In this exclusive Q&A, we talk with Melissa Vernon, franchisee of Rita’s Italian Ice & Frozen Custard, about making the transition from work-at-home mom to franchise owner.
Franchise Chatter (FC): What made you decide to open a franchise business?
Melissa Vernon (MV): I was a work-at-home mom for several years, and I was very involved in the community. I volunteered and was a cheer coach. My husband works for a bank and is also incredibly involved in the community. We both knew we had an entrepreneurial spark and in 2019 we started looking into franchise brands we could bring to our community.
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After ending many football games, baseball games and competitions with a trip to Rita’s for our favorite treat – Italian ices and frozen custard – with our three kids, we discovered in October 2019 that our Rita’s around the corner from our home was open for resale. We understood that it needed some updates, but it was such a perfect fit for our family that we were all-in.
FC: What attracted you to Rita’s Italian Ice & Frozen Custard?
MV: Having the familiarity with the brand was great, but the more we learned about the franchise’s operations, the more excited the kids, my husband and I became. Rita’s has a family-friendly, neighborhood feel. There is a focus on nostalgia, with each location showing off the classic red and white awning. It’s a very fun, casual and happy work environment – perfect for our three kids who are 11, 14 and 16-years old.
We also loved the flexibility the seasonal model gave us as business owners, so we never lose out on family time. We get to work spring to fall – March to October – and then are afforded the opportunity to really be there for our kids during the school year. From a business perspective, Rita’s has simple operations and low labor cost in comparison to other frozen treat opportunities. Everything came into place and we made the jump and became franchisees, re-opening our community’s location in March 2020.
FC: What skills have translated to your new role?
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MV: Moms can truly rule the world and there is so much similarity between running a household and running a business. First, a mother’s multi-tasking ability is unmatched and that skill is highly coveted when entering business ownership. Mothers manage our kid’s schedules, keep the house clean and manage to have dinner on the table. Running my Rita’s franchise, I spend my time managing employees’ schedules, keeping up with inventory, and all the little backend items that keep the business afloat – everything a mother does to keep the home from becoming a sinking ship.
It was also a step up that I already had a good amount of community involvement through my kids and volunteering endeavors. A big part of running a Rita’s successfully is making sure it is a staple in your neighborhood. Within our first few months of operation, we became involved in the local community – sponsoring baseball leagues, giving back to first responders and even bringing Italian ice to senior homes in the community over Memorial Day.
FC: What training did Rita’s Italian Ice provide?
MV: Rita’s was extremely helpful when we first took over the location. I had gone to Pennsylvania for a week of training and then after that we were given a franchise consultant. They answered any questions or would connect us with the right person/department at Rita’s to get an answer. Most new franchisees also receive support from the real estate and development team, who help secure and build out locations. Since we took over an existing location, this was an easier process for us.
We also felt a great, collaborative connection to our fellow franchisees. The franchise system is large, but it’s a family of people who want to see others succeed and are always willing to offer a helping hand.
FC: What advice do you have for other stay-at-home parents looking to make the jump to franchising?
MV: It’s a balancing act. Running a business while parenting full-time can easily feel like there isn’t enough time in the day to do both. Starting a business is a lot of work, but make sure to pencil in family time on the calendar, even if it’s at your place of business – it helps if you run an Italian Ice shop where kids can indulge in dessert!
I’d also say that it’s normal to feel guilty. When you go from being with the kids 24/7 to working long days every day of the week, missing the kids and feeling like you’re missing out is completely normal. It’s important to remember when you feel this surge of guilt why you are doing this in the first place – whether to give your kids a better life, leave a legacy for them to eventually take over, etc.