Future Faces of Franchising: Vanessa Boles

Ask any one of these millennial franchisees and franchisors what it took to get what they are, and you’ll start to notice a lot of commonalities among them. They all worked hard. They all did their due diligence. They all put 100% of their time, attention and resources into building something that would leave a legacy for their families and the communities they serve. But with these young people, you’ll also notice that none of their routes to success were exactly the same.

Black Restaurant Week spoke to three franchise owners — all African American, all millennials — about the paths that led them to successful franchise ownership, or, in one case, to becoming a franchisor. There’s Ashley Lamothe Derby, who brought Downtown Los Angeles its first Chick-Fil-A. There’s Vanessa Boles, who opened her second Tropical Smoothie Cafe in Texas at the end of 2018. And there’s Julian Boyd, who is helping to bring the Memphis chicken restaurant that his parents started 29 years ago to the national stage.

Read on to find out what led them to where they are now, what it takes to stay there, and what you’ll need to know should your path lead you to the rewarding — and challenging — world of restaurant franchising.

Once Vanessa Boles decided she wanted to get into franchising, she knew exactly what company she wanted to work with. Back when she was a student at Florida A&M University, she and her friends would always hang out at the Tropical Smoothie Cafe after class. She liked the cozy atmosphere that allowed her to foster such good friendships, the caring service from employees and the healthy options that were always fresh and ready.

After finishing with her master’s degree from FAMU, she began working at the Wal-Mart headquarters in Bentonville, Ar, where she held a financial position and where she says she got an unparalleled level of training. Afterward, she worked in the marketing department of Unilever for three years before finally deciding that she wanted to franchise a restaurant. Tropical Smoothie Cafe immediately came to mind.

Her main goals were to a legacy for her family and positively support her community. Since bringing a Tropical Smoothie Cafe to Shenandoah, Tx in 2016, she has already done both.

“I’m able to spur job creation in the community, hire people who live locally and provide my community with a healthy alternative to your traditional fast food,” she said.

Boles has built relationships with customers who’s health outcomes have improved since dining on their smoothies, salads and wraps. She’s seen employees go off to college or be able to start supporting their families. And as far as her own family is concerned, she’s hired her sister, dad and husband as part of her management team.

Now she’s doubling that impact by opening her second Tropical Smoothie Cafe in Magnolia, Tx in December of 2018.

Managing daily operations and big-picture thinking can be challenging enough for one franchise, let alone for two. But Boles says that owners will at least find themselves more equipped to handle certain obstacles the second time around.

“We took a lot of learning from our first cafe opening and were able to apply that to make the second one a lot easier,” she said. Already having a management team in place, for example, made things run a lot smoother.

But whether it’s the first, second or third go-round, there are some things, Boles would advise every franchisee to remember.

“The process is definitely not an overnight process,” she said. “It’s something you want to take your time with, do you due diligence on and feel 100% comfortable with. You want to feel great about the numbers. Does it make financial sense for you? Have you really done all your research? Have you looked at all of your potential competitors? Where are the trends in this market going? Ask as many questions as you can.”

Asking questions, she says, is key. “What are the future plans for the brand? What is the future direction of the brand? A lot of times you can see where they’re at right now, but you don’t know where they’re headed down the line.”

When the time comes for Boles to open a third location, she’ll be ready.

Jada F. Smith began her career in the Washington Bureau of The New York Times, where she covered a range of local, national and international news stories. Her essay for The NYT’s Sunday Review, entitled Don’t Mess With Auntie Jean, was re-published in the 12th edition of the college-level textbook, Steps to Writing Well with Additional Readings. Other work of hers has appeared on C-SPAN, TheRoot.com, The PBS NewsHour, Mic.com, LennyLetter.com, VerySmartBrothas, Nosh Culinary Magazine, Honey Magazine (defunct) and The Atlanta Post (defunct). Smith is an alumna of Howard University in Washington, D.C., where she was managing editor of The Hilltop, the daily student newspaper founded by Zora Neale Hurston.

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