From Tragedy to TRIUMPH: Failure is No Option
Lessons learned in challenging times help determined businesswoman to find franchise success.
By Mara Fortin
Mara Fortin, a San Diego multi-unit franchisee of specialty dessert bakery Nothing Bundt Cakes, thought she had seen almost every professional challenge in her legal career. However, this was before she entered the world of franchising. After graduating from law school at age 26, Fortin moved to Las Vegas and began her practice defending doctors and nurses from malpractice claims. She loved what she did and gave 100 percent effort.
During her eight-year practice, she and her then-husband, also an attorney, had two daughters and life seemed great. But she was working very hard, utilizing her law education to make quite a bit of money for someone else. When her oldest daughter was two weeks old, she found herself pulling all night shifts preparing for oral argument before the Nevada Supreme Court. Even as her family grew to two young daughters needing attention, she was working even longer hours, much of it to clean up others’ messes, completely outside her control. The experiences left her feeling helpless and defeated, and constantly wondering if she was spinning her wheels going nowhere.
Fortin began thinking about what she wanted in life and kept coming back to the idea of utilizing her undergraduate business degree to open her own business in San Diego, her hometown. She inquired with a then-small, three-bakery company in Las Vegas as to whether it would consider franchising. The timing was right and Nothing Bundt Cakes was ready to grow.
In March 2007, Fortin successfully negotiated for and opened the first franchise of the now popular brand in Poway, a suburb of San Diego. She had quit her legal career and boldly, naively, moved with her two young daughters to San Diego. While ready to work hard, she quickly came to realize that she was overconfident, under-qualified and had much to learn about running a successful franchise operation. The brand, also being new, had much experience to gain as well.
With pressure mounting to make her first bakery a success, Fortin began experiencing panic attacks during the day, sleeping infrequently at night, and eating almost nothing. She remembers vividly a day her sister came to help her with market, literally stopping short as Fortin steppedout the front door; firmly but gently telling Mara she needed to regroup, her sister insisted she get some rest or she was going to die.
There were few options at that point. Fortin’s husband remained in Las Vegas to work and keep income flowing. She had two young daughters to care for and a daily business to run. She was working weekdays and weekends, with no break in sight.
Fortunately, within a year of opening, the bakery’s business picked up. Fortin was able to hire some lead members, step back, take a breath, and plan for her family’s future. By 2009, she and her husband were ready to open a second bakery. They selected the upscale, recession-proof San Diego suburb Del Mar, and the new bakery opened to immediate success.
Soon, the pressures of being physically separated took their toll. The couple divorced. The two bakeries began to suffer and Fortin realized she faced both personal and professional crises. Making the painful decision to send her then-four and six-year old daughters to Las Vegas to live with their father for the summer, she began the laborious task of putting herself and her business back together.
Always a fighter, she refused to give up. She added a key team member who took over the administrative parts of the business so she could focus on greater operations. Then, she began hiring more strategically and implementing systems and procedures. She recognized her weak areas and set out to bring talent on board to fill those gaps. She didn’t make excuses, but jumped in 110 percent to get the job done.
Within 12 months, Fortin had turned her company around. Since both bakeries were now moving forward, in late 2011 she made another huge leap of faith and opened a third, wildly successful bakery in another San Diego suburb, Mission Valley. Gaining momentum, she continued to grow the company and add key team members, hiring marketing and operations talent, eventually stepping away from the daily operations to devote all her time to running the enterprise.
The company continued to grow between October 2013 and October 2014, so Fortin and her team opened four more bakeries in San Diego County and closed the original bakery. Fortin now owns six bakeries and is eyeing further expansion.
In addition to overseeing her businesses, she chairs the brand’s Franchise Advisory Council and was recently awarded the company’s Outstanding Franchisee (Circle of Honor) Award.
What lessons did she learn from the difficult times? How did she overcome these sometimes seemingly insurmountable obstacles? The key points of her journey hold value for all entrepreneurs:
- Being smart and capable is a plus, but it’s even better when one is empowered and trains others in the business who are equally smart and capable.
- Hard work is essential, but it must be balanced with periods of rest and calm to offer the proper clarity when making key decisions.
- Following franchise guidelines does not ensure success; passion and commitment must be brought to bear on the business each day.
- A great product or concept is just the beginning; it must be matched with equal parts great operation and marketing, done consistently.
- Noble sacrifices don’t matter when one is burned out and unable to make good choices.
- The best days of leading come when one actually practices the highly touted commitment to serve the company and its team members.
- Value does not come the ability to perform every role in the business, but from one’s drive to develop the future leaders of the company and to be a resource for them.
- On the path to business success, every mistake, misstep, and sleepless night is a training opportunity to gain leadership and entrepreneurial skills.
For Mara Fortin, the journey to business success was worthwhile. She says she would not go back and trade one moment of it.
Mara Fortin, is founder and president, K&K Kakery, LLC and MV Kakery, LLC, dba Nothing Bundt Cakes in San Diego. Find her at fransocial.franchise.org.