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Women in Business: Q&A With Tracie Grubb, Style Encore Franchisee

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Tracie Grubb found her calling as a franchisee shortly after Hurricane Katrina washed away her home just days after her wedding. Instead of retreating when devastation struck, Tracie turned to business ownership as a way to rebuild her life, while also following her passion.

Due to the success Tracie has achieved co-owning her Once Upon A Child kids resale store, she was asked by the franchisor, Winmark Corporation, to be one of the first franchisees to open their new resale concept for women, Style Encore.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
As a child, my thoughts and priorities were always very different from that of my friends. I have a great mom, step-dad and grandparents who have always encouraged me to make choices for myself, and my grandmother always encouraged me to follow my instincts. Since then, I have always tried to follow my gut feeling, and my stomach was definitely not settled the weekend I was set to get married.

Hurricane Katrina was on its way and I was getting married that Saturday night. It was like dancing on the Titanic; we had no idea what was going to happen. The Sunday morning after we were married, we were forced to evacuate to our honeymoon in Belize, never to return home again. Our house was near the 17th Street canal in the Lakeview neighborhood of New Orleans. The levee had been leaking for a long time, so after our wedding we were not able to return home and prepare for the storm. Instead, we boarded our plane with our bags and once I knew my dog was safe with my parents there was no looking back. We lost everything we owned. And, like so many others, our lives were changed forever. It was a memorable time and a heartbreaking time all at once but I wouldn't change a thing. Many great things came out of it including opening our Once Upon A Child and Style Encore stores.

This experience made me a stronger person. I learned a lot about who I was and who I wanted to be and through that experience I learned that there is nothing I can't do.
My husband and I learned what it meant to start our marriage with nothing. We had the opportunity to make something great out of something really bad. I knew I had to make a choice. Let something control me or control the situation. Needless to say, it was mind over matter.

How has your previous employment experience aided Once Upon A Child and Style Encore?
I was around seven years old when I opened my first resale shop in the basement of my father's home in New Orleans. My best friend and I would go around to garage sales, take things from our own homes that our parents were getting rid of or buy things from thrift stores around town. On the weekends, we would invite neighbors over to purchase our newest finds. I am passionate about recycling, especially when it comes to clothes and furniture. Resale just makes sense because you get to find treasures for a great price.

I had many loves in my life. Learning is the first, and people is the second. After graduating from Auburn University, I ended up working for Southwest Airlines as a flight attendant. While spending hours in a plane with all types of travelers, you learn a lot about people. Spending time with different types of people didn't even feel like work. Southwest Airlines is the leader in customer service skills, and I learned a lot of what I know from them. I was working when Herb Kelleher was still CEO and he preached that the customer may not always be right but you must be respectful. Customer service is truly a lost art in a generation that needs instant gratification. As a result, sometimes stores sacrifice the simple things, such as saying please and thank you. I don't believe in the typical sales person mentality -- I like what I do so helping people find great value in clothing or providing a venue that's easy to shop and sell items you are no longer using makes me happy. It is great being able to do that every day at Once Upon A Child and now Style Encore.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I'm always working on that. It's very delicate, especially having two beautiful young children at home. Thankfully, I have a very understanding, supportive and loving husband -- we balance each other out. Our system is not always perfect, but the one thing I have learned is to cherish every moment. No matter what time I do have with my family I try to be present. That means awake and no technology, only real face to face time.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure as a franchisee?
I don't necessarily have "highlights," though I certainly embrace the relationships that I have developed not only with my staff but also my customers and the community. The employees who have been with us through this adventure have truly become family. I am extremely grateful for them. We service anywhere from 50-150 customers each day in both of our stores. I know most of them by first name, their kids, and even their pets! It is so important for me to create jobs in the community and provide a service where people can make money on the spot for things they are no longer using or wearing, and also provide good merchandise at a great value for people who may not have ready access to those brands or items.

What advice can you offer individuals who are seeking to become a franchise owner?
Be in your store... be present... be compassionate. Times may be difficult but the overall experience is rewarding! Train, train, train... attitude is a reflection of leadership. I try to instill how important it is to me that every customer has a good experience.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
When we opened our Once Upon A Child store, I remember reading an article in USA Today about workplace struggles. The author noted women sometimes struggle with establishing a strong personal brand. I think we sometimes underplay what we've done and what we can do. I strive to get better at promoting myself, what I stand for, and what makes me and our store different from others.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
My mom was a working mom. She still and always is mentoring me on the importance of balancing work and family. She may be my business partner but she is always first and foremost my mom. Style Encore was created for women by women and those women are continually mentoring me to be successful. I wouldn't be able to do this without them. I am forever grateful to Winmark Corporation for allowing me to be one of the lucky eight franchisees to help launch such a remarkable concept. It's been such an amazing experience and I still have so much to learn!

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Right away, I think of Michelle Obama, particularly for her campaign to prevent childhood obesity. It weighs heavy on my heart. We are a nation in excess and physical decline and our children should learn the value of moderation. It starts at home and we, as parents, have a responsibility to our children to teach them about both consequences and accountability. The other person that comes to mind is Carol L. Bernick. She was the former executive chairman and CEO of Alberto Culver corporation. She is a powerful woman in a man-driven profession. Somehow she managed the balance of running a multi-billion dollar operation and still found the time to be present in her kids' lives. All the while, doing great things for the people she worked with and her community. And to no benefit of herself, she quietly does charitably things for others. These two women are truly an inspiration.

What are your hopes for the future as a franchise owner?
I just hope to continue providing a great service to my community and my staff. I never ask anything of anyone I have not done myself or am not already doing. I'm a worker at heart and love all the amazing people I have had the honor to meet. It's not uncommon that by the time a customer leaves my store we may be laughing together, crying or I may just be giving them a hug. I truly am grateful to be doing what I do and working in the community in which I live. And, I will be forever grateful to Winmark Corporation for giving me the opportunity to help launch a brand created for women by women. Because at the end of the day... "Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love." - Mother Teresa