Restaurant franchising is America’s best kept secret, says Tarji Carter, president and founder of The Franchise Player. When Carter formed The Franchise Player consulting group in January, she hoped to make that secret more well-known to potential business owners, particularly in communities of color.
Tarji Carter — who has an extensive background in franchise development and has held leadership positions at Dunkin’ Brands, Wingstop, and Bojangles — launched The Franchise Player in January with the goal of expanding Black-owned restaurant franchises around the country. The group exists as an educational and networking source for diverse potential restaurant franchisees to get started in the restaurant industry.
“I've spent the past 15+ years working in franchise sales and development for some of the world's most delicious brands, and… I quickly learned that oftentimes, the information about franchising, and using it to create generational wealth, just wasn't hitting communities of color,” Carter said. “That’s really what prompted the creation of The Franchise Player: providing information about how to get into franchising with your eyes wide open.”
Most people, Carter said, don’t even consider franchising as a business opportunity unless they grew up in the world of restaurant franchising, and historically—most franchisees of the past were white men. Nationally, less than 10% of all restaurants are owned by Black people, though the numbers of Black franchisees, particularly in limited-service restaurants, are rising. Carter has learned that the number one thing holding back Black people from entering the franchising community is lack of education about the opportunities and how to get started.
“Not everyone’s going to own a McDonald's or Chick-fil-A, but those are the two brands that people want to own right away,” Carter said. “So we have to have honest conversations, like maybe you’re not a candidate today for McDonald’s, but let’s figure out how to make that happen, say, five years from now.”
Each client that Franchise Player works with is introduced to franchising’s fiscal commitments, including what brands are looking for in terms of liquid cash standpoint, net worth, credit worthiness, and operational experience. Then, once everything is solid, they’re able to introduce them to potential brands to build their business with. Potential franchisees need to clean up and perfect their finances so they can put their best foot forward in beginning the process with applying to be a franchisee.
Although The Franchise Player is still new to the world franchise consulting, Carter said that she has worked with multiple clients over the years that have since made it big in the industry, including one former client — Nicholas Perkins -- who started out opening his first Cinnabon franchise under her mentorship, and then ended up as the first Black owner of the entire Fuddruckers corporation.
But despite several success stories, Carter said that there are still many more opportunities to improve diversity of ownership in the restaurant franchising industry.
“I think there's still a long way to go,” she said. “There are a lot of brands that say diversity is a priority, but there’s no effort behind it in terms of creating an environment that fosters diversity, equity, and inclusion. I always say if your CEO isn’t committed to diversity, then we’re all just talking to each other [without action].”
Her advice to potential franchisees? Be honest with yourself about whether you’re truly a good candidate for the business (and how to get there if you’re not) and be honest about where you are financially and operationally. The best foot in the door is to start small with a smaller brand that has fewer complexities and upfront costs than a McDonald’s. Then, if you open up a store with a smaller brand, you can create jobs in your community, and build that generational wealth over time.
“I want to see everybody win-- I don't care what color you are,” Carter said. “I talk to people who really want to own a McDonald’s or Fuddruckers, and I ask, ‘do you have the experience and the financials?’ and the answer might be no now, but we still have that conversation. You might not meet the qualifications today, but we can do whatever it takes to get you to a ‘yes’ from that brand.”