[Photo by Zon D’Amour]
Think back to your first job in high school. Maybe it was an in-home job like completing chores or babysitting for a neighbor. Or it could have been a role working for a corporation such as a retail or food service chain. Well what if that first job led you directly to not only a career you love but also a business you own? Right – take a second to bask in the glory of that idea! For Ashley Derby this is a dream turned reality as a Chick-Fil-A franchise owner at the tender age of 26. Ashley has built her restaurant to be a well-known and highly respected Southern California eatery. Located down the street from USC, her restaurant serves a variety of individuals from families to community members to “starving” students. Even a starving me has benefitted from the delicious menu of her establishment from time to time. 🙂
Find out about Ashley’s journey as well as her work-life balance practices, how she gives back and multiple nuggets of wisdom (no pun intended with the chicken nuggets 😉 ) in our interview. Enjoy!
9ToFlyGirl: What is your background (education; business)?
Ashley: I am originally from Atlanta and graduated from Spelman College in 2006 with a degree in Economics. I have been working for Chick-fil-A since I was 15 years old starting as a part time team member. After graduation I began working full time in the restaurant to learn more about the business. I went into a pipeline program [within the company] then was selected for ownership. I wanted to stay in Atlanta but heard about an opening in LA. I was selected as an owner in 2011 at the age of 26. I had also just gotten married.
9TFG: Oh wow!
Ashley: Yeah it was crazy!
9TFG: Tell me more about how you got to the place you’re at today with franchise ownership?
Ashley: I have always enjoyed the company and environment. The franchise owner I was working for in college suggested I look into opportunities within the company since I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do after school. I applied for 3 different restaurants. There were lots of “no’s” along the way. At times I thought: I’ll never get selected…maybe I’m not good enough. But my supporters told me to keep pushing.
9TFG: Looking back 10 years ago, did you envision yourself to be where you are today?
Ashley: No not at all! Ten years ago I was only 21 and had just graduated from college. I knew I wanted to have my own franchise with Chick-fil-A. But if you told me it would be in LA, I would have laughed.
9TFG: So you really weren’t thinking about leaving Atlanta!
Ashley: No! Not at all!
9TFG: What is a day in the life of a franchise owner like?
Ashley: It has been challenging at times. I spent about the first 6 months working from open to close. There were lots of early mornings and long nights. I had to quickly learn how to start using my leaders and teaching them. I knew I couldn’t go on like that for forever!
I now have more freedom and flexibility. I have 12 leaders so I don’t need to be as hands on in the [daily] operations as much. I spend about 70% of my time with my leaders. The remaining 30% on email, meeting with franchise owners, and presenting initiatives on a corporate panel. I’m at the restaurant about 3-4 days a week. I also have an offsite office where I get work done.
It’s a balancing act. I try to remember this is not the end all, be all. Self care is important. I’m also a wife, a sister and a friend.
9TFG: Funny you bring up the idea of self-care. I’m curious to know more about your work-life balance practices.
Ashley: Yes. You can’t pour from an empty cup. Saying no is important. I need time to go to the gym, to hang out with my girlfriends. I’m seeing that now. Being intentional about my time is important. At work I’m in work mode. At home I’m in home mode. I can’t be the best boss if I’m not sleeping. And I can’t be a good wife if I’m stressed out about work. I am being more intentional about saying “no” this year.
9TFG: Kinda opposite of the new book Year of Yes [and its concept].
Ashley: I was just talking to a girlfriend about that the other day. She said she would say “yes” more this year. We realized that it’s really the same thing. You’re either saying “no” or “yes” more to make more time for the things that are important to you.
9TFG: How does being a franchise owner allow you to “create your ideal career”?
Ashley: I love this career. It’s flexible. It provides me with the freedom and income I need. I’m able to volunteer for an organization called Hollywood Young Life. It is a youth outreach ministry. We fundraise for youth to go to summer camp and do other great things in the ministry.
This career allows me to create an environment to do other things. I love yoga. I teach people how to shop in other ways (financially).
9TFG: What leadership tools have you found to be most effective?
Ashley: There’s a quote that goes something like…we’ll I’m probably going to butcher it…(Laughter)
But it’s something like: You’re essentially the same person you were last year as you are this year except for the books you read and people you meet.
So I never stop growing and learning. Last year I set a goal to read 24 books. But I only got to 20.(Laughs)
9TFG: No…that’s really good! 20 books in a year?!
Ashley: Yeah I guess so. (Laughs) I try to schedule everything because if I don’t it’s too easy to be lazy. It’s okay to have those days lounging on the couch but not all the time. Being a learner has helped me in the business.
9TFG: I have found that much of your background consists of strong networks with African American women – college and sorority. How do you currently use your platform to reach this group?
Ashley: Well the Spelman network is strong and deep. [In a local alumnae chapter] I help raise scholarship money for girls in LA to be able to go to Spelman. Having the restaurant allows me to pay for ad space in program books and give gift cards. I was honored in a fundraiser [for the alumnae group] last year. The AKA network is just as strong, allowing me to help in similar ways.
Chick-Fil-A is a ministry opportunity for me as well. It excites me to mentor staff. I got to where I am today because of people that invested in me. I tell my staff all the time “If I, the little Black girl from Atlanta, can do it – you definitely can do it!”. I love helping them reach their goals.
I’m also able to speak to lots of people in the community.
9TFG: What advice would you give to someone interested in franchise ownership?
Ashley: Well Chick-Fil-A is very unique in that it’s privately owned. But [in general] I would ask “why?”. Why do you want to own a franchise? Are you passionate about the brand? Are you willing to put in the work? Find a local owner to spend time with in the restaurant. You want to know as much as you can about the business. For Chick-Fil-A (specifically) they are looking for the right fit. They want lifelong partners in the company.
9TFG: What advice would you give to an aspiring business owner (self-employed, franchise, small partnership or other)?
Ashley: I love owning a business. But you have to consider what it means to be in business for yourself and by yourself. I am constantly thinking about the business. Even when we’re closed on Sunday! You must be prepared for the 24 hour aspect of it. The work doesn’t stop. Not to sound discouraging…
9TFG: No it doesn’t at all. I think it always is beneficial for people to hear both the positive and not so positive aspects of it.
Ashley: Yes, the idea of having your own business is often portrayed as sexy and appealing. There is safety [for me] working under a corporation. But I’ve had tough financial months. Also, in all business ownership you are probably going to have to double what you’re doing at work now.
But I would say go for it! Know what you want and understand the risks.
Ashley’s restaurant is located at 3758 S. Figueroa Street Los Angeles, CA 90007. If you have any questions or comments for Ashley directly, please leave them below. And as always, you can feel free to leave me any feedback in the comments as well.