Many entrepreneurs pursue franchises for different reasons, but there is also one thing that most will agree on: you must have the capital required to get started. This is why franchise owners tend to be over the age of 40. However, there are always exceptions to the rule.
At the age of 31, Skyler Blacknall purchased his first Smoothie King location in Fort Worth, TX, and is in negotiation for his second. Ultimately, he aims to own a total of twenty-five. In an exclusive interview with BLACK ENTERPRISE, Blacknall opened up about his 10-year journey to franchise ownership.
BE: How did your journey to owning a franchise start?
Blacknall: This probably sounds silly, but growing up, I would always see my father buying food that I wished I could afford. Don’t get me wrong, he would share, but I wanted my own. I wanted to be able to buy what I wanted, eat what I wanted. This was a big part of my motivation. I was determined to save enough money to be able to do that. But not just to purchase the food, but to actually own the place that I wanted to buy from.
Did you come from an entrepreneurial background?
No, not particularly. My father had a 9-5, but he was always hustling. He would host events, owned a snow cone shack, he was even a movie critic for a popular radio station – you name it, he did it. I definitely think this influenced me a lot. My mother was a principal, so I grew up understanding the importance of a good education and the importance of having a plan. She worked full time, had a husband and kids, and still managed to go back to school so she could become a principal. I grew up understanding the importance of hard work and dedication.
How did you decide on Smoothie King?
I’ve always been big on health, so that drove the decision. I lost my mother, my brother, and my cousin all to different health-related issues, so in a way, my career choice is also a dedication to them as well. I researched a few different brands and healthy concepts prior to making my decision. I knew that with an investment this size, I had to be something I could stand by.
As someone with a plant-based diet, the options are limited in Texas. However, Smoothie King is a highly popular and recognizable brand (headquartered in Coppell, TX), and I was excited to get behind it. I had worked at a few different restaurants but never ate the food. (laughing). I eventually took a job as a General Manager in a Smoothie King corporate-owned location, which lead to a multi-unit manager role.
I understand that part of the reason it took 10 years is that you were turned down a few times for ownership.
I sure was! Bottom line, it’s expensive.
There are also a number of steps that have to be completed before crossing the finish line. So, there were times when I thought it was going to happen, but it didn’t. Eventually, I saved enough money to secure an SBA loan. But even with that, I was still not approved because I didn’t meet the financial requirements of the franchise.
What kept you going?
Once I set a goal, I’m determined to accomplish it. I know franchising is a blessing and I wanted the opportunity to take advantage of it. I also couldn’t have done it without my wife who was extremely supportive. We had to live way below our means so that I could save as much as possible to buy the store. She’s an attorney and worked hard to get where she is, so that’s not easy. But I told her I was committed to one-day taking care of her in a way she never imagined – and that’s what I intend to do. I also have a daughter that I want to set a great example for. She tells me she wants to own her own Blaze Pizza (laughing). And my father . . . he planted the seeds and I want to make him proud.
But I also got an opportunity of a lifetime. As part of the process when purchasing a franchise, there’s Discovery Day. That’s where potential candidates visit the headquarters of the franchise, meet the corporate team, and other prospective owners to learn more about the business and brand. Wan Kim, CEO of Smoothie King, was there and introduced himself to the group. Through introductions, he recognized that I was the youngest one in the room, which caught his attention. A few months later, Wan was touring different Smoothie King’s around the country to get feedback about Smoothie King’s new clea
n blends rollout. I was very blessed that we met again. This time, I got to spend much more time with him and shared how dedicated I was to becoming an owner. I shared with him my goal of owning twenty-five locations. He offered to be my mentor, and also made sure I was a Smoothie King Franchisee. It was an amazing opportunity and something I will always be grateful for. Wan is such a great mentor and extremely humble. I forget he’s the CEO sometimes! He’s always willing to talk, no matter when or where. He’s an amazing mentor and person.
Skyler Blacknall – Smoothie King Franchisee with Wan Kim, Smoothie King CEONow that you have the first one under your belt, what’s next?
I’m working on my second location now, which we plan to open in Arlington in 2021. I learned quite a lot with the first store in just a few months. It was an existing store that I acquired from another owner. The store does not have a drive-thru, so we were negatively impacted by COVID-19 when everything shut down. I was very discouraged at first, but then sales started to climb. We’re up 17-19% over last year. So, I knew I was in a great business, but also recognized the importance of my next store having a drive-thru.
As for the long-term plan to grow to 25 locations, I’m working on that plan. It may be a combination of partnerships, acquisition, and new construction. I don’t feel confined by any timeframe. It will happen at the right time. I feel blessed that everything that I set forth to do so far has happened. Part of making things happen is speaking them into existence. And with an extremely supportive wife I know I can achieve whatever I set out to do.
What advice do you have for other Millennials that are considering purchasing a franchise?
First, it’s expensive, so stick with it. A lot of young people see and read about success on social media and think it happens overnight. It doesn’t. It may not take them 10 years, but it will definitely not happen overnight.
Second, whatever you’re considering purchasing, work there first. By working at the establishment, you get an opportunity to learn all the ins and outs. Until you’re there in the store physically performing the various tasks, you really don’t understand what the business is about. This made my transition to ownership very easy. I could literally run a store in my sleep. If I had not worked at a Smoothie King, purchasing an existing location, and then dealing with COVID-19 could have ended very badly.