year journey that has tested everything I was and am. In 2006 we found our first location in a suburb of San Diego — Poway, Calif. On St. Patrick’s Day 2007, I opened the first franchise of Nothing Bundt Cakes. My children were two-and-a-half and nine months old at the time and my husband, also an attorney, stayed in Las Vegas to keep the secure income flowing. Two years later I opened a second location in upscale Del Mar.  

Rocky Road to Success

Although it was busy with two locations and two small children, things seemed to be smoothing out and I was learning how to run all aspects of the business. Within three months, however, the pressures of distance and stress finally took their toll and my marriage ended. I found myself with two bakeries, two kids and a great deal of uncertainty as a single mom.

The bakeries soon started to suffer and I couldn’t seem to be able to pull it together. I made the very difficult decision in the summer of 2010 to send my two daughters away for three months while I focused exclusively on putting my business, and myself, back together. I added a key team member, Jennifer Malcangio, who is with me to this day, and away we went together getting the business back on solid footing. We quickly succeeded and two years later, we opened the third and most successful bakery in Mission Valley, Calif. We were now moving solidly in the right direction.

From 2013 to 2015, we opened five more bakeries and closed one. Two bakeries opened one week apart from each other in December 2013, our busiest month by a mile. Now, here we are in 2016 holding strong and steady at seven in San Diego County, with a little over 100 employees. At the beginning of 2015, I found myself, not unpredictably, ready for the next challenge. Perfectly timed, in walk the wonderful folks from the IFA and the Franchise Action Network.

An effective voice for franchising

Debbie Shwetz, co-founder of Nothing Bundt Cakes, invited me to speak on a panel at the 2015 IFA convention in Las Vegas. There, I met the fantastic team running regulatory affairs at the IFA and FAN and they asked me to speak on camera about the impending joint employer ruling by the National Labor Relations Board. I did, eagerly, and everyone realized that, with my legal background and my small-business story, I could be an effective voice. I think I found my calling right about then.

Over the next few months I continued to speak on the topic, giving interviews when requested and speaking with legislators, such as Congressman Scott Peters (D) of California’s 52nd District. In July 2015, I got the call that I was being considered to testify before Congress on the joint employer issue and on Sept. 29, I testified before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions. 

The next day I moderated a press conference with several members of the House and Senate, and many small-business owners who shared their stories. It was an honor to participate.

Since that time, I've had many opportunities to speak with local, state and federal officials on matters affecting small businesses today. I have been back to Washington three times and have given many interviews and speeches. I don’t plan to stop and will do anything and everything in my power to serve the small-business owners across this country that I admire so much. 

It all starts with a “yes.”

We are at a crucial time and we need to speak up in support of the American Dream! How do you get involved?  It all starts with a “yes.” When you are called upon to share your small-business story, don’t second-guess yourself; say “yes!” Your voice does matter and we need to hear from you. 

Members of Congress wanted to hear my story and they cared. And my story isn’t even as compelling as many of yours. I’m just the average American who decided to live her American Dream and experienced hurdles and challenges along the way, like so many of you.

I cannot impress upon you enough how important you are as spokespersons for the tireless, hardworking business owners across this nation. You are needed. IFA and FAN need you to step forward and tell your story. Don’t wait, do it now. It all starts with a yes.  

2015 FAN of the Year Mara Fortin is Founder and President of K&K Kakery LLC and MV Kakery LLC, owner of seven Nothing Bundt Cakes bakeries.