Women in Franchising: What Glass Ceiling?

One of the biggest challenges facing those bitten by the entrepreneurial bug is starting from scratch with a dream and then building an infrastructure for it to thrive as a viable business.  Many successful entrepreneurs become part of a franchise organization to benefit from an established business model, brand recognition and systems which provide a proven track to run on, so they can blast off the blocks with a solid head start.

The secret sauce of any successful franchisor is its ability to balance an easy-to-implement business model with the flexibility to allow free-spirited entrepreneurs the freedom to build their own business – to put their stamp on it – and develop a culture that fosters growth, profitability and personal fulfillment.

Susan Hamblen was a real estate agent with EXIT Realty in Arkansas when her family relocated to New York in 2009.  Real estate agents tend to be entrepreneurial by nature, attracted to the business by the unlimited income potential and flexibility.  In New York, Hamblen opened her own brokerage, EXIT Realty Achieve.  “I didn’t know the market or even how to close a deal here,” she said.  “However, there were many things on my side. I trusted the people and I knew I would have the support I needed, not just from corporate and the region, but also from the network of associates across North America.”

Hamblen now owns two additional offices, EXIT Realty Island Elite and EXIT Home Key Realty. Her original office has blossomed to more than 170 sales representatives and she believes that franchising is an excellent option for anyone, especially women, who strive to build a successful business.  “Women tend to be more fully engaged in the struggle for work-life balance and being backed by a franchise organization with tested tools, systems and branding is a huge asset and time saver.”

Real estate franchisor, EXIT Realty Corp. International’s growth throughout the U.S. and Canada is fueled by its unique business model, training and development at all levels of the organization, strategic branding, high-touch technology and exceptional corporate culture.

When Bernadette Cole opened EXIT Landmark Realty in White Plains, Maryland, she was the mother of three school-aged children and the spouse of a military pilot who was often deployed.  “There was so much to do as a new business owner,” she said.  “I was thankful to have chosen a franchise to help me with the details which allowed me to balance my life by taking advantage of the many resources available. For example, although I personally train our agents, I didn’t have to be the only one training. Utilizing EXIT’s trainers allowed me the flexibility to be there for my children when my husband was away.”

Cole opened her brokerage in 2007 during one of the worst recessions in history.  “During that time our region and corporate offices poured education, tools and encouragement into our brokers and agents to equip us to thrive during that unprecedented market. During one of those trainings, Tami Bonnell, our CEO, talked about mergers and acquisitions. This gave me the courage and knowledge to begin conversations with fellow brokers who were looking to merge or be acquired.” After acquiring a couple of smaller companies, Cole began talks with a 50-person independent competitor. “During negotiations, I had the support of our regional owners, our corporate office and other brokers who had successfully completed acquisitions. Having the franchise behind me taking care of the details, guiding and encouraging me, freed me up to focus on the individuals and their needs during the transition. We kept 49 of the 50 agents.”  Cole recently continued her entrepreneurial growth by acquiring the subfranchisor rights to Virginia with partners, Koi Banks and Randy Barrows.

EXIT Alliance Realty’s Shawn Sorensen, 2017 Broker of the Year for EXIT Realty’s South West U.S. Division, appreciates the comradery of being a part of something bigger.  “I know that I am not alone.  I have a large, built-in support group that is always willing to help me.  My success is their success,” she said.  “Before joining EXIT in 2004, I was with a boutique real estate company.  If I needed help, I had no one to turn to.  Other real estate agents and brokers saw me as their competition and were unwilling to help with even the simplest of questions.  When I became part of a franchise, I gained an extended family who wanted to help me any way they could.”

Stacy Strobl is one half of the powerhouse, multi-award-winning duo that owns the subfranchise rights to Tennessee, Georgia and Kentucky for EXIT and oversees growth and development in Florida.  Eleven years ago, Strobl and Kenny Lynn were business partners in a mortgage company which they built from scratch to locations in seven states.  The focus of their business was primarily refinancing, and they wanted to expand into real estate brokerage.  They opened an EXIT Realty office in 2012 eventually selling it and the mortgage company and moving on to own EXIT Southeast, selling the rights to protected territories to those interested in owning their own real estate brokerage.

“As an entrepreneur, blazing my own trail has been part of my personal story for years,” said Strobl. “The day my career experienced a significant game-changer was when I began selling and developing EXIT Realty franchises. Helping to build and nurture franchises and mentoring people to identify and realize their dreams has always motivated me. I’ve learned that a common thread among people, regardless of where they live, is their tremendous unlocked potential.  They want to maximize it, but sometimes they need a nudge. It is extremely gratifying to know I participated in helping them turn their dreams into reality.”

When Lori Muller, owner of EXIT Elite Realty with three locations in Wisconsin, first began looking into opportunities to own a brokerage, she didn’t want to create the tool box from scratch.  “I took the time to compare franchises to make sure I not only understood what each offered, but to choose a model that put the agents first.”

Muller reflects on some of the challenges she and other women entrepreneurs encounter. “There are financial challenges when you go to the bank to get a loan and they want to know who is in charge and are surprised to learn it’s you.  There are challenges in dealing with some of your male counterparts from the “good ol’ boys” era who just don’t respect you. Then there are the day-to-day challenges of juggling the operations, conflict resolution, compliance, human resources, training, mentoring, finances, administration, systems, recruiting, marketing, and sales.

“The best advice I can give to anyone starting down an entrepreneurial path – franchise or not – is to do your homework up front so you can be proactive rather than reactive.  Have a written business plan.  Have a budget. Have a coach and an accountability partner. Have a written vision and mission statement.  Work on a strategic plan.  Know your “why” and always surround yourself with people who inspire, encourage and empower you to become a better person.  Lastly, be YOU! Be authentic and let your passion shine through.”

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