Winning in business--what I learned as the Bonny LeVine Award winner
Winning in business--what I learned as the Bonny LeVine Award winner

Just a few years ago, Susan Black-Beth could have never imagined playing the active role in the International Franchise Association that she does today. Attending her first IFA Conference at the age of 23, Susan, now 34, sits on the IFA Board of Directors as one of the youngest members ever and won .....

Just a few years ago, Susan Black-Beth could have never imagined playing the active role in the International Franchise Association that she does today. Attending her first IFA Conference at the age of 23, Susan, now 34, sits on the IFA Board of Directors as one of the youngest members ever and won the 2012 Bonny LeVine award celebrating her success as a female franchisor. Her accomplishments at such a young age are all the more impressive considering that Susan started working in the industry in 2000 when she came back to the family business of Super Wash, Inc. to convert the system from licensing to franchising.

The Background

In 1976, Bob and Mary Black opened their first car wash in a small town in Illinois. With $17.42 in pocket and a loan from Susan’s grandparents, her mother and father built that first self-service car wash and opened in one of the coldest winters in Illinois history.  Mary was 3-months pregnant with Susan putting the roof on that first wash.

Finding tremendous success early on, they decided to offer the concept to other entrepreneurs in 1982 under the name Super Wash, Inc. to increase the footprint of the brand and to create a larger system of self-service car washes throughout the state. Through a simple licensing model, the brand gained momentum across the United States and in 1987, Super Wash, Inc. became a trademarked brand.

Despite growing up watching her parents expand their business, Susan did not initially see herselfc having an integrated role in Super Wash, Inc. In an attempt to find a more monitored way of doing business, the decision was made to convert the system to franchising in 2002.

Susan decided to take a different path than the one her parents created. After graduating from high school, she attended Augustana College in Illinois and received a degree in Business and Communication. Drawn to the big city life, she decided to move to Chicago working as a conference producer writing programs for senior level banking and IT executives.

The Decision

While working in Chicago, Susan received a call from her father explaining his decision to convert the license model to a franchised system and that he needed help implementing it on a larger scale. With no prior experience in the franchising industry or the arduous documentation process involved, the family had a long way to go. At 23 years old, Susan decided that she would go home to the family business and implement the system-wide change to business format franchising--a monumental task for someone who had to learn everything on the spot before explaining the process to the independent owners.

“It was an amazing challenge,” says Susan. “We went from having a four page document that outlined a total of three things not to do, and the fourth page explaining the previous three, to a full out franchise agreement.  Explaining the decision to convert to a franchise to a group of existing business owners who had never paid a single fee back to the company, and to many who thought franchising was a dirty ‘f’ word, was quite the learning experience.”

Armed with the knowledge of a dear mentor, Lewis Rudnick, Susan knew the family had to get more involved to learn the ins and outs of the franchising industry, so as Lew had suggested, she got involved with the International Franchise Association to absorb as much information as she possibly could. Meeting industry icons such as Fred Deluca, Dina Dwyer-Owens and Melanie Bergeron provided her with invaluable insight.  Susan took the opportunity to learn from everyone she met, but nothing was more important to her than becoming ingrained in IFA and joining and contributing to the work of various committees. Believing in the message, structure and philosophy behind the industry, Susan returned energized and excited to start converting Super Wash, Inc. locations across the country into a franchise, location by location.

[caption id="attachment_653" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="The Super Wash family; Barry Black (left), Director of Construction, Mary Black, co-founder, Bob Black, co-founder/CEO, Jennifer Black, CFO, and Susan Black-Beth, COO."][/caption]

“Super Wash is unique in that we own and/or operate half of all the washes in our system.  Also, my parents require that every person that sits on our executive team have an active ownership interest in an individual location so we truly understand what our franchisees are experiencing.  At the time of the conversion, I was a franchisee of the Super Wash system and was signing the same document and paying the same fees I was asking our business owners to commit to.  My folks and my sister were in the same boat.  I believe our franchisees took some comfort in knowing that,” she says. “We knew the conversion wouldn’t be easy and we knew we were going to lose some people along the way, but overall the process improved our system dramatically and proved that those who really believe in Super Wash could withstand monumental change.  There’s something to be said for that.”

Susan faced a number of major challenges along the way, but she learned to lead through the chaos, problems and changes to keep the system intact and focused on the task.

“At the core, I’m an operator and I try to never lose sight of what our franchisees have at stake.  I believe this connection to the front line helps me be a better leader and really helps me develop strong relationships with our franchisees.  To be honest, I don’t know how I would respond to a scenario where everything is just going along according to plan or to just having one position in the company because I’m most comfortable when things are in a state of chaos and there are lots of moving pieces.  I’m confident that I can rally the troops, help them understand the situation at hand and lead them through to a successful conclusion,” Susan explains.

Involvement with IFA

Susan attributes the majority of her success to her involvement with the International Franchise Association and various committees that have helped with franchise education and personal growth. Susan is a Certified Franchise Executive, the Immediate Past Chair of the International Franchise Association’s Women’s Franchise Committee, the co-founder and past Co-Chair of the Chicago Women’s Franchise Network and currently is on the IFA Board of Directors as one of the youngest members ever.

“At the age of 23, all I knew is that I wanted to become as involved as possible and aspired to one day serve with the iconic figures on the Board of Directors. I knew there was a series of positions that would help me achieve my goal, and I wanted to do it right by working my way through every level until I was sitting at the table with some of the most influential executives in franchising.”

Winning the Bonny LeVine Award

Of all of Susan’s accomplishments during her time in franchising, Susan says being awarded the Bonny LeVine Award at the 2012 IFA Convention was by far one of the most amazing. The Bonny LeVine Award is given by the IFA to one female franchisor or franchisee who has contributed to the growth of franchising, to her community through board positions, volunteer work and activities that promote the professional advancement of women and as a mentor to women in franchising. The award was created in 1964 in memory of IFA member and Postal Instant Press co-founder Bonny LeVine to recognize her accomplishments in franchising.

“When I learned about the award nomination last fall, I was dumbfounded.  And then when I was called onstage to accept the award at the 2012 IFA Convention I had so many people I wanted to thank for embracing me and for helping me become a part of this wonderful community that I spoke well over the time limit. Oops!” Susan jokes.

Looking back on her years in the industry, Susan credits many of her achievements, and much of her knowledge, to being involved with the good people of the IFA. Participating in committees on a national and a local level has allowed her to build close relationships with people she truly enjoys. It has been an adventure with tremendous wins for both Super Wash, Inc. and for the IFA to have someone as active and as excited about the future possibilities and growth of franchising.

“At this year’s IFA Convention, and even once I got home, I was congratulated by so many people on receiving this award.  When I take time to reflect, many of those same people are folks I consider some of my dearest friends.  I feel so fortunate to have them because of my journey in franchising.  I just never imagined I would win this award,” Susan says. “I’m still dumbfounded, and at a little bit of a loss for words, which is something new!”