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Young Ones to Watch: Nicole Alburger, Director of Franchise Development at Hand & Stone Massage and Facial Spa

Alburger spoke with 1851 Franchise to discuss how she entered the franchise industry, what advice she has for up-and-coming business owners and more.

Nicole Alburger joined Hand & Stone Massage and Facial Spa in 2013 as the director of franchise development. Hand & Stone is a 475-unit massage and facial spa franchise with a mission to bring massage and facial services to the masses. Launched in 2004, Hand & Stone now has locations in 31 states and Canada. 

1851 Franchise spoke with Alburger as part of our Young Ones to Watch issue in order to learn more about her story.

1851: How did you get into franchising?

Alburger: It’s a pretty funny story — it was actually off of a dare from a friend! I was home from Penn State one summer during college, and I started looking for a job. I had been a nanny my whole life, but I told my mom that I wanted a real job this time, one where I had to clock in. One day I was with my friend at the mall, and we were deciding where to get lunch. A new Saladworks was being built in our town, and there was a “now hiring” sign on the window. My friend bet that I couldn’t get a job at Saladworks, so I called the store, and, sure enough, they told me I could start on Tuesday. I didn’t know what I would be doing or how much I would be getting paid, but I showed up on Tuesday, and the rest is history. I started as a shift leader, then a manager, and was eventually hired by the corporate office in a development role. I left Saladworks in 2013 and joined the Hand & Stone team as the director of franchise development. At this point in my franchising career, I’ve done everything from wash dishes to deliver food, and now I’m meeting with CEOs. It’s been a fun ride. 

1851: What do you love about the industry?

Alburger: I tell people all the time that my job is so much fun because I get to see people realize their lifelong dream of owning a business. The franchise industry really offers the American dream of entrepreneurship. Plus, these entrepreneurs aren’t on their own. I love providing new business owners with the confidence of a proven business model, brand and support infrastructure

1851: What makes someone a good fit for the franchise industry? Are there traits that are shared by the most successful franchise professionals you know?

Alburger: On the franchisor side, the industry allows for so many different personalities because we have so many different departments — IT people, accountants, marketing experts and creatives. Every home office or corporate team that I’ve worked with is a melting pot of personalities. At the end of the day, the most important thing is just being a people person. It is important to recognize that the franchisor’s job is to support the franchises. There has to be that intrinsic desire to support others. On the franchisee side, the most common trait that I’ve seen is a competitive desire to succeed as a business owner and to be a valuable part of the community. 

1851: How do you feel about the industry's response to the coronavirus crisis so far? Are there challenges or opportunities that the industry still needs to address?

Alburger: The conversation that I’ve been having with a lot of potential franchisees coming through the pipeline is that the time has never been better to join a franchise system. Prospects are investing in a franchise because they want that support during the hard times as well as the support during the good times. Now, franchisees are able to see how the franchisor is going to protect their business, preserve their cash flow and promote the safety of their customers and employees. These are all resources that we provide that mom-and-pop businesses have struggled with during the pandemic. 

The support and backing of these franchise systems also allow franchisees to reopen their doors in a safe manner. There have been some real heartwarming moments for me personally in connecting with franchisees. I’ve heard stories of franchisees spending their own money to keep staff employed or giving them gift cards to the grocery store. There were even some of our spas with food trains — if they knew someone was sick or struggling, they’d provide meals. This difficult time has really shown me how the franchise community supports each other. Our CEO Todd Leff also banded together with competitors in the field to lobby for the massage industry as an essential business.

1851: What advice do you have for other young up-and-comers in the space?

Alburger: My main piece of advice is to surround yourself with great leadership and to really understand the true vision of the concept that you have attached yourself to.