If founders, chefs and other creatives are the beating heart of the restaurant industry, then franchisees are the veins delivering their ideas to all corners of the globe. Franchising is critical to the success of the industry, allowing brands to quickly scale their big ideas using other people’s capital. And whether it’s a mom-and-pop restaurant owner with one or two franchised restaurants or a seasoned veteran whose influence in the industry is well-known, franchisees — with all their individual attributes, styles and personalities — make a huge impact on the success of a business.
In this week’s installment of Franchisee Spotlight, we spoke with Joan Bowling, who has been a franchisee with KFC — as well as a leader and mentor to other female franchisees — for more than 30 years. We spoke about how Bowling climbed the corporate ladder at KFC and became a mentor to other female leaders.
Store breakdown: Bowling owns 9 KFCs—one of which she just recently sold to her daughter — and one Dairy Queen location in the Dayton/Columbus, Ohio area.
I was 16 when I was hired as a team member at KFC and I worked my way up through the ranks to store manager through high school and college. Eventually, I met my husband at KFC so we got married, left the business for a while, but then he had an opportunity to buy a franchise, and we partnered with another franchisee to work our way up to that.
I was 26 years old and we had three small children but I decided to go back into KFC to help run that business, which really got me in the door as a franchisee. It took us a few years and a lot of hard work to get that store off the ground and actually become franchisees. But then we made the decision just to start growing so we bought our second and it kept going from there.
Climbing the ladder of success
I think there are a lot of franchisees that started [as crew members] and KFC is such a good brand to work for. I think they really encourage people to move up through the ranks. My daughter did the same, and now she’s an owner too.
it's such a family-oriented franchise association that really helps people out. I think especially being a woman and working when you when I had small children, you really have to find that balance, and you need to work for people that understand that you’re balancing between work and the company and your family.
Encouraging female entrepreneurs
We’re bringing in more female leaders of all types, not just franchisees. […] When I stepped into different roles, the corporate and franchise leaders were so welcoming, and really made me feel at ease. Women just need that encouragement to take the first step to get involved. [...] I think it's just talking about [the opportunities to women] and making sure they know that the door is open. They don’t realize that how much help is out there to make them successful. So, once you start talking and showing them the opportunities, I definitely think there's interest.
Challenges as a female franchisee
As a woman, you have to find that balance since you have a lot of responsibilities at home, especially when you have children. I think that's something we really strive in our own organization to make sure that there is good family life balance, because if you don't have that, you won’t have productive employees.
On her role as a mentor
I think I do this on two levels: I try to mentor my own team. Out of 10 managers that we have at our restaurants, seven are women, and most of them are people that we have grown through our business and developed into leaders. But I also have tried to work with our Franchise Association to bring more leaders into the brand. […] So we have some upcoming leaders that are going to be in our association that are women that I have encouraged and helped mentor.
Biggest hurdles today
We’re not immune to staffing shortages and the overall cost of goods. But I think we’ve done a good job at maneuvering that. It’s about making sure we are a place our employees want to work and do a good job to serve our guests. […] And with COVID, a lot of things have changed. We have a lot more people doing pickup and online ordering and the drive-thru. We really had to focus with our teams on making sure we have great service at the drive-thru and that we’re prepared for any changes coming.
A Family Business
My personal growth plan is just to help develop the next generation — which is my daughter who will eventually take over our business — and just to make sure she has a good team and a plan for the future [...] When she graduated from college, we were a little bit surprised[…] that she wanted to come back and work for us, but I think KFC just gets in your blood. I also have another daughter involved and two grandsons working in the restaurants, so it’s definitely a family business.