The following conversation was conducted over email and edited for flow and clarity.
Toya Evans, Lauren Williamson, and Chanel Grant came together with a passion to make an impact by providing healthy eating and lifestyle options in majority Black communities. Their vision led them to launch their first food franchise, a spa, and now they have a hotel coming soon. These ladies are developing healthy lifestyles for everyone to enjoy.
Acquania Escarne of Wealth Noir: Toya, Lauren, and Chanel, I am so glad to have this opportunity to speak with you and share your story with Wealth Noir readers. Tell me, how did you come up with the idea to open your first franchise?
Chanel Grant of Healthy Living Ventures, LLC: Lauren and I grew up watching our parents as entrepreneurs and some of my first memories are “working” in their businesses and just watching them bootstrap and build multiple successful businesses.
So for me, I’ve known since I was a little girl that I wanted to be a business owner. It was in 2015 that we were all talking on a three-way call as we do daily and weekly and we decided we wanted to start another business. Initially, we chatted about starting our own concept similar to how my mom and dad did when we were growing up and then remembered the unique grind that took and decided to explore franchising as another option. The other thing I should mention here is that we were also all still working our 9-5 jobs so we needed a blueprint and something that we could get ramped up more seamlessly and faster.
Once we decided on going with a franchising model, we began to think about what our community lacked or a problem we could solve and what was important to us. We immediately decided on healthy food and lifestyle options. In the community in which our businesses are, Prince George’s County, MD, there was a lack of healthy food options and services and we wanted to solve that problem. At this point, we began reaching out to various smoothie and food brands and landed on Tropical Smoothie Café. We opened our first location in October of 2016, our second in May of 2020 and will be opening our third location in August 2020. We have also since expanded our portfolio to include Hand and Stone Massage and Facial and we will be opening the first Hand and Stone in Prince George’s County in September of 2020.
Lauren Williamson of Healthy Living Ventures, LLC: Working full time within corporate America, I have always seen layoffs happen. I really wanted to set my family up to not have to “need” a corporate job, but to provide income that I had more control over. My children are my motivation to continue and to diversify my portfolio – to make sure I can leave something behind I am proud of!
WN: I love your enthusiasm and how you realized there was a need for more healthy food options in our communities and decided to become an option. Is it true that many of you still work a 9-to-5 job and manage the franchises?
Lauren Williamson of Healthy Living Ventures, LLC: Yes, Chanel and I both still work our 9-5 jobs. I think there is a negative connotation around working your full-time job and that means you can’t pursue your dream. I think this is the farthest from the truth. The full-time job allows you to take care of your home while you are building your business. It allows you to fund the business and get approved for loans. Your full-time job is a “safety net” for your business as it grows.
Toya Evans of Healthy Living Ventures, LLC: I maintained my full-time job as long as I could. However, I was at the level within my career that it was time to make a decision about who I was really going to bet on. I could continue the long work days, travel extensively, and build someone else’s dream or I could do what I knew how to do and had done successfully before. With the support of my partners, I chose to be the first of us to leave the 9-5 and I am committed to making sure they can do the same soon.
WN: Toya, I am glad you were able to leave the corporate world and show your partners how they can eventually transition to full-time entrepreneurship, too. Given your different work and life dynamics, how do you divide the management responsibilities?
Lauren Williamson of Healthy Living Ventures, LLC: We really focus on our strengths. I have a background in recruiting and I’m probably the best suited for dealing with people. I handle all things human resources and recruiting responsibilities. Chanel handles sales and marketing since she has a background in this area. Toya is our operations manager and can really see a project from concept to launch.
WN: Ok, now let’s talk about the details. How does someone go about purchasing a franchise? What are some of the steps you had to take and how much can it cost?
Toya Evans of Healthy Living Ventures, LLC: The first step is to be honest with yourself about your goals, financial situation, credit and your interests. I never advise anyone to go into business or buy a business because it makes money. This is a huge commitment – both time and resources — so it has to be something you can do consistently.
Next is research, research, research. You absolutely must educate yourself on the franchising model and brands in the categories you are interested in. Talk to the top ones and the ones on the rise; see if their vision and mission align with yours. You must understand their purchasing process and, most importantly, what they provide once you’ve signed the franchise agreement (real estate selection, operations training, marketing, etc.). We decided we wanted to be in the healthy food and lifestyle segment and that gave us a range of concepts we could invest in from food (Tropical Smoothie Café) to services (Hand & Stone Massage and Facial Spa) and we are constantly seeking other brands that fit within that category. Additionally, we’ve added the hospitality segment to our portfolio through our recent agreement with Choice Hotels.
There are nearly 800,000 franchises in the United States so finding the right one for you is no easy feat. Costs will vary based on the type of franchise you purchase and what’s required for it. For example, a franchise can be operated as a home-based business or may require retail or commercial space. Your costs will include the franchise fee (these can range from $5,000 to over $100k) and everything required to get the doors open – lease, construction, architecture, furnishings, fixtures and equipment, etc. Talk to those who are currently in the franchise system or for whatever reason decided to leave the franchise system. Remember information is power, so arm yourself with it. We put our course together to equip people with the information they need to make franchise ownership a reality.
WN: I am glad to see you are not keeping this knowledge to yourself. Kudos to you for creating a course. What was the greatest lesson you learned and what were your challenges?
Chanel Grant of Healthy Living Ventures, LLC: One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned is just the importance of patience and trusting the timing. Oftentimes in these development projects, there are delays and the project can seem to take much longer than expected. Entrepreneurship takes a ton of patience and some thick skin also because you will hear no quite a bit and you have to pivot. But don’t quit!
Lauren Williamson of Healthy Living Ventures, LLC: I have learned that a “no” does not always mean “no.” A “no” means I am one step closer to a “yes.” We have heard “no” many times and if we would have quit at the first one we would not be where we are today. “No” means you just need to pivot and find a way to have someone else say “yes.”
Toya Evans of Healthy Living Ventures, LLC: Trust and bet on yourself. Have a vision, plan and drive to get up every day to bring that plan to fruition. Stay focused – franchising has been and still is a viable option for building wealth in the African-American community.
WN: You mentioned previously that a hotel venture is next. What made you decide to expand into the hotel industry? What factors did you have to consider?
Chanel Grant of Healthy Living Ventures, LLC: I would say we stumbled into the hotel industry. One day in 2015, I was driving and saw a hotel being built, I have a very curious nature and started to wonder what it takes to own a hotel. I called my mom like I usually do when I have an idea and she said let’s find out! That week, I was emailing various hotel franchise brands and within two weeks we were sitting down with Choice Hotels. That initial meeting was so critical because it really gave us the information we needed to begin positioning and educating ourselves to get ready to sign the franchise agreement and begin our journey into hotel ownership. We decided on the hotel industry because we are always looking for industries that can be enhanced by technology but not completely disrupted by it. We truly believe that people will always need a place to lay their head and plan to invest and develop in the economy and mid-scale market where the majority of Americans stay and can afford.
WN: What is the most common question you get asked from your community of aspiring franchisees?
Chanel Grant of Healthy Living Ventures, LLC: There are two common questions that immediately come to mind: “Where do you start?” and “How do you finance it?” Those are two of the 10 modules we cover in our online course. When thinking about where to start, the first thing is deciding if franchising is right for you. When you’re a franchisee, you’re committing to following a blueprint. If you want complete autonomy, then franchising wouldn’t be a good fit for you. The thing to consider is choosing the right brand. We also have a module on this and we truly believe this is a major key to being successful. You want to make sure you’re doing your due diligence and research to ensure you’re partnering with the right brand for you.
Lastly, a lot of folks come to us and think that franchising is unattainable because of the financing and this is where we can really shed a light. There are so many options out there from traditional to non-traditional financing. Particularly for us, we ended up bootstrapping our first location because of the no’s we heard from the bank. This got us really educated in alternative and non-traditional financing options.
Lauren Williamson of Healthy Living Ventures, LLC: I get asked a lot about, “How do I balance it all?” or “How am I a mother of two, director of a technology company, franchise owner, and small business owner?” I honestly believe that priorities are so important, and you must keep your eye on the prize. Some weeks are busier than others, especially when we are getting ready to open a store. I keep my family and God first and put the rest in line.
WN: That’s great advice. What is your vision for Healthy Living Ventures, LLC?
Chanel Grant of Healthy Living Ventures, LLC: Our vision for Healthy Living Ventures, LLC, for the next 5-10 years is to continue to expand throughout Maryland and the East Coast providing healthy food and lifestyle brands to areas that lack options. We’re also interested in expanding our business into non-traditional spaces such as airports, military bases and train stations. We’re constantly looking for additional brands to add to our portfolio so I also foresee us expanding the brands we’re franchisees with. Our current plan includes six Tropical Smoothies Cafes, five Hand and Stone Massage and Facials, and a hotel over the next five years. I truly believe we will get there by continuing to do what we do every day and that’s not taking “no” for an answer, staying curious and nimble, putting our people and employees first, and continuing to show up and give back to the community.
WN: Good luck! That sounds ambitious, but if anyone can do it, I am sure it’s you. Are there any exciting products or offerings you have coming up? Anything you are currently working on now?
Chanel Grant of Healthy Living Ventures, LLC: Our latest project is our online course, So You Want To Buy A Franchise?, which launched in May! We are so excited about making this information available to those who are interested and providing mentorship to help others achieve franchise ownership. We developed this course because we would get so many inquiries about where to start, how to find financing, etc. We figured that an online course is the easiest way to provide the information. Course and consulting details can be found on our course website or you can also email us.
WN: Well, there you have it. You can take their new online course or reach out to Healthy Living Ventures for a consultation about how to launch your franchise. I encourage you to follow their excellent tips about getting started. Franchising is a great way to build wealth and uplift the Black community.
Acquania Escarne is the creator of The Purpose of Money, a community of women building generational wealth for their families one dollar at a time. As an entrepreneur, real estate investor, and licensed insurance agent, Acquania has always been passionate about financial literacy. On her website, Acquania blogs about ways to help you improve your money habits, create wealth, and invest in real estate. Follow Acquania on social media for daily tips.