Charleston Airport’s first black franchisee on Focus Brands
If founders, chefs and other creatives are the beating heart of the restaurant industry, franchisees are the veins that spread their ideas to every corner of the world. Franchising is essential to the success of the industry, allowing brands to quickly grow their big ideas using other people’s capital. And whether it’s a family restaurant owner with one or two franchised restaurants or a seasoned veteran whose influence in the industry is well known, franchisees – with all of their individual attributes, styles and personalities – have a huge impact on the success of a business.
For this column, we feature the first Cinnabon franchisee, Shawnalea Garvin, who is owner and president of the Airport Employment and Training Center, which serves as a consulting firm for airport franchisees. In 2021, Garvin became a franchisee herself and opened her first Cinnabon location at Charleston International Airport in South Carolina. We chatted with her about how she got into franchising and her future business goals.
A Cinnabon store and two Cinnabon and Auntie Anne licensed trucks
“When I was 14, I went to work for Shoney’s [a Tennessee-based, family-dining brand] and I worked for them in high school and college. Then after, I went to work for JCPenney for 10 years, then I came back to Atlanta to start volunteering for an African American museum. One of the board members was a Wendy’s franchisee and he asked me to represent him on a contract with a restaurant at the Hartsfield airport. My job was to represent the underprivileged commercial enterprise and work with them as their airport business grew, including all franchise owners. After our contract ended in 2005, I founded AETC Airport Management Group.
“I had been a partner at Charleston Airport with nine other brands. And the airport asked me to bring a dessert concept. It took me about a month and a half to decide which brand because I looked at several and then I remembered the experience I had in the 90s with Cinnabon at And the Hartsfield Airport . Once I contacted Focus Brands, it seemed like the perfect fit for me. »
Diversity in the franchise
“If there’s no diversity in franchising, that means it’s not in different communities. […] Minority communities don’t want to have to drive 10 miles out of town to find our favorite brands: we want to walk to them and be employed by them as well. […] Culturally, financially and socially, it is important. […] More than 20 years in business and figures [of minority owners] are roughly the same. I think that’s an opportunity we have in all airports and all franchises. I believe there are changes taking place as we speak.
“An airport has ebbs and flows like a Disney theme park. After the ride is over, people rush to get something to eat and it’s the same in an airport: people get off the plane and you get a crowd for about an hour then it’s dead for a while. […] Experience matters a lot when opening a business at an airport. […] I used to tell people on the board that if you have street experience, then you can handle yourself in an airport. But you have to be able to handle the stressful ups and downs.
The biggest challenges
“The biggest challenge [for franchisees] is always essential. But at airports, competition is fierce. You need money and creativity, and you need to be able to navigate airport politics. Then, of course, you need to know your brand and your people, and you need money.
“We are looking to add a number of additional stores. We want to bid [for a store at] another airport right now, which would be our second location. Then I would add more trucks and probably exceed 10 units. […] I am in the process of buying another brand in the Atlanta area. Within Focus Brands, I plan to add a Carvel and a Jamba. I prefer [transportation hubs] but I will also open a Cinnabon at Martin Luther King National Park [In Atlanta]where I currently run a gift shop. […] I want to have 12 units and four trucks by 2027.”
What franchisees need most
“Flexibility. I mentioned the National Park Service location to Focus Brands to say, ‘I know you weren’t thinking about it, but that’s what I expect from you. I think they had doubts about it at first, but agreed. Being from a diverse community, my community may look different than what they consider a traditional store location. The flexibility in locations, structure, and support is important. What Focus might have chosen in the past, like in a mall, might look different to me. My community is changing and growing and the [Focus Brands location] might not look like the typical mall store.
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