Q&A with Smoothie "Queen" Fern Carty Dawkins
IFA’s Diversity Institute would like to introduce you to Fern Carty Dawkins, a multi-unit Smoothie King franchisee. She discusses her transition to franchising, mentorship and work-life balance in this exclusive Franchising World Q&A.
By Miriam L. Brewer, CFE
What led you to franchising?
Fern Carty Dawkins: There were several stepping stones that guided me on my path to franchising. But there were two notable ones: The first was back in college when I had an opportunity to hear Valerie Daniels-Carter of V&J Holding Companies speak on a panel at a conference in Atlanta, Ga. on her experience becoming a Burger King franchisee. Hearing her speak was undoubtedly the impetus for my interest in franchising. The second stepping stone came nearly seven or eight years later when I was seated at a dinner where Mrs. Carter’s brother was receiving an award. In hearing his bio, I made the connection to her panel discussion years ago and was inspired by how remarkably their franchised businesses had grown. It was after this encounter that I began getting serious about changing my career path toward franchising.
How did you transition from a corporate attorney at the world’s largest retailer to going into business for yourself?
Fern Carty Dawkins: At first, I intended to continue my legal career at Walmart while I pursued franchising. But at the time, I was getting married and moving to Houston, and all signs were pointing toward making a clean break, starting fresh, and going full-throttle with this new business venture. I think others might say it looked like I had it all planned out, but despite taking a relatively measured approach, I was truly stepping out on faith, often wondering if I had made the right decision.
What transferable skills made it a good fit?
Fern Carty Dawkins: My legal background certainly has its benefits in business. I was able to negotiate my own franchise and real estate agreements and I am sensitive to all the legal and compliance elements involved in running a business well. However, I was nervous about not having a solid operational or accounting background. I committed a lot of my time in the beginning to learning the numbers and operations associated with my business. One thing I learned working for Walmart was the indispensable value of knowing your customer and knowing your business inside and out. I will forever apply this notion to any and every new business I seek to acquire.
Knowing what you know now, what questions would you have asked during your due diligence?
Fern Carty Dawkins: There weren’t very many questions that I didn’t ask. Looking back, I think I thoroughly vetted this business venture and the brand I was buying into. Maybe it’s the lawyer in me, but I left few stones unturned and had very realistic expectations of what I was signing up for. I believe it is generally most important to ask about the numbers, the time commitment, and the obligations under your particular franchise agreement. If you’re not sure if you have all the right questions to ask, I encourage potential franchisees to reach out to others who are in the business you are trying to get into and let them tell you about their experience. Inevitably, they will say something that will shed light on something you hadn’t previously considered.
What are your expansion plans?
Fern Carty Dawkins: I hope to build a portfolio of franchises across various brands nationally and internationally. I am currently working on three additional stores with my current franchisor projected to open in 2017 and early 2018, and I recently became an approved franchisee with a new brand that I hope to roll out in late 2018.
Do you have a mentor or do your mentor others?
Fern Carty Dawkins: I am a huge proponent of mentorship. While I don’t have a dedicated mentor in this business, there are many people who have mentored me and continue to do so through this process. Many of them likely don’t know that their chance meeting, or quick phone call, or article in a magazine informed and shaped me and my business. I also can’t say that I have any dedicated mentees, but I do spend a lot of my time, intentionally speaking with, and being there for others who are interested in business or franchising. Paying it forward is a guiding principle for me and my business.
What does work-life balance mean to you?
Fern Carty Dawkins: For me, work-life balance rests in the averages of how your time is spent. So I try not to get frustrated in moments when I feel like I’m overwhelmed by one or the other. Sometimes your work will consume you, and sometimes the fruits of your labor will afford you great leeway. In the end, I hope to have had a good measure of both hard work and time to play.
What is next for you?
Fern Carty Dawkins: In the immediate future, I am focused on getting new stores on the ground and new brands in the portfolio. In the process, I hope to inspire others, especially women and other minorities, to get into business and take ownership of their future.
For more information about Smoothie King, visit www.franchise.org/smoothie-king-franchise.
Miriam L. Brewer, CFE, is Senior Director of Education & Diversity for the International Franchise Association.