Chanel, Lauren, Toya

Left to right: Sisters Chanel Grant and Lauren Williamson, with their mother, Toya Evans, operate four Tropical Smoothie Cafes and a Hand & Stone massage location with plans for more.

When Chanel Grant, who along with mom Toya Evans and sister Lauren Williamson already operate four Tropical Smoothie Cafes, was working to open their first Hand & Stone massage location, banks were “skittish” because of the COVID-19 pandemic and shied away from a membership-model business with a slower ramp-up time.

Without traditional financing, “we used our 401(k)s and bootstrapped it together on our own,” said Grant of the location that opened in Brandywine, Maryland, in November 2020. Even with their first Tropical Smoothie, which opened in 2016, Grant said they applied for loans and grants through their county and used personal credit cards after being turned down by traditional lenders.

It’s those personal experiences—and the perseverance that comes with them—that Grant said resonate most with people interested in franchising but unsure how and if they should pursue becoming franchisees. “We get calls, texts, emails, messages on Instagram” all the time, she said, “and we were all getting the same questions about financing and how to pick a brand.”

The three women decided to put their collective knowledge—and COVID downtime—to work to create an online course called “So You Want to Buy a Franchise,” with modules covering everything from financing options to writing a business plan and building a pro forma.

“It’s what we wish we’d known when we started,” said Grant. “It’s just insight from being in it.”

And while the course isn’t aimed only at women and minorities, as Black business owners Evans said they want to help inspire others to make the leap.

“When you look at the sheer number of franchisees, and then you look at the number of women and the number of African Americans, I knew I had to be a catalyst,” said Evans, who left a corporate career in strategic marketing to start Healthy Living Ventures and become a franchisee with her daughters. “I want to see more people who look like me.”      

Grant, who recently left her corporate job in pharmaceutical sales to focus full time on development and sales strategies for their two franchise brands, agreed and said she’s been vocal about this with both brands.

“One thing I’d like to see, personally—and we’ve suggested this to Tropical Smoothie and Hand & Stone, and I’d like to see this at every brand—is incentives specifically for minorities and women,” said Grant. “Because the No. 1 thing I hear is concern for financing, that seems to be the main deterrent.”

Choice Hotels, with which the trio has a signed franchise agreement, provides key money to owners, noted Grant of the practice of the franchisor contributing cash to the franchisee upon opening. “Those programs are what will really move the needle, in my opinion,” she said.

As they aim to make an impact with their own businesses, Evans noted their focus on development in Prince Georges County, the predominately African American area in Maryland where she grew up. Residents there spend their money elsewhere because the restaurants and services they want aren’t close by, she said.

“I thought, wouldn’t it be great if we could bring some brands and services to the community, keep revenue within our county,” said Evans. Three of their Tropical Smoothie locations and the Hand & Stone salon are in Prince Georges County.

Like her daughter, Evans said she’s vocal about recruiting more women and minority franchisees and marketing the opportunity to different audiences. She sits on Tropical Smoothie’s national marketing committee and is a member of her region’s co-op board. Both franchisors are receptive to the input, she said.

“I’ve made my position known, that this is what I’d like to see,” said Evans. “I’m not shy about that.”

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