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Erin Fletter: Transforming Sticky Fingers Cooking into a Franchise Success Story

Erin Fletter has turned Sticky Fingers Cooking from a kitchen table venture into a thriving franchise, empowering communities and creating business opportunities.

By Victoria CampisiStaff Writer
12:12PM 06/20/24

Erin Fletter, founder of Sticky Fingers Cooking, has taken her business from a small startup to a successful franchise operation. Her journey into franchising began unexpectedly in the summer of 2021 due to a bet with her Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) forum.

“I had set a bet with my forum mates that I was going to look into franchising and report back to them. My big mouth got in the way, and I said I’d put money on it if I didn’t follow through,” Fletter recently shared with 1851 Franchise Founder and Publisher Nick Powills on his “Meet the Zor” podcast. “By the next meeting, I had connected with franchise experts who told me I might have built the perfect franchise model without realizing it.”

Sticky Fingers Cooking, which began 13 years ago at Fletter’s kitchen table, teaches children to cook in a fun and impactful way. Today, it operates in eight territories across five states, spreading the joy of cooking while creating opportunities for women and people of color.

“Women were the first to leave the workforce to take care of their families during the pandemic,” Fletter said. “Through franchising, we could not only expand Sticky Fingers Cooking but also create female business owners.”

The franchise’s non-brick-and-mortar approach, low overhead and high margins make it a unique model. “Franchising, when done well, is a symbiotic relationship. Our win is their win, and their success is our success,” Fletter said.

Sticky Fingers Cooking boasts a 99% retention rate with schools and is a tech innovator, with proprietary technology automating 85% of operations. “We’ve taught 150,000 children to cook. Ninety-five percent of parents who sign their kids up are women. Eighty percent of our franchise owners are women and mothers, and 60% are people of color,” Fletter said.

Looking ahead, Sticky Fingers Cooking aims to continue its growth and community impact.

 “It’s so fun to teach kids how to cook,” said Fletter. “For those who love the magical, messy combination of kids and cooking, we’re here and would love to talk to you.”

A summarized transcript of Fletter’s interview with Powills has been included below. It has been edited for clarity, brevity and style.

Nick Powills: Erin, actually, first you, then Sticky Fingers. So give me your franchise story, and everybody has a unique one, of how you accidentally fell into franchising, and then we'll get into the brand.

Erin Fletter: I'm very happy to hear that people accidentally fall into franchising, that I'm not alone in that. Really, the broad overview of how I accidentally fell into franchising was because of a bet. For real. So I am a member of Entrepreneurs’ Organization. It's a global organization for entrepreneurs, really just like a support group for like-minded individuals. And, you know, I had set a bet with my forum mates that I was going to look into franchising. This was summer of 2021, and I was going to do a deep dive and then report back to them. My big mouth got in the way, and I said, “You know what? I'm going to throw hundreds of dollars in the middle of the table if I don't do what I say I'm going to do. I'm going to put my money where my mouth is, and if I show up at our next meeting without a report on what franchising is all about and how it could benefit Sticky Fingers Cooking, then I'm taking you all out to dinner.” 

So, of course, we meet every third Tuesday of the month, and that Monday beforehand, guess what? I hadn't looked into franchising. So I sent out an APB to everybody I knew and said, “Hey, I need to be connected with the top names in franchising. I really want to do a deep dive, but I want to do it right now.” It was amazing. My incredible network of people came forward, and I was connected to some of the top names in franchising within that day. Everyone was so nice and supportive. I got 15 minutes from some, and an hour and 15 minutes later, we were still chatting. 

I'd been building Sticky Fingers Cooking from my kitchen table for 13 years, and it was so validating to hear from multiple franchise professionals that I might have built the perfect franchise model without realizing it. So, really, I was invigorated. I was connected to the experts, and it started from there. And best of all, I didn't lose my bet.

Powills: Out of curiosity, going back into the EO room, was there a franchising expert in the room that teed up the decision, or how did the word franchising even come into the conversation?

Fletter: So, starting Sticky Fingers Cooking, we're a social enterprise. What we do is really impactful to the communities we serve. The aim and the mission were always to scale and grow. As a privately held company, we did that, going into three major markets in three states. During the pandemic, it opened my eyes to women in business. I looked at the statistics of women in business historically in the U.S., and I was dismayed and shocked by the statistics. During the pandemic, it was clear that women were the first to leave the workforce to take care of their families, children, aging parents and communities. Through franchising, not only could we spread Sticky Fingers Cooking, but we could also create female business owners. We started franchising in May 2023, and we have eight territories in five states that are open and thriving.

Powills: What impressed you most about going through franchising and what disappointed you most about the process of becoming a franchisor?

Fletter: I felt like I started at the top. My philosophy about building a business is hiring people far smarter than I am. I surround myself with incredibly smart people to help build Sticky Fingers. That was our approach to franchising. I love what you do, Nick, with educating potential franchise owners and leads. It is a completely different universe, a business model unlike any other — the most highly regulated business model in the U.S. The biggest challenge was learning the franchise universe, the vernacular, vocabulary, and processes. 

From the beginning, my team and I spoke to over 30 franchise leaders and asked who the best consultants, attorney teams and advisors were. We didn't go the broker model; we wanted a one-on-one relationship with all of our franchise owners — that's what I love about the franchise model. 

Everyone I've encountered in franchising seems to be very supportive. It's all relationship-based. Sticky Fingers Cooking is purely a relationship-based company; the franchise model naturally fit in because when it's done well and correctly, it's a symbiotic relationship. Our win is their win, and their success is our success. Franchising invigorated me. We were mindful to work with the best advisors, and we've had a supportive message and direction.

Powills: How many units do you have?

Fletter: We have five franchisees with six units open.

Powills: Do they all have multi-unit agreements?

Fletter: No, only one. Our first two franchise owners were employees of ours for six and 13 years. Our first franchise owner is a military vet, her husband is a disabled vet and they have two boys under 10. She became our first franchise owner in Austin, Texas. Lucy, our second franchise owner, worked with me for 13 years. She took the leap and went to Chicago, starting our company-owned outlet there, which now has two territories. She became our second franchise owner. I can't think of a better validator than having our long-time employees love our brand so much that they became our first franchise owners.

Powills: Your story of getting up to three corporate locations in different states shows you figured out a way to operate from a distance, somewhat fractionally or semi-absentee. You're the blueprint for what a franchisee should aspire to if it's about building wealth. Your business has a sense of community and purpose. It might not have to be the wealth creator for the family, but it should be profitable. Your story aligns with what a franchisee should aspire to. Does anything I'm saying connect with you?

Fletter: Oh, yeah. You hit the nail on the head. We were running five territories in three states for over a decade. Our operations needed to be buttoned down, and every location wasn't doing everything the same way. It took about eight years to document every process and question why we do things a certain way. We're a non-brick-and-mortar concept. From day one, I didn't want parents driving across town to drop their children off to learn how to cook. We have incredibly low overhead, stable high margins and a very secure, highly profitable business. Owning a Sticky Fingers Cooking concept allows you to provide for your family and build future wealth. 

Our customers are students enrolled in the schools we serve. We have a 99% retention rate with the schools we work with. Our avatar is very clear. We're also a tech company. We've been building our proprietary technology for a decade, running 85% of day-to-day operations. Running a business is hard, and we've automated 85% of the operations. 

Data drives us forward. We've taught 150,000 children how to cook. Ninety-five percent of the parents who sign their children up for Sticky Fingers Cooking classes are women. Our C-suite team is all women. Eighty percent of our franchise owners are women and mothers, and 60% are people of color. We're excited to reach out to a diverse group of people who can operate and own their business from home.

Powills: Are you comfortable with the pace that you're growing? Do you even have to market if your parents are following you on social media?

Fletter: We haven't needed traditional marketing from day one. A lot of our franchise leads find us organically on social media. It's a huge benefit.

Powills: Is there anything else you want potential candidates to know about the business opportunity?

Fletter: We have a very comprehensive FDD. We love talking to people. We're open and ready in 45 states. We have an amazing team ready to answer questions. It's so fun to teach kids how to cook. Every day we get positive reinforcement. Parents thank us for teaching their kids to cook new dishes. For those who love the magical, messy combination of kids and cooking, we're here and we'd love to talk to you.

Powills: I'm going to give you the next business concept to do after this one. When you get all the free time in the world, take those kids and let them teach their parents.

Fletter: Nick, that's actually an unintended byproduct of what we do. We get feedback all the time that we motivate parents. When a child comes home and says they want to make kale pesto, it freaks out the parents, but they don't say no. They make it an event. The children teach their parents what they learned in class and they sit around the dinner table. It's such a beautiful byproduct of what we do.

Powills: The relationship and communication that come from cooking are powerful. Even if these children have nothing to do with cooking later in life, the confidence they build from learning to cook is a tool they can access. That's the impact that's far greater than the food.

Fletter: Nick, I couldn't have said it better myself. You summarized exactly what we do and our mission. Food is the universal connector between all of us. It's how we celebrate, mourn and share who we are. You can sit at a table with someone who doesn't speak the same language and get to know them through their food. It's an essential life skill to be able to feed yourself and make food for your friends. I always tell my three daughters that if you know how to cook, you'll always have friends. It's pretty great. If you know how to eat well, that gives me all the joy in the world.

Powills: Erin, I love this story. I love where you're going. Good luck with everything. Thanks for sharing with us today.

To watch the full video, click here.