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IFA Foundation Pathways to Franchising Initiative Highlights Opportunity in Prince George’s County, Maryland

In partnership with the Prince George’s County Economic Development Corporation (PGCEDC) and the Maryland Black Chamber of Commerce (MBCC), the International Franchise Association (IFA) recently co-hosted a “Pathways to Franchising” education program where franchising experts and IFA staff offered a seminar highlighting the franchise business model and how would-be entrepreneurs can go into business for themselves, but not by themselves. The program is the first in a three-part series co-hosted by the IFA Foundation, PGCEDC and MBCC to provide expert information and technical assistance to empower entrepreneurs in Prince George’s County, Maryland with the tools and information to successfully pursue a franchise opportunity.


Franchising is a proven pathway to business ownership for multicultural community members. IFA research shows nearly 26% of franchises are owned by people of color, compared with 17% of independent businesses generally. But, more can be done to generate awareness and welcome new owners into franchising. Today, 167 million U.S. adults indicate interest in owning a small business but report they don’t know where to start.


IFA places an important focus on fostering diverse ownership throughout the franchising sector and routinely hosts learning sessions to equip diverse entrepreneurs with the tools and information to successfully pursue franchise opportunities. Throughout 2022, IFA convened diverse community partners engaged in the Open for Opportunity campaign to learn more about franchising and access to capital, offered Spanish-language franchise education sessions at a Franchise Expo in South Florida, and hosted a panel on wealth creation in the Black community at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Annual Legislative Conference (CBCF ALC).


IFA’s mission, with the support of the IFA Foundation Diversity Institute, is to fill the franchising pipeline with diverse talent by engaging in outreach and education like the Pathways to Franchising program. IFA continues to push the needle forward in connecting members of diverse communities with franchise opportunities. IFA research has shown that franchises owned and operated by women and people of color have a higher success rate than similarly situated independent businesses. In addition, Black-owned franchises earn an average of 2.2 times more in sales than similarly situated black-owned independent businesses.


The Pathways to Franchising panelists, each of whom owns franchises or works with communities of color to deliver franchise financing and ownership spoke about their lived experience in starting a franchise in Prince George’s County and the lessons they learned along the way.


John Lancaster of Choice Hotels added a national, franchisor perspective alongside several Prince George’s County franchisees. Local franchisee panelists included Toya Evans, co-founder of Healthy Living Ventures, Robyn Peake, owner of FirstLight Home Care, and Keith Singletary, owner of Chick-fil-As in Capitol Heights and Largo, Maryland.


Toya Evans, co-founder of Healthy Living Ventures, focused on building a business that fostered a healthier lifestyle for her fellow community members, and she’s opened franchise concepts that fill this need. Evans opened the first Tropical Smoothie Cafe in Prince George’s County and has since expanded her portfolio to three more Tropical Smoothie (with more in development) and two Hand & Stone Massage and Facial Spas. Additionally, Evans is expanding her franchise portfolio into the VIO Med Spa brand as well. Evans, who sits on the board of the Tropical Smoothie national marketing committee, uses her position and personal experience to promote business-ownership in Prince George’s County.


Robyn Peake, who owns and operates the only FirstLight Home Care in Prince George’s County, spoke on her experience as a franchise owner and the need for passion and commitment when starting a business. Peake is a proud graduate of the Innovation Station Business Incubator organized through the PGCEDC and described the program as a “lifeline” in her journey to becoming a small business owner. Peake shared the story of one her earliest senior clients who needed 24/7 care: Robyn was short-staffed, so she had to “roll up her sleeves and become a primary caregiver,”. In caring for the elderly woman, Robyn’s life was changed: “I didn’t realize at that time, my heart was being changed. I was being prepared for the opportunity to serve.” Peake highlighted this experience as one that helped her lead with a servant heart—a requirement for a business owner in the homecare sector.


Keith Singletary, a hometown hero in Prince George's County, told the triumphant story of how he became a Chick-fil-A owner. Singletary recounted how he first applied to join the Chick-fil-A system in 1991, he was turned down. But his perseverance paid off. He tried again in 1999, and he became the owner of the Chick-fil-A in the place he's always called home. Singletary reminded attendees of the intentionality and persistence it takes to be a successful franchise owner. “It’s hard work, but it’s rewarding work,” Singletary said.


John Lancaster, Vice President of Emerging Markets for Choice Hotels shared the franchisor’s perspective. John’s focus is to expand diversity in hotel ownership. John described how with over 65,000 hotels in the U.S, only 1.2% are operated by Black and African American owners. Under John’s leadership, his team has awarded and financially supported almost 350 hotel franchises operated by diverse owners that otherwise may not have had access to capital. “We actually put our money where our mouth is to make sure we incentivize [diverse community members] to have the opportunity to be able to execute that franchise,” John said.


Each panelist spoke on the importance of access to capital. For many aspiring entrepreneurs, especially in underrepresented groups or underserved communities, access to capital remains among the most challenging impediments to owning a franchise. Richard Snow, chair of the IFA Black Franchise Leadership Council and Vice President of National Franchise & Specialty Lending for Bremer Bank was also present at the seminar to offer resources and expertise on securing capital.


Toya Evans also weighed in when it comes to locking down capital and finding a way to pay that initial franchise fee. “Negotiate upfront,” she said. Evans continued, “there’s lots of money out here that may not just be a traditional commercial bank. Every county has money. Every state has money.”


Robyn Peake added, “Just look for it. Do the research. It’s part of your due diligence and you can find it.”


Attendees weren’t short on questions, with aspiring business-owners learning how to interpret FDDs, the franchise relationship, and the difference between a franchisee and franchisor. Afterwards, attendees discussed their questions one on one with the experienced franchise veterans on the panel.


The second installment in the series will take place on May 10 to address legal considerations in franchising and how to navigate the technical and licensing processes for new franchise owners.