Kristal Beaver, owner of two Bojangles' franchises in Jasper and Canton, Ga. just outside of Atlanta, operates under the motto - "Yes is the answer, what is the question?" Local organizations, charities and non-profits are never turned away, and Beaver considers faith an important part of being a successful business owner. So successful that, in 2012, loyal customers flocked to her Jasper restaurant to the tune of more than $2 million in sales and Beaver took home a 2013 Blue Ribbon Small Business Award from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce earlier this year.
Bojangles' is a rapidly growing chicken and biscuit franchise with more than 560 restaurants in 10 states and Washington, D.C., primarily in the Southeast, yet locally they compete daily on an even plane with larger brands like KFC and Popeye's because of owners in their system like Kristal Beaver.
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
My life experience has humbled and inspired me. My mother and I were homeless in my early
years. I cleaned my first "chicken restaurant" when I was three. At the age of 14, I had my first official job. I worked hard, respected all, had a thirst for wisdom and dreamt of the leader that I could be one day.
How has your previous employment experience aided establishing a franchise?
My previous employment was very important. Establishing a franchise comes with great risk. Being certain that the brand is in line with your previous experience eases the sting of that risk. I believe I was better prepared as a franchisee after spending more than 10 years in the restaurant business. During that time, I learned the advantages and disadvantages to the restaurant business. Now, I can rely on that experience to build the advantages and minimize the disadvantages.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
You must manage both. Just as a woman schedules a work meeting, we must schedule our home life. In the same manner that you complete your goals for the week at work, one must set home goals and see to it that they are accomplished with the same vigor. At times, work must come home. However, working smarter the next day allows an earlier day home to catch up on family time. I strive not to be so performance-driven that I lack energy to bring home to my family of three children and a husband. They are my drive. They make me better at what I do every day.
What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Bojangles?
At the age of 25, I walked into a bank with the dream of being a franchisee. You can imagine the look on their faces as I pulled out my business plan and a loan request for $1.8 million. "No" may have been their answer, but it's not what I heard. I simply heard, "I need more." "More what?" "Money!" Thank goodness for investors. Never doubt yourself if you expect someone else to believe in you. One year later, I bought out the investor's interest in my Bojangles' franchises.
My greatest highlight was being selected as a Blue Ribbon Small Business Award winner by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. I was honored and humbled to stand with 99 of the best small business owners from all over the United States. The support we received locally was awe-inspiring. Our community stood up for us; I want to jump up for them. They [the community of Jasper, GA] are our 12th man on the field!
What advice can you offer women hoping to start their own franchise?
It can be done. Utilize the help of mentors and others who are familiar in your niche. Utilize the Small Business Administration (SBA) for loans specifically tailored for women. Never give up because others are watching. Your success may spark the success of another woman. A franchise is a proven concept, therefore, all you have to prove is yourself.
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Early on, I believe it to be discouragement. Many still doubt that women belong as CEO's of their franchise. Their words of discouragement can weigh heavy on an entrepreneur's self-esteem. There is the power of life or death in the tongue. Choose wisely who you share your dreams with and surround yourself with those who will speak life.
What are your thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In book and movement?
I am grateful to see someone with such success encouraging all women to be the best leader they can be. We may not all have graduated from Harvard but neither did some the most prominent leaders in America.
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Steve Hutchens is one of my favorite mentors. He is involved with his franchise at every level. He is accessible and kind. He uses the success he has been blessed with to change the lives of others. He may be a profitable and growing franchisee but he is known for his heart. I so desire to follow in his footsteps. My motto is, "Anyone can build a restaurant. We came to build relationships."
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I admire all female leaders, there are too many to list. We are all called in our own unique manner and each of us leaves an impact. There is something incredibly special when something is made out of nothing. That is true perseverance. Think Oprah!
What are your hopes for the future of Bojangles?
I am so excited to be a part of the Bojangles' brand. The support they give to franchisees is phenomenal. However, they do not stifle our entrepreneurial spirit. We are "One Brand" with continued growth and expansion. Several women franchisees have joined the team and I feel confident in our continued success.