Juana Bautista - Co-founder and CEO of Maggie Moo's
Family Ties: After divorcing her husband (and business partner), Juana Bautista didn't exactly go it on her own. She kept her business alive by bringing in reinforcements – her immediate family.
By Aisha Mickens
'Tis the season to scream for ice cream – and Juana Bautista wants your business. After a 13-year career as human resources manager at Sprint, Bautista opened a Maggie Moo's franchise, a specialty ice cream and treats store, in 2001 with her husband at the time. But she's been running the company by herself since her divorce in 2003 – once again making it a family affair with help from her parents and siblings. Bautista, recipient of the 2006 Maggie Moo's Franchisee of the Year Award for her business savvy, cashed in her 401(k) and used all her savings to run the business, which now brings in $300,000 annually.
She talks to PINK about the challenges of owning a business and the sweet rewards of working with family.
PINK: How did you get started?
Juana Bautista: We took out a small business loan for $350,000 that required a lot of paperwork. I had to jump through a lot of hoops: developing a business plan, proving that we had good credit and proving that we had the assets to make sure this venture was a win/win situation. The process took three to four months. Oftentimes people become discouraged because it is very difficult. But there are some great resources out there. I used the [local] chamber of commerce for help with marketing and networking. Everyone there owns a business and can offer advice. And they offer seminars to help you through the small business loan application process. And many business organizations offer special seminars especially for minorities, so that's an additional resource I have as a Latina woman.
PINK: How did the work you had to do on a daily basis change after the split with your husband?
J.B.: When we first started the business I was responsible for operations and he handled the finances, so after the divorce I had to learn about finance. At that point I decided not to do everything by myself. I hired a CPA and someone to do payroll. The extra help allows me to focus on operations, which is where I'm most effective.
PINK: What were some of the challenges you faced in the beginning?
J.B.: I didn't know I had to learn refrigeration – all the back end of a business, the nuts and bolts I didn't know. Sometimes the freezer gets stuck on defrost, and all the ice cream starts to melt, but I can't afford to freak out. I can't just call someone to fix it. It's expensive. You don't want to pay $125 for a man to press the reset button on your freezer. That happened to me once, and I was so embarrassed. I learned to always be proactive. Now I'm an expert in refrigeration.
PINK: How do you motivate your employees?
J.B.: It's a family business. My dad makes ice cream, mom makes cakes, and my brother and sister fill in whenever I need them. They're all invested in the success of my business. I share this sense of family with my staff, whom I call my "kids." Maggie Moo's is my house, and they are a part of my family business. They understand that and take responsibility. They see my parents helping, and they understand that this means something to us. I tell my "kids," "The skills you're learning with me will help you. You may not be making top salary now, but someday you will." I run contests and tell them if we meet our goal we'll all go out to dinner or bowling – whatever they choose – and I'll pick up the tab. They understand that if I win, they win.
PINK: What advice do you have for women thinking about buying a franchise?
J.B.: Network. People have to know you're there. You have to put time and money into exposure. But the money doesn't come right away. Have a grand opening and advertise it in the community. You may have to give away free product, and that costs money. Some people cut their losses and quit the first year. You have to decide how long you're willing to wait for your business to turn around and make a profit.
PINK: How long did it take you to become profitable? How did you support yourself during that time?
J.B.: We opened Maggie Moo's right before September 11th, which was a hard time for all businesses. Then I separated from my husband and business partner, so I had to buy him out. It took three years before the store became profitable, but I had the support of my family. I spent all my savings, including my retirement fund, to keep the business alive.
PINK: What is the most rewarding part of owning your own business?
J.B.: There is no other career where I can work with my parents. If they weren't here in Arizona with me, they would be in New Mexico. I can't put a price on being with them. When times get hard, I think of them. That's my paycheck.
PINK: Why franchise? Why Maggie Moo's?
J.B.: We decided we were working too hard. My husband did research on many franchises, and we chose Maggie Moo's after checking out the location. We liked the mascot and the bright colors, which appeal to customers. And it's fun, just like ice cream should be. I thought my experience in human resources was an easy tie-in to the business for me. My husband did all construction and building specifications. I dealt with operations.
PINK: Would you do it again?
J.B.: Absolutely. At Sprint I was content because I had worked my way up and changed positions. I was the manager of a language calling center, and I liked the diversity of cultures. I'm a comfort person. If I like something, I don't change. This franchise moved me out of my comfort zone. When I first started, the men I worked with in the refrigeration business didn't take me seriously. They thought I didn't know anything because I'm a woman. Now they know and respect me, because I work hard and take the time to learn. They will help me out and say, "Juana, you can do this."
PINK: What have you learned about yourself from running this business?
J.B.: I've learned that I need to let people help me, and I have great people who are willing to do that. I have a Type A personality, so I always like to be in control. I've learned to delegate and teach my staff everything I know. I tell my "kids" that even if I have a heart attack, this business can still run.
PINK: How do you balance work and life?
J.B.: I've hired the best staff, so when I leave the store I'm done. I'm on call when I leave, but the "kids" can handle most problems without me. When I leave my store I'm not constantly thinking about it, and that keeps me balanced. Should I find more balance? Absolutely. I tried to take three days off, but that's too much time for me. I like the chaos and pressure. And my business is successful because I'm always in my store.
PINK: What's the best business advice you have ever received?
J.B.: You have to leave the four walls and market your business. In the beginning I was so preoccupied with operations that I forgot about that. But product isn't going to sell itself. I have the best ice cream in the world, but that is not enough to be successful.
PINK: How do you define success, and what's been your secret to achieving it?
J.B.: Success is freedom – from punching a clock and working for someone else. Owning my own business allows me to have that. And success is having employees who love working for me.
PINK: What's your favorite ice cream flavor?
J.B.: Vanilla with hot fudge. In this business I have to taste every flavor. In 2006 a new buttered popcorn flavor came out and I thought, "Please don't make me eat this." I eat a lot of ice cream, but at the end of the day I'm a vanilla girl.