Linda Chadwick: As the CEO of Rita’s, I know that franchise business ownership can change lives - Open for Opportunity

This op-ed originally appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer on May 2, 2022. Read the full piece.

Linda Chadwick is President and CEO of Rita’s Franchise Company, LLC headquartered in Trevose, Pa.

For many of us, summers are marked by barbecues, beaches, and baseball. Nothing pairs better with each than a tasty treat like Italian Ice or frozen custard — especially after a Phillies win.

As President and CEO of Rita’s Italian Ice & Frozen Custard, I have a front-row seat to watching kids, families, and entire communities make those lasting memories. Our passion for serving up happiness has led to growth for our brand. What started as a front-porch business founded by a retired Philadelphia firefighter in the spring of 1984 now has over 550 shops nationwide and is 100% franchised. This means that the national brand owns no shops, and all Rita’s locations are owned by individual entrepreneurs.

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to appear on CBS’s Undercover Boss to get an inside look at three of our Rita’s franchise locations around the country — even serving up smiles and many Italian ices, frozen custards, and gelatis myself. But as I visited these local franchise businesses, I quickly discovered something I didn’t expect. Rita’s is more than just the delicious creamy custard and tart Italian ice we serve. We are a community of people, a franchise community, passionate about the local businesses we represent in cities and towns across the nation.

Owning a franchise can be life-changing. Take Hezrron Gonzales, an immigrant from the Philippines who started with us as a Treat Team member, proved himself and climbed the ladder fast, then became the owner of his own Rita’s in Tom’s River, New Jersey. I met Stefani Nieves, too — a single mother — who used franchise ownership as a vehicle to improve her family’s life in Holland, Michigan. Chip Byers and Andrew Collins, franchisees devoted to creating a more inclusive society in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, showed me what it means to be committed to your community by hiring individuals with disabilities and autism.

While each local franchise owner I met was different, they all left me in awe. I am proud to be a part of a franchise that works to help people of all backgrounds, genders, and abilities earn a living, provide for their families, and chase their dreams.

The franchise industry offers this same opportunity to Americans every day. When someone opens their own store, they are largely on their own. But when a person buys a store that’s part of a franchise, they have access to support, resources, and guidance from brands. As a result, franchises help make owning a business accessible for many aspiring entrepreneurs. In fact, nearly one-third of all local franchise business owners say they would not be able to own a business without the franchise model.

The support of the franchise business model has been especially valuable for entrepreneurs who may face bigger hurdles, like women and people of color. The International Franchise Association estimates that 26% of franchises are owned by people of color, compared with 17% of independent businesses. Evidence suggests that the franchise model is a helpful tool to encourage higher rates of entrepreneurship among women, too.

Business ownership has never been more important. With the economy slowly rebounding from the turbulence caused by the global pandemic, our local franchise owners face challenges finding workers and planning for the future. Fortunately, the franchise model means that no small business owner has to tackle these challenges alone. The support of a proven business and a franchise network means that our local franchise owners are in business for themselves — not by themselves.

As the International Franchise Association’s “Open for Opportunity” Roadshow rolled into Philadelphia last week, it facilitated a conversation about diversity in franchising at Thomas Jefferson University, a discussion around supporting franchisees at CertaPro in Audubon, and an event featuring local franchisees and elected officials to discuss the state of the franchise sector at our headquarters in Trevose. It’s a great time to pay attention to the many unique stories that the franchising industry has to offer — stories like that of Hezrron, Stefani, Chip, and countless others.

Franchise businesses like Rita’s offer our communities more than just sweet treats. We offer the opportunity to make any American Dream a reality.