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Franchise Author and Expert Christy Wilson Delk

Christy Wilson Delk
Franchise Interviews meets with franchise author and expert Christy Wison Delk


Hi everyone and welcome to a very special edition of Franchise Interviews, where for over 9 years we have been asking the frantrepreneur who owns one.  I am your host Marty McDermott and I am the president of Franchise Interviews.  We have a great show today.  We are meeting with Christy Wilson Delk.  After 17 years in corporate sales and distribution, Christy Wilson Delk decided to risk it all. In 1996, she sold her house and cashed out her 401K plan for the down payment on the $1.7-million-dollar SBA loan needed to buy and build a Kids R Kids Academy franchise in Orlando, Florida.  Over the next 15 years, she expanded twice and grew her business into one of the largest franchises in her industry before exiting successfully in 2012.  Now, an Adjunct Professor of Entrepreneurship at Rollins College and contributing writer, Christy has turned her focus to helping others realize greater professional rewards through growing a successful business.


Franchise Interviews:  I think like you Christy that people are curious about franchising.  What drew you to franchising?


Christy Wilson Delk:  That's a great question Marty.  I came about franchising like many other people, meaning that I knew and trusted told me about a specific franchise and in my case it was Kids R Kids Academy. 


Franchise Interviews:  I think that's interesting that it was a specific franchise Christy.  There are so many opportunities out there today in franchising.  I think it must be difficult for an aspiring frantrepreneur to choose from the 2,500 different systems in 80 industries.  How do you know where to even begin?  I suppose it was good someone pointed you directly to a specific franchise. 


Christy Wilson Delk:  This trusted person, who had no vested interest in me becoming a franchisee told me about the Kids Are Kids Academy.  I listened but I had a job and was very happily employed.  There came a time over the next couple of years, when I didn't have a job--I had gotten laid off and the timing was just not right for me.  I went on to have a final corporate opportunity with an outplacement company.  As an outplacement counselor in business development and I was able to talk to many people who were very similar to me who were now displaced.  I would tell them "hey guess what this is an opportunity for you.  Please view it that way.  You can do now whatever you want; you can realize some passions and go in a different direction" those kinds of things.  One day, the light bulb finally turned on.  I had an article put right in front of me on an airplane.  It was an Inc. Magazine article about a Primrose franchisee.  I read it and thought "oh my gosh that's me".   The dots were connected and I became curious about franchising.  I think people are generally curious about franchising but are not sure how the whole thing works.  They might see something and say "that's a chain, that it's corporate owned or if it's a franchise".  We in the industry understand that distinction a little bit better; but I think if there's a curiosity at all for anybody that is listening, they should just start asking questions because people love to share information in the field and on the front lines.  


Franchise Interviews:  That's what I found too Christy is that people in franchising they are very giving.  There's a lot of great information out there and that's how I learned about you through the internet.  I saw your videos and loved your message which was, "If I can do it, you can do it."  It was very sincere.  A lot of times people have this perception is that entrepreneurs are individuals that quit college or high school and started a business in their garage.  They have this God given talent and are just destined to be an entrepreneur.  However, I don't believe that to be true.  I believe that anyone could be an entrepreneur if and ability that passion to follow a system like your presentations suggest.  You tell your audience what you did, how you did it, you don't leave anything out and it is very sincere.  I like that message "if I can do it, you can do it."  That's one of the messages I really got that sparked an interest in following you whether it was through Twitter, LinkedIn and all your videos.  I think you did a great job.

Christy Wilson Delk:  Thank you.  I think that's very true.  I know you and I have that common thread that we teach entrepreneurship.  Who knew you could teach it; but the truth is there are parts of it that can't be taught, no questions about it.  One of the biggest things you and I need to talk about is that there are a lot of myths surrounding entrepreneurs and successful entrepreneurs, right?  One of them is that you have to have all these super powers.  There are no superpowers.   It's who you are, what you have and who you know.   In the world of franchising a whole bunch of those things are more or less taken care of for you.  You're signing on to a brand, systems in place, and a lot of different things that you don't have to create.   However, the part that I talk about and that I think not knowing at the time separated me from other franchisees were things that I developed as part of my strategy for being in business.  Also just being open to surprises and listening are the things that I think helped me grow my business.  Those are things about being creative, building layers of loyalty, making-and I think if we could underline this-sure that even though I owned a franchise the community viewed it as I'm another small business owner here deserving of your loyalty and your business.  So trying to separate without doing it in an obvious way or maybe very subtly creating "hey I'm a small business owner in the community, I'm vested" not "this is a chain, this the corporate entity.  I did that strategically with loyalty and being competitive and with leadership and engagement. 


Franchise Interviews:  You were very competitive.  I noticed that in your presentations you talk about the importance of having that competitive spirit.  That's important in entrepreneurship, isn't it?  Whether you're in franchising or your own business.  I think that competitive spirit certainly helps, doesn't it?

Christy Wilson Delk:  Yes it does.  It helps and for the listeners if you don't think you're competitive.  It's a strange thought.  If somebody asks you if you're competitive and you are kind of a little uncomfortable by that than your normal because there a parts of my life where I am not competitive what so ever, but when it comes to your business you have skin in the game and a future to build, you need to start thinking about how you can be competitive.  Kind of like what we just talked about...being an entrepreneur, there's no superhero powers involved.  It's very strategic and so being competitive in business is very different than being competitive on the tennis court or other areas.  People can develop that.  You need to be competitive if you want to be relevant and successful.  You can develop it for sure. Competitors will start opening up around you and you have to get serious about being competitive.


Franchise Interviews:  I think that's well said Christy.  When I was watching your video so many things stood out.  One example that really made an impression Christy was someone came into your office on a Friday and they said that they were quitting.  They didn't give you much notice and it was the bus driver.  It made such an impression that here you are, the CEO of the organization and said "Okay I'm going to go out and drive the bus myself and I'm going to go get a CDL" and you did all that on the same day.  Instead of panicking and saying "what am I going to do now?", you came up with a solution to the problem.  You said "I'll do it" and you had no ego about it saying "I don't know how to drive a bus.  That example really made quite an impression.  Anyone can do that but you have to have that persistence; and that is what we are talking about, aren't we?


Christy Wilson Delk:  Yes, I think as a franchisee owner, your kind of an instant business owner - I don't think I have ever said this out loud before - it is pretty easy to fall into that female, diva mentality but you can't do that, and I do think I had good people who I asked and who told me don't be a diva. For example, Janice Vinson is the President and her husband Pat is the Vice-President of Kids R' Kids Academy.  In our franchise training she said-if the toilets needed scrubbing and that toilet located in the main lobby is dirty, sometimes you're going to be the one who has to go and clean the toilet."  She said, "I sometimes clean the toilet too."  And so of course you are thinking "Really, clean the toilet?  I don't even clean my toilet at my house."  But, that made an impression and franchisees sometimes think that everything that you learn is going to come from the industry and that's not true either.  So show them how hard you work and how passionate you are about your business and don't hesitate to do anything that needs to be done.  Those things at that time had really stuck with me.   

Franchise Interviews:  That's the story I want to share with my students.  We started the show 10 years ago Christy and one of the themes is that everyone has a story.  Your story made quite an impression because here you were a single mom, you sold your house, you cashed in your 401K, you put it all down on a loan which was for over 1.5 million dollars.   A lot of people would have said to you Christy "What were you thinking?".  It was very risky wasn't it?   How were you able to sleep at night?  It took some guts didn't it?


Christy Wilson Delk:  Yes, it did.  It took a lot of guts.  I knew I had the skills and motivation, and I had done my homework.  Now I didn't explore a ton of different franchises, which I don't recommend.  I think people should do a lot of research.  I just knew that the franchisor built this tremendous business plan.   But that number down at the bottom right hand corner made me believe that I could make some serious money. 

Franchise Interviews:  It's a great response.  I can't tell you how often we've heard on the show to go with that feeling in your gut.  Yes, you probably could have researched a dozen other opportunities or industries that were out there but it sounds like you may have ended up in the same place.  You said that the timing was very critical too, wasn't it?  Now, if you didn't take advantage of it at that time, chances are somebody else probably would have, and you would have had regrets I imagine. 


Christy Wilson Delk:  You are absolutely right.  In one of those article I talk about timing and it's not just personal there's a macro factor  of course and there's a local market factor and I, well this is interesting and I'll just throw it out there because I know some people will relate to it.  I live here in the hometown I grew up in which happens to be Orlando, Florida, specifically Winter Park, Florida. As a home-grown gal I knew that in this local market with this particular franchise would work well.  The next thing I recommend to people that they look carefully at the industry and try to find something that is somewhat recession proof because you are going to have lots of business downturns.  It's just more common now than ever.  You want something that's not a leading indicator of a downturn and I felt like early childhood education but let's just call it child care, was one of those examples.  People need daycare even if they don't have a job, they'll need it to look for a job.


Franchise Interviews:  I like how you used the words "recession proof".  A frequent question I get asked is what industries to look towards and children's services is usually the one that stands out: along with the senior care industry, and pet care industry.  You became very successful in franchising and I think a lot of people probably say to you Christy "what's your secret?"  It's not really a secret because you share everything that you know with your audience which I think is wonderful.  Why do you think were you so successful in franchising?"

Christy Wilson Delk:  Well, thank you for asking.  I reflected on it a lot after I sold the franchise and have three of four different pillars to run my business.  First, I developed a system for addressing a few key areas.  In my case, because it was a big facility a full-time facilities maintenance person which in my field/franchise nobody did that.  Even if you own a franchise, you can do things, with your franchisor's blessing that better your business because you are making it your own and it doesn't have to be something that you read in the operations manual.  If you need help do it.  I didn't have a partner or spouse to make sure the air filters got changed or to make sure the carpets got spot cleaned every six months or whatever your case is, I did that.  The systems have to do with evaluating the competition on a regular basis and maintain a true competitive advantage.    That's number one. 

Number two would be build layers of loyalty and that's may even be the most important.  The layers have to do with your clients and even your former clients because they can still refer business.  Your staff, community and last but not least your franchisor because they can give you opportunities that you might not get if you don't have a strong bond with them.  So layers of loyalty with those different areas are really, key.  Lastly and most important one is leadership.  It's not the traditional leaderships that we see all over the place which sometimes are really helpful but leadership because you're just one person what kind of a leader you need to be this year.  All three of those things Marty have to do with just is year.  You heard me slap my thigh there.  I am slapping my thigh because that's important.  You definitely need to plan long term but if you don't stay super focused about your coming year, then you're going to lose ground that year.  I stayed super focused on the here and now so I wouldn't have to reinvent the wheel and drive people crazy.  Those four areas were really the drivers that I used. 

Franchise Interviews:  You were a franchisee for a long time Christy, longer than average.  Did you know in the beginning you would be doing it for so long? 

Christy Wilson Delk:  I had no clue going into it that there was kind of an average life span of a franchisee and I hope I am not speaking out of turn but my understanding is that it's around the seven or eight-year mark.  Is that what you're thinking?

Franchise Interviews:  I would say so, yes.  From my experience, I studied it for my dissertation, it seems about right and I would say definitely within that area.    

Christy Wilson Delk:  When I learned that I was surprised.  For me it had to do with positioning your business to meet my life needs.  My life needs were my son who was three years old.

Franchise Interviews:  It seems like it was probably the right time to sell Christy.  The industry was becoming more competitive than when you first started.  I imagine it wasn't as competitive at that time as when you started the business and when you sold the business.  There was a lot more "players" coming into the industry particularly in your area because it's such a hot location.  I guess that was part of the plan as well.

Christy Wilson Delk:  It was.  Actually Marty, you just kind of connected a couple dots I hadn't connected before and I think that my, getting back to the ‘you took a risk when you started' drive that I had.  The timing at that point was the same feeling I had about the market timing to exit.  So absolutely, right on brother it was the same.  It was the time is now go and then it was the time is now sell.  I knew it was the right time I got through that 2008 recession which really not a lot of sweat thank goodness because of those things I already talked about but the competition was continuing to come and the business was changing a bit in terms of more interaction in the classroom.  So, note to self and note to anybody out there listening, don't wait until the shift starts to happen, you really want to be ahead of that.  You want to be super engaged in your business when you sell and not the least little bit burned out.  Go out on a high. 

Franchise Interviews:  It seems like this is a new chapter of your life Christy.  I have seen your presentations and you do a spectacular job at it.  Maybe you can tell our listeners what you are currently doing now.  I know you are writing and you're an Adjunct Professor at Rollins College which it sounds in getting to know you that you love it.  I can tell you're very enthusiastic about sharing your knowledge and teaching at the same time.  Would I be incorrect in saying that?

Christy Wilson Delk:  You are correct and it takes one to know one.  I give you all the credit too for doing what you're doing because I know you've been doing this program for 10 years and you've also been teaching at Kaplan for 10 years is that right?

Franchise Interviews:  Yes that's correct.

Christy Wilson Delk:  That's a long time.

Franchise Interviews:  This is my eleventh year and yes it seems like I started yesterday as well. 

Christy Wilson Delk:   It does and still that's a big thing Marty because that shows not only a lot of commitment but to do that for that amount of time you must constantly look for new ways to add to your material and your knowledge base and stay engaged and that's not easy.  It's not for everybody. 

Franchise Interviews:  You used the word "system" a lot in this interview and I can see you have this appreciation for systems.  Was that one of the attractions of franchising as well?

Christy Wilson Delk:  I do have a strong appreciation for systems and I definitely think that's one of the things that attracted me to franchising.  However, there are so many things outside of the basic operating manual that with your franchisor's blessing are important.  Keep it exciting, engaging, creative, and strategic...all those things so that you as a business owner stay really engaged.   Those are the things that make for a really good entrepreneur.   and in my classroom and at Rollins we talk about the two majors are social entrepreneurship and responsible business management.  It's a slightly different take on pure entrepreneurism talking about doing business well for the society at large and the community.  I talk about that in the classroom a lot.  I love what I do teaching at Rollins.  I have a course that is for the evening students which is primarily professional people that are going back to school and then the day students which are traditional arts and sciences students at this very small liberal arts school in one of the most gorgeous serene campus environments you can possibly imagine, it's crazy.  Are we running out of time Marty?

Franchise Interviews: We have about two minutes left but keep going.

Christy Wilson Delk:  What I do now Marty I get hired by franchisors to help their franchisees be more successful and that sounds like a big nut to crack but it's not.  I am super strategic, I talk about growing revenue, translation...making money and I do it with those softer areas that the franchisor doesn't typically get into, especially if their emerging franchisees.  Because I've walked the talk and I as you've said I'm willing to share the highs and lows of business ownership.  I'm new in this phase of my career and I'm definitely looking for opportunities to do that and build workshops depending on the franchisors initiative but I am all in I love franchising.  I came back to it after I sold it was such a great opportunity for people to get into business ownership and still make it their own business. 

Franchise Interviews:  I could talk to you all day.  I probably should have made this a two hour interview but we'll have to have a sequel to this interview.  I really enjoyed talking to you Christy.  It has really been a pleasure for me.  Again, I felt I really new you before the interview because I have been following you, of course, and watching your videos and you do a great job.  I have no doubt in my mind you will be very successful doing what you're doing.  I have seen a lot of presentations and I would say yours is certainly one of the best I've seen.  I want to congratulate you on all your success.  What is the best way for our listeners to get more information on you?  Should they go to the website?  Is that the best place to go?

Christy Wilson Delk:  Yes, definitely.  It's my long name and I go by just Christy but the website is and my email is or they can certainly call me.  My number is on the website: 407-399-5554.  I am always excited to hear from people so feel free to pick up the phone or email me or go on my website.  Thanks, Marty.

Franchise Interviews:  I want to thank you again Christy this was a pleasure for me and I'd like to stay in touch.