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2024’s Top Women in Franchising: Alicia Miller

Each year, 1851 Franchise does a roundup of the most influential and successful women in the franchising industry. In this installment, we speak with Alicia Miller, founder and managing director of Emergent Growth Advisors.

By Morgan Wood1851 Franchise Contributor
Updated 9:09AM 03/21/24

The Franchise Leader: Alicia Miller

The Company: Emergent Growth Advisors

1851 Franchise spoke with Alicia Miller, founder and managing director of Emergent Growth Advisors, about her journey in franchising, accomplishments in the industry and advice for women looking to grow in franchising.

1851 Franchise: Can you share your journey to becoming a leader in franchising?

Alicia Miller: My franchise journey began as a multi-unit franchisee. I purchased an existing franchise business as well as expansion territory. Buying a resale is an underappreciated and underutilized way to start a franchise business. You can evaluate how that business is doing in its existing location. You can use the cash flow the business is already generating to purchase expansion territory if you wish to do that. You start with existing customers and a team. I was successful with that approach and even made President's Club my very first year in business. 

As I continued to build my business, I studied everything I could about franchising best practices, including earning my CFE (Certified Franchise Executive). This opened my eyes to all the many opportunities for brands to improve — and when I sold my business years later, I embarked on a new career as a management consultant with a focus on franchising.

Now I work with franchisors on their growth strategies and with private equity (PE) firms and family offices investing in the franchise sector. My consulting practice is unique because I operate at the intersection of franchising and private equity. I also co-invest alongside my PE partners. I'm a minority investor in one platform and six brands — which, combined, represent nearly 1,500 locations. 

I realized through my consulting work that I had a unique perspective on the impact of private capital on franchising. I was already writing a monthly column for Franchise Times and contributing articles to Forbes and Entrepreneur. One day it dawned on me that no one had written an authoritative and comprehensive account about private equity activity in franchising and it was an important topic that deserved attention. My book, “Big Money in Franchising: Scaling Your Enterprise in the Era of Private Equity” is being released this spring and is available for pre-order on Amazon now. Seeing my book on Amazon felt so good! I interviewed more than 100 leaders in franchising and private equity, so readers will have the benefit of hearing from all those leaders as well. Franchising has been around a long time, but modern franchising has dramatically changed thanks to PE's influence. People entering franchising now need this information to make more informed decisions.

1851: What are the unique challenges and opportunities for women in franchising?

Miller: Women, minorities, and veterans punch above their weight in franchising! The franchise model helps people get into business ownership who might not otherwise see it as a viable path for themselves. For many would-be entrepreneurs, it's not the desire, ability or even capital that's lacking. It's seeing the path open to you and then following through to execute on that vision. So we need to keep telling entrepreneur stories so that people can see franchising is an option for them. 

Recent data demonstrates that interest in starting a business has dramatically increased post-pandemic and that higher level of interest appears to be sustainable. The challenge is getting the word out to prospective business owners that franchising is a path they should seriously consider. That's our challenge and opportunity at the same time. We need to continue telling franchise success stories because prospective franchisees will see themselves in those stories. If we want more women in franchising, we need to continue sharing success stories about women in franchising!

1851: How do you define success in your role?

Miller: I help franchisor clients accelerate their business and increase enterprise value. Clients often anticipate or desire a future equity transaction and are looking for strategies to drive a better outcome. Private equity is very active in franchising, but most franchise businesses who want a capital partner aren't well positioned. I help my clients build better and more attractive businesses. As it happens, that also is the type of franchisor that tends to attract the best franchisee talent and create better franchisee outcomes — so everyone wins. On the PE side, I primarily help investors with their due diligence. So success for those clients means helping them make smart decisions so they can achieve their investment objectives. From a personal standpoint, success to me is reflected in great client references and referrals. Most of my business comes in through referrals, which is one of the best measures of success any professional advisor could have!

1851: What advice would you give to franchisors looking to support and empower female franchisees?

Miller: Take a look at all of your recruiting, communications, and support initiatives to ensure you're not leaving anyone behind. Are you reaching a diverse candidate pool? Does your franchise opportunity website demonstrate the types of franchisees who will be successful in your system, and are those examples representative of the breadth of talent you want to recruit?  Are you building a culture of inclusivity and mutual respect where voices across the system can be heard, or are only the loudest, oldest or largest franchisees getting their messages through? Are support initiatives appropriately focused on meeting franchisees where they are on their ownership journey? Franchisees' needs change over time as they gain experience. Do you have a mentoring program so that experienced franchisees can coach and support newer arrivals? These are good things to think about for all franchisees, not just women. 

One of the best things about being an entrepreneur is that you aren't limited by someone else's idea of what you're capable of! You decide for yourself. So to empower female franchisees, I suggest the same approach you should take for all of your franchisees. Really listen to their goals and objectives and do everything possible on the corporate side to help franchisees achieve those objectives, and then get out of their way and let them do it! Look for ways to accelerate, assist, educate, encourage and support your entrepreneur partners. Be seen as a franchisor who removes obstacles to success.

1851: What advice do you have for any women aiming to enter the franchise industry?

Miller: People new to franchising are often surprised to learn how supportive everyone is of each other. It's friendly competition. Best practices are openly shared, and there are so many training and learning opportunities available to you. Get yourself to franchise industry events and start networking. You will find a welcoming culture and people eager to help you explore your options. Get off the internet and get to in-person events! Meet with franchisees and franchisors in person. 

Consider taking a class on franchising — there are an increasing number of franchise classes at the continuing education and university level and, of course, also through the International Franchise Association. Knowledge is power — empower yourself by getting educated about franchising. 

Lean in and talk to as many people as possible. Find franchisees and learn about their experiences. What would they do differently? How did they finance their business venture? How did they decide what franchise brand was a good fit? Think about all the franchise establishments you are a customer of in your own life. Why not start by meeting with some of the owners of franchises you admire in your own community? For example, I got to know the owner of my local Club Pilates studio where I was a client. Turns out, she's a dynamo with six locations! There are resources all around you if you just reach out and ask. 

And remember to pay it forward! When you're a franchisee down the road, be generous with your advice and time. Share your own story!

1851: Is there anything else you think our audience should know?

Miller: Franchising has been a successful entrepreneurial model for more than 100 years! If you're thinking about starting your own business, look into franchising. It may be a great fit for you.