Rita’s franchise review: Annmarie Brown of Northeast Philadelphia

19Mar

When marketing and accounting backgrounds come together, they end up being an unbeatable combination for business

Annmarie Brown and her husband had known for a while they wanted to go into business together. He had experience in accounting and business; she had worked in marketing and education. “We always just thought that we would be a perfect match to go into a business together,” Brown says. When they opened their first location in 2003, they had one child. Today the couple has four children and three Rita’s shops in Northeast Philadelphia. She talks about their experience in this Rita’s franchise review.

Why Rita’s?
We ended up picking Rita’s because of the lifestyle. We liked the hours of the business. In our case, it’s a seasonal area, so for us the seasonality of the business really blends well with having the family life that we wanted to have.

What do you do in the off-season?
We have four children, so in the off-season I am able to enjoy time with my kids and be the homeroom mom and spend time with my family during the holidays. That’s when we take our vacations.

How did you come to be a multi-unit owner? Did you start out knowing you wanted to be multi-unit?
We didn’t originally set out to be multi-unit franchisees. At that time in Northeast Philadelphia, it was extremely hard to find an available franchise. Most of the territories at that time, because that was very close to the original Rita’s, were already taken. There was one that came up for sale very close to where we lived. We were really excited and jumped right on it. We purchased that store and then immediately, within a couple of years, started looking for a second. We knew by then that this was something we could build on.

Our second store was like a tiny territory that had opened up near our store, almost bordering our existing location. We were able to take a rundown corner gas station and turn it into a Rita’s.  We built that back up into a beautiful storefront. The third store we purchased was also a neighboring store. We had befriended the owners and had a good relationship with them, so when they were ready to retire, we were able to purchase their store. Luckily, I was able to eventually have those three stores very close to each other.

But it is a very manageable work-life balance to have the three stores and have a family.

Your shops are very high-volume. Why is that, and how do you manage that?
I’m very fortunate to have three locations that are in the general proximity of each other. As far as running a high-volume store, it’s actually easier to run a high volume store. As far as ordering and staffing goes, it’s pretty consistent. You know what to expect. You don’t have to worry about waste and over-ordering. I’m also very fortunate that I have a pool of staff between three stores. When I’m busy at one, I can pull from another. If I run out of a product, I can quickly borrow from another. These are some of the advantages of being multi-unit that I wasn’t even aware of when we first went from one shop to two.

What do you say when somebody calls you for validation?
I’ve been able to hire a manager at each store that I oversee. As much as I am in the stores — almost every single day I’m in every single store — I don’t need to micromanage because I can delegate to my managers. Having multiple units gives me a little more freedom to have a more open schedule. When I was running one store and I was the manager, yes, I made my own schedule. But having multiple units, I’m able to have even more flexibility.

With your managers, do you bring the same people back every season?
I’ve been incredibly fortunate. I’ve been able to retain the same staff members for years, some of them going back to that first year in 2003. I hired kids that were 14, 15 years old to start working a couple of shifts on the weekend. They worked for me all through high school, all through college. They got married. They got jobs, they had kids, and they still come back and might work one night for me a week as a manager. They love the Rita’s and they love the neighborhoods. We’ve built that bond and that relationship. For them, it’s just part of who they are, just like it is for me.

Do any of your kids work in any of the shops with you?
Yes. My older two are able to work in the stores. In addition to that, I have a sister-in-law, my brother-in-law and my nieces who are able to work in the stores. So it definitely is a family business. There’s a family presence in my stores every day.

Is there a plan like someday your daughters will take over the business?
My youngest daughter, who’s 7, has already told me that that’s what she’s going to do. She’s going to be a Rita’s owner when she grows up. So when kids say, “I want to be a doctor; I want to be a vet; I want to be an astronaut;” she says, “I want to be a Rita’s owner.”

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