Joan Bowling, 30-year veteran KFC franchisee, talks about having more women

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If founders, chefs and other creatives are the beating heart of the restaurant industry, franchisees are the veins that spread their ideas to every corner of the world. Franchising is essential to the success of the industry, allowing brands to quickly grow their big ideas using other people’s capital. And whether it’s a family restaurant owner with one or two franchised restaurants or a seasoned veteran whose influence in the industry is well known, franchisees – with all of their individual attributes, styles and personalities – have a huge impact on the success of a business.

On this week’s episode of Franchisee Spotlight, we spoke with Joan Bowling, who has been a KFC franchisee — as well as a leader and mentor to other women franchisees — for more than 30 years. We talked about how Bowling rose through the corporate ranks at KFC and became a mentor to other female leaders.

Store breakdown: Bowling owns 9 KFCs, one of which was just sold to his daughter, and a Dairy Queen location in the Dayton/Columbus, Ohio area.

Background

I was 16 when I was hired as a team member at KFC and worked my way up to store manager in high school and college. Eventually I met my husband at KFC so we got married, left the business for a while, but then he had the opportunity to buy a franchise and we partnered with another franchisee to achieve it.

I was 26 and we had three young children, but I decided to go back to KFC to help run this business, which really got me into franchisee. It took us a few years and a lot of hard work to launch this store and become franchisees. But then we made the decision to start growing, so we bought our second and it went from there.

Climb the ladder of success

I think there are a lot of franchisees who started [as crew members] and KFC is such a great brand to work for. I think they really encourage people to move up the ladder. My daughter did the same, and now she owns it too.

Why KFC

it’s such a family franchise association that really helps people. I especially think that being a woman and working when I had young children, you really have to find that balance, and you have to work for people who understand that you balance work, business and your family.

Encourage women entrepreneurs

We’re attracting more women leaders of all types, not just franchisees. […] When I’ve held different positions, the company and franchise executives were so welcoming and really put me at ease. Women just need that encouragement to take the first step and get involved. […] I think it’s just talking [the opportunities to women] and make sure they know the door is open. They don’t realize how much help is there to make them successful. So once you start talking and showing them the opportunities, I really think there’s interest.

Challenges as a female franchisee

As a woman, you have to find this balance because you have a lot of responsibilities at home, especially when you have children. I think that’s something that we really strive for in our own organization to make sure there’s a good balance between family life, because if you don’t have that, you won’t have employees productive.

On his role as a mentor

I think I do it on two levels: I try to coach my own team. Of the 10 managers we have in our restaurants, seven are women, and most of them are people we have grown through our business into leaders. But I also tried to work with our franchise association to bring more leaders into the brand. […] So we have future leaders in our association who are women that I have encouraged and helped to mentor.

Biggest hurdles today

We are not immune to staffing shortages and overall cost of goods. But I think we did a good job of maneuvering that. It’s about making sure we’re a place where our people want to work and do a good job serving our customers. […] And with COVID, a lot of things have changed. We have a lot more people picking up and ordering online and driving. We’ve really had to focus with our teams to make sure we have great drive-thru and are ready for any changes that are coming.

A family business

My personal growth plan is just to help develop the next generation – which is my daughter who will eventually take over our business – and just to make sure she has a good team and a plan for the future. […] When she graduated from college, we were a little surprised[…] that she wanted to come back and work for us, but I think KFC is in your blood. I also have another daughter involved and two grandsons who work in restaurants, so it’s definitely a family business.

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