Posted on Jun 20, 2011
Female NASCAR Driver Learns Life Lessons and Transitions to Succesful Franchisee
Deborah Renshaw-Parker is a former Nascar Driver and current franichisee for the Apricot Lane Boutique franchise. Renshaw-Parker, who was racing even before Danica Patrick opened doors for female racers, credits competing in a male-dominated sport as a main factor in helping her become successful in the retail industry. And in the retail industry, which, according to our retail industry report, depends heavily on the strength of the economy, it is important to have the strength and courage to weather the ups and downs. Hear how she applies the skills she learned, why she chose Apricot Lane Boutique out of all of the clothing franchises for sale, and more in this FranchiseHelp.com interview!
See below for the full transcript:
[Matt Wilson, FranchiseHelp]: Hello everybody. This is Matt Wilson coming from FranchiseHelp.com. I am here with Deborah Renshaw-Parker, former NASCAR driver and Apricot Lane Boutique franchisee. Deborah is coming to us from Bowling Green, Kentucky, where she owns an Apricot Lane franchise. We want to pick her brain a little bit. Thanks for coming on the show.
[Deborah Renshaw-Parker, Apricot Lane]: Thanks for having me. I'm really excited.
[Matt Wilson, FranchiseHelp]: No problem. So, we got a chance to talk a little bit off camera about you were a NASCAR driver. Pretty fun, and you're definitely a female in a man's world. Can you tell us a little bit about that? You were racing some pretty big names here.
[Deborah Renshaw-Parker, Apricot Lane]: Yeah. I was racing for a long time prior to making it to those levels, obviously. But yeah, I've raced with the likes of Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick. I think Tony Stewart ran in some of our truck races back in the day in '05 and '06. But yeah, being in a male dominated world, that's for sure. I think a lot of things that it taught me was, obviously, how to succeed in a male dominated sport. And, you know, you've got to remember, this was pre-Danica Patrick, pre a lot of things. There have been a lot of women that have been in racing before me, but at the local level starting out, it was a lot tougher. It wasn't accepted as well as a good old boy sport. And trust me, there were a lot of things that were going on off the racetrack. On the radio, for example, they'd be like, "Okay, don't let that girl pass you. We're going to rough her up." And they would cause a lot more accidents just being sort of silly.
[Matt Wilson, FranchiseHelp]: Oh, geez.
[Deborah Renshaw-Parker, Apricot Lane]: But it taught me a lot. It taught me about determination, drive, having that spirit to move forward. I did have two older brothers growing up, so that anything they could do, I could do better attitude probably helped me out a little bit as well.
[Matt Wilson, FranchiseHelp]: Absolutely. So, take us back to . . . you were on the racetrack, but now you've retired from that. You have a family, and this is something that you wanted to do. I'm sure you still have that attitude with your business. Anything they can do, I can do better.
[Deborah Renshaw-Parker, Apricot Lane]: Oh, yeah.
[Matt Wilson, FranchiseHelp]: What's it like in Kentucky every day being a businesswoman? How does that play out? How does your attitude that you had for NASCAR carry over?
[Deborah Renshaw-Parker, Apricot Lane]: I would say, definitely, the most important thing that I can probably think of, and the girls that work for me would probably say the same thing, is constantly I'm in the store day to day, and I think, looking back on the racing world, everything was about numbers. Everything was about tenths of seconds and how fast your corner speed is. How fast is this? How fast is that? So I'm definitely a numbers cruncher. Okay, how did our sales do today? Did we top yesterday? Did we top last week? How are we falling within the numbers of the other franchises within the United States?
I'm really trying to figure out a way of getting all of us together as a unit, and I would love to see where we fall and have everybody share their numbers, which would be awesome. But I don't know if we'll go that far. But it would be great and helpful to have that. So I'm definitely a numbers person as far as day to day, what worked, what didn't work. And probably, once again, that drive and determination to succeed and be competitive constantly is sort of itching in the back of my head and probably making me want to do whatever it takes to go to that next level.
[Matt Wilson, FranchiseHelp]: Sure, okay. So sales obviously come in waves, right?
[Deborah Renshaw-Parker, Apricot Lane]: Yes, yes.
[Matt Wilson, FranchiseHelp]: They're definitely going to come in waves, and you're going to see . . . when you're on the racetrack, every day you want to get a little bit faster. Is that right? You don't want your times to be like the stock market. There's ups and downs, but eventually it goes up.
[Deborah Renshaw-Parker, Apricot Lane]: Right.
[Matt Wilson, FranchiseHelp]: You want your time to get better every day. Is it tough?
[Deborah Renshaw-Parker, Apricot Lane]: It is, and retail is tough. Racing is tough. What are you communicating to your crew chief to make that car turn better in the corner? What are you doing to communicate to your crew to get them to do a better pit stop to get you out in front of two other trucks? What are you doing to your sales team, and what are you doing to your people on the floor to make them a better seller on the floor and educate them to be a better salesperson?
And yeah, it fluctuates depending on what time of year it is. Is it the holiday season? Is it back to school? Is it this? Is it that? But when you are in a slower period, like we are now, what are you doing to drive customers into your store? What promotions are you doing right now? What are you sending out to them? How are you communicating with them? How are you getting the database you need?
There are so many variables, and in the slower periods, it's up to you as a business owner to determine how you're going to drive traffic into the store. By doing the promotions and sending them incentives, you can still make it. The sky is the limit sometimes, and you've just got to make sure you follow through with it and continue to do those things to drive people into your store.
[Matt Wilson, FranchiseHelp]: I like the attitude. So tell me the autonomy that you have as a franchisee to be able to do some of these promotional things. What restrictions are set on you? Tell me a little bit about what kind of freedoms you have.
[Deborah Renshaw-Parker, Apricot Lane]: Yeah. One of the beautiful things about Apricot Lane that I love being a franchisee for them is the fact that when I started this thought of having my own business four or five years ago, it wasn't really towards the franchisee world. I was going to do a children's boutique with a unique toy store flair to it and have my own little deal.
Then completely it changed full circle when I was in Louisville, Kentucky one day, and I was visiting this outdoor shopping mall and I went into this store called Apricot Lane Boutique and struck up a conversation with who I thought was just the general manager. I just thought it was a corporate store like a Buckle or some other store that you would see in a typical mall. But then I started seeing the uniqueness to it and the unique things they were carrying and the small quantity that they were carrying of these unique things.
But then when I struck up a conversation with the owner there, who I thought was just a manager, she was explaining to me the whole process. That she is the franchisee and she is the owner. And it was just great, because she was sharing a lot of things with me that I thought were pretty personal. Then she was sharing with me the flexibility she has as the owner to make changes as necessary and to do her own thing, which I love personally.
Sometimes I don't conform too well to rules, so the regulations and the things that they do put on you as a franchisee aren't like your typical franchisee would do, I think. Definitely, we are not formed in a mold where you go in one Apricot Lane and you're going to think you're in the same Apricot Lane that you were just in. Really, everybody has their own unique flair and ability to choose what is in their store and ability to do what is working in your market, what is not working in your market, which vendors are good, which vendors are not good. You price points, are you going to be at a higher price point? Are you going to be a midrange? Are you going to be lower? Are you going to have a variety?
[Matt Wilson, FranchiseHelp]: That's fantastic. Tell me exactly what type of support they give you. You seem like the person who has a business background a little bit and that type of attitude where you want to go do things yourself. But tell me about . . . this is a turnkey business, right?
[Deborah Renshaw-Parker, Apricot Lane]: It is. It really is, and they hold your hand really well along the way. I know that they put you through an intense training program out in California. They have you go out there. Actually before you go out there, you have this, I believe it's like a 60 day, 60, 90-day program where you're going through all these manuals and testing and whatnot of starting from the ground level really and working your way and teaching you how to use the computer system. They really have put together a great program.
Then when you go out to California for that week of training, you see how everything fits together, and they give you the tools necessary to succeed. Then obviously it is up to you to make those necessary adjustments to succeed or not succeed. Yet they give you the tools necessary. Then afterwards, after you open, they are there for your opening and to make sure things go smoothly. And then they also do a 30, 60, 90-day follow-up, and they look at your reports and numbers and offer suggestions in ways that really help.
[Matt Wilson, FranchiseHelp]: That's fantastic. Now, are you all grown up now? Do they check back in? How often do you communicate with your franchisor?
[Deborah Renshaw-Parker, Apricot Lane]: Of course. We like to have a monthly or bimonthly conference call. And obviously, they wish for all the franchisees to participate, which I think the more people that do participate, the better off we all are, because we can all gather information from one another and see what's working and what's not working. So they give you so many great ideas.
For example, I'm leaving for Vegas tomorrow to go to Magic Show to do a lot of buying for some of the vendors that we have. So we had a conference call before that show, and we always get together at the market at like 8:00 in the morning before we all break and meet with certain vendors and whatnot. So I think the bigger that we do grow as a franchisee, the more buying power we will have, which will ultimately just benefit you as a business owner. They really do take pride in what they do. They're proud of where they've come from and what they've turned this whole dream of theirs and then made another dream for people that have always wanted their own business, like myself.
[Matt Wilson, FranchiseHelp]: Sure. That sounds really cool. It sounds like you have just the perfect balance, in that you don't seem like someone who likes to follow the rules all the time, but you have the guidance along the way.
[Deborah Renshaw-Parker, Apricot Lane]: Absolutely. Like I said, they really, really do hold your hand, especially when you need them, when you need them the most. Or if you've got a question concerning something or . . . I didn't spend my entire background with fashion. I didn't go to school for this, I guess is what I'm saying, but I've always been around family business and been around a business sense, but yet I spent 10 years racing in NASCAR as well. So going from where I was in my life to where I am now with them helping and guiding me along the way, it's helped.
[Matt Wilson, FranchiseHelp]: Franchising to NASCAR or NASCAR to fashion seems like quite a transition.
[Deborah Renshaw-Parker, Apricot Lane]: Exactly. I've always been a girly girl. I like to dress up and put lipstick on every now and then. But I was more into looking in the magazines and seeing what the trend is. But never have I spent hours upon hours like I have trying to see what the next big thing is and trying to be on top of it. So it's a difference, but I'm really, really liking it and enjoying it and trying to find that balance in my life, because I need to find adrenaline rushes in other ways than just driving a racecar.
[Matt Wilson, FranchiseHelp]: Of course. Are you a Danica Patrick fan? Does she have that balance?
[Deborah Renshaw-Parker, Apricot Lane]: I think so. I've met Danica on several occasions. We went through some training together at Lyn St. James Driving School back in Indianapolis, and I do. I think she's got the balance. I just hope that they haven't pushed her too far too soon in the NASCAR world, because she was doing fantastic in the Indy world, and there are two different animals there. The opportunity that she's been given in NASCAR is just amazing.
I just don't want them to push her too quick too soon in a 3,400-pound racecar versus the Indy car. It's just a huge difference, and I want to see a female succeed in this NASCAR role, because I know that the racecar has no idea the difference between a male or female or who's driving it, and it doesn't matter. But I just want the right opportunity to be given to the right person so they can start winning races and they can start doing things. I just don't want to push somebody too soon too fast.
[Matt Wilson, FranchiseHelp]: The real question is would Danica make a good franchisee?
[Deborah Renshaw-Parker, Apricot Lane]: Of course. I think she probably surrounds herself with the right people. Obviously, when you're still racing, no, because she wouldn't be able to run it day to day because of the promotions and the dedication it takes to be a racecar driver. But maybe when she gets done racing and decides to hang up her helmet as they say, I'm sure she would be fantastic at it, because I think she does enjoy the fashion world as well. The time and focus and energy that it takes to pull one of these things together and the right people that you have behind you, it takes a long time, and you want to do it the right way. So unless she has people just to handle it for her, then she'd probably do well.
[Matt Wilson, FranchiseHelp]: Hey, maybe you can pave the way for another NASCAR franchisee for Apricot Lane.
[Deborah Renshaw-Parker, Apricot Lane]: Yeah, that would be perfect.
[Matt Wilson, FranchiseHelp]: Okay. So I wanted to ask you real quick, we just have a couple minutes. So, you told me beforehand that you were the daughter of a coal miner, which is a fantastic story and you're also talking about opening up multiple franchises. I wanted to ask you just how . . . you have some other family businesses going on in the area. Tell me about what it would take to actually manage multiple businesses and how you can do that from afar.
[Deborah Renshaw-Parker, Apricot Lane]: The big thing is people, people, people. I've seen it with my dad and the businesses that he has grown from being a coal miner's daughter and being a coal miner to selling cars and then to being a general manager and now to owning his own franchises within the state of Kentucky and seeing how he has those key core individuals that have been with him for 17 years. If it wasn't for that core group of people and that reliability factor, it's almost impossible. So, the big thing is having the right people in place.
Then the next thing is having the procedures in place to be able to do all of your checks and balances. Make sure you know that the person that is managing that particular store is sending these reports and making sure that you're seeing these weekly reports from afar. Making sure the numbers are where they need to be. Your stock levels, your percentage, your gross profit, your open to buy, what your budget is, what your expenses are, just making sure that at your fingertips you have those tools that you need to be able to read the data, put it into the plan and make sure that that business is going in the right direction.
Then first and foremost, your customers are always right no matter what. Making them happy. Making a chance to turn a wrong a right. If somebody comes in and says, "I want to return this, but I'm past the day." You know what? You make an exception. You make it where they're happy, and you go above and beyond and make them happy. That's the biggest thing that I want my managers to make sure that they do, because they're going to turn around and they're going to be a customer for life, and that's what you want.
[Matt Wilson, FranchiseHelp]: Deborah, it's like you have the right attitude about things. I really appreciate it. This has been great.
[Deborah Renshaw-Parker, Apricot Lane]: Sometimes I can talk too much though.
[Matt Wilson, FranchiseHelp]: No, absolutely. This has been fun. We got to hear about Danica. We got to hear about NASCAR. We don't get interviews like this very often.
[Deborah Renshaw-Parker, Apricot Lane]: I do have to throw one other thing in.
[Matt Wilson, FranchiseHelp]: Please do.
[Deborah Renshaw-Parker, Apricot Lane]: You have to have a great support group. I have two kids of my own right now. I have the grandmother, the grandfather, and I have sister-in-laws. But first and foremost, my husband is so supportive of whatever that I dream of, and trust me, if it wasn't for the support and the help that he does, and he steps up whenever I'm trying to be in the store until whatever time at night. You've got to have that support system, and you've got it balanced too, and you've got to do the same thing for them. But if it wasn't for that, I wouldn't be here.
[Matt Wilson, FranchiseHelp]: Absolutely. And just like in your motorsports career, you surrounded yourself with the right people and the right team, and you were successful there and brought it to the business world. This is great. Deborah, well thank you very much for joining us. I really appreciate your time.
[Deborah Renshaw-Parker, Apricot Lane]: Thank you. Appreciate it.
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