Franchise Players is Entrepreneur's Q&A interview column that puts the spotlight on franchisees. If you're a franchisee with advice and tips to share, email ktaylor@entrepreneur.com.

After 16 years in the custard business, you learn a thing or two about entrepreneurship. Renee Dame opened her Ritter's Frozen Custard location in 1999. Today, she's assisting the franchise in training new franchisees and recruiting new franchise owners. Here's what she has learned.

Name: Renee Dame

Franchise owned: Ritter’s Frozen Custard, in Port Orange, Fla.

How long have you owned a franchise?

We purchased our franchise in 1997 and opened in 1999.

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Why franchising?

Franchising offers much better and easier opportunities for growth. It offers a structured environment with guidelines already in place to offer a greater chance at success. Also, when you buy into a Ritter’s Frozen Custard franchise you are buying into a pool of entrepreneurs who are like-minded, in the same business and all looking to build a brand.

What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?

I started working for the federal government in 1979. I got married in 1996 and continued my government job just before we purchased our franchise. I continued to work this job for three years after the business opened, as well as working in the business at night. I left that job in 2002 to be able to dedicate more time to Ritter’s with regards to training staff and growing the brand. In 2009 I went back to work for the government to finish my years for my retirement. In 2014, I retired from the federal government and now dedicate 100 percent of my time to the business.

Why did you choose this particular franchise?

The number one reason we chose Ritter’s Frozen Custard was the quality of the product. With my husband having 25 years of experience in a high volume franchise system, we knew this would be a great opportunity to help grow the brand and take it to the next level. I was also impressed with who they stood for – meaning, they were a family-oriented business delivering a great experience to families across the country. They wanted the business to be a destination for everyone, young and old.

How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?

The total investment required to open a Ritter’s Frozen Custard Shoppe varies depending upon store type. A strip (inline) center investment ranges between $358,500 and $589,400, depending upon square footage and location. The investment for a freestanding prototype is between $496,000 and $899,500 plus land and site development cost. These figures include the franchise fee, leasehold improvement, furniture, fixtures, equipment, signage, insurance, and initial inventory.

Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?

With my husband having been in a large franchise system for 25 years, we were aware of how a franchise system worked. We contacted other owners of this franchise to get their feedback on cost, operations, etc. We also contacted some of the suppliers that had been working with the brand for years. Their information indicated how well the businesses were doing. We also searched the internet, and found information from customers of the other locations, as well as business information pertaining to the other locations.

What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?

Overall, the process was not very difficult. We had a great construction team, and the franchisor was very helpful with any situations that came up. Our biggest challenge, was dealing with the city officials. Due to the shape of the building, the color of the roof, etc., our city was very skeptical. We finally were able to agree with the pitch of the roof and the color, then we had to change the color of our umbrellas to match the roof. That is just a little picture of the things we had to deal with, when it came to the city. The franchisor provided all we needed to get built and get open, as well as training our staff. In the end it worked out nicely.

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What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?

Dedication – you have to be aware of what is going on in your business. You have to be involved. Your staff needs to know you and what you stand for.

Open Minded – you will be expected to help others, whether it be your own staff, other franchisees, or even the franchisor. Follow the guideline and rules, and make suggestions to the franchisor, rather than doing it your way. There is a system in place for a reason. Remember you still have a boss. For a franchise system to be successful, ALL franchisees must follow procedures, guidelines and standards that have been established for them. If each franchisee did it their own way, it breaks down the system. Your customer should have the same experience, regardless of which location they visit.

Feedback and communication – you must communicate with the franchisor including any struggles, ideas, successes, etc. Sharing this Information can help grow the brand. Also, communication with your employees will help set goals and expectations for them. Praise them when they do a good job, and counsel them (in private) with any struggles they may be having. They will do a great job for you, if you allow them to.

What’s next for you and your business?

After 16 years operating the business along with my husband, we are currently taking a new direction to help grow the brand. In addition to training and developing my own crew, I am now assisting the franchisor in training new franchise owners for Ritter’s Frozen Custard. This includes training them at my location for one week to prepare them to open their location. Then when the time comes, I travel to their location for approximately two weeks where I assist in setting up the location, training their staff, assist in the opening of the location, and then stay for a few days to work out any issues. It is my pleasure to do this and watch others be successful as we grow the brand.

In addition, we are currently in the process of becoming area developers in Florida for the central region and East Coast. The franchisor still needs to receive approval from the state of New York, and we need to obtain the financing, but we are extremely hopeful.

Our goal is to assist Ritter’s Frozen Custard in finding new franchisees in Florida. We would help the franchisees in finding locations, building issues, training, etc. The bigger we can grow the brand, the more cost effective it becomes for everyone. We are looking forward to what the future holds!

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